by Mike Ratliff
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18 ESV)
In yesterday’s post, The Righteous Shall Live by Faith, we looked at Romans 1:15-17, which gives us Paul’s theme for this Epistle. which is The Gospel of the Righteousness of God. My intent for this post is to cover a lot of ground, Romans 1:18-3:20. Why? Remember my brethren, Paul didn’t write Romans with chapters and verses. In any case, that section of Romans is what Paul uses to build his case against all mankind in that they are born dead in trespasses and sin without exception. God is Holy, Righteous, and Just and there is not anything any person can do to become justified or declared righteous on their own merit. No, there must be another solution that does not compromise God’s perfect Righteousness. In any case, in this post we will look at the airtight case Paul builds against all mankind that shows the utter wretchedness of the natural man.
Let’s start with Romans 1:18-32:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 ESV)
The words “For the wrath of God is revealed” are translated from “Αποκαλύπτεται γὰρ ὀργὴ Θεοῦ” which, word-for-word, would read, “Is revealed for wrath of God.” We should pause here and focus on these words for they tell us much. The word αποκαλυπτεται is the present indicative middle form of ἀποκαλύπτω or apokaluptō, which means “to take off the cover or reveal.” This is action that is occurring constantly. I could take the rest of this post to describe this and not do it justice. This is anger or wrath from God against sin that is continually being revealed indirectly through the natural consequences of violating His universal moral law and directly through His personal intervention. Perhaps the best and most graphic example of that would be His pouring out divine judgment on Jesus Christ on the Cross. Carefully read the rest of this passage. It is clear that no one has an excuse for even though they act like they don’t know the truth of God, they really do, but suppress it. Notice what God’s response was to all of this. He gave them up… This is a judicial term in Greek, used for handing over a prisoner to his sentence. When people consistently abandon God, He will abandon them. In v28 we read that God “gave them up.” This translates παρέδωκεν the aorist indicative active form of παραδίδωμι or paradidōmi, which describes the same process of handing a prisoner over to a sentence, but in this case, the sentence is a “debased mind” or ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, which could be translated as “unproved mind.” The word ἀδόκιμον actually means “not passing the test.” It was used to describe useless, worthless metals, discarded because they contained too much impurity. These God has “sentenced” or given over to this “debased mind” have been tested by God and He has found them worthless and useless.
Here is Romans 2:1-3:8:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 2-3:8 ESV)
In the first passage Paul nailed the natural man. In this passage he covers those religious Jews and moral Gentiles who think they are exempt from God’s judgment because they have not indulged in the immoral excesses we looked above. Think of the church in which you grew up. If it was anything like mine, this was a big deal. If it was anything like mine, moralism was the key to making God happy. I have heard some say this was the product of Protestant Revivalism, but look, here is Paul writing about the very same thing to the 1st Century Church. This is a tough one my brethren and as I confessed in yesterday’s post, I have been fighting this one for quite some time. Carefully read this passage. Being moral and religious is not what God is after. This very thing is what many in the emergent movement confess they were rebelling against. I can see that. I have also seen so many take that rebellion too far into license. Now, with that in mind, let us look at Romans 3:9-20, in which Paul concludes his indictment of mankind. Here we see that Jew and Gentile alike stand guilty before God:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:9-20 ESV)
Let us focus on the fourteen indictments.
- There is none righteous, no not one
- There is none who understands
- There is none who seeks after God
- They have all turned aside
- They have together become worthless
- There is none who does good, no, not one
- Their throat is an open grave
- They use their tongues to deceive
- The venom of asps is under their lips
- Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness
- Their feet are swift to shed blood
- In their paths are ruin and misery
- The way of peace they have not known
- There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Now, as we think about these things, it should be clear that these are the attributes of the unregenerate. Yes, religious people can and do act this way. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one. This is why the Righteousness of God is in dire need. This is why Paul made such a strong case that religion is not enough. Good works are not enough. Being in the right family or race or whatever is not enough. Anyone not possessing God’s righteousness is hopelessly lost. God willing we will look at that in the next post. Of course, we must also ask, does being a Christian really change a person so that they are “different?” If so, or if we teach that that is so, are we then preaching Law or Gospel?
Soli Deo Gloria!