Trust in the Righteous One - Romans 3:9-20
One of the major themes of the book of Romans is the righteousness of God and his holy perfection — which you can only reach through Jesus Christ. Here in chapter 3 Paul makes the point that everyone is under sin.
In order to fully appreciate the good news, you need to first hear the bad news. You have to be diagnosed with a disease — before you can learn that it’s treatable. This part of Romans is the diagnosis... or the bad news - which is hard for most of us to accept.
Because no one enjoys thinking of themselves negatively. We all want to think of ourselves as good people.
In fact, one of country music artist Luke Bryan’s songs is called “Most People Are Good.” One of his lyrics says, “I believe this world ain't half as bad as it looks, I believe most people are good.”
Honestly, I think what Luke Bryan says in his lyrics reflects what most people believe. I think that the most people believe humanity as a whole is made up of well-intentioned, good people.
But Luke Bryan’s view of the world is contrasted by what the Bible teaches.
Can you get any more blunt than Romans 3?
But nevertheless, you and I want to believe we’re good. We want to think we may make a few mistakes here and there but there isn’t anything to it.
But in reality we know that there is something deeply wrong. Death and sadness cause an immense amount of pain which leads people to think that things on earth are not how they should be.
We experience the effects of sin daily, and yet it’s so easy for us to scrounge up an excuse for it.
We’re not good enough. We know deep down that we’ll never be able to measure up. Every time we think we do something quote “good” we fail in two or three other ways. We take one step forward and three steps back.
We desperately need someone to stand in on our behalf. We need a truly righteous person to represent us before a perfect, holy God. We need the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.
And that’s where God’s Word confronts us today in his Word. We see three things from this passage: First, no one is righteous. Second, no one seeks righteousness. And third, everyone needs the Righteous One.
No one is righteous
Look at verse 9 with me. Here, we see Paul address the common attitude of the Jews towards the Greeks and Gentiles. The Jews thought that they were better than everyone because the Law, the Old Testament Scriptures, which was given to them by God.
The Scriptures were given to Israel and no one else, and the Jews found this as something to boast in.
They thought to themselves, God favors me over everyone else because I’m Jewish.
Psalm 147 should have reminded the Israelites that the law, again referring to the Old Testament Scriptures, was a blessing, but it was never to be rested on for salvation.
And in fact, Paul reminded them that they’re no better than someone outside the nation of Israel, because everyone is under to curse of sin.
It’s part of our human nature to search for reasons to convince ourselves we’re better than someone else. And the Jews thought their ethnicity made them better than others.
But look at the end of verse 9. Paul says, “... both Jews and Greeks are under sin.” Everyone is under sin.
No, Paul is saying that sin is woven into our hearts. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, sin is in our DNA. It’s a part of who we are.
We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners.
Have you ever spoken with someone and they start describing himself or herself and they say something like, “yeah I’m just really shy” or “I’ve been told I’m pretty athletic” and you just sit there and think - this person is delusional. The person isn’t self-aware at all.
He describes himself in a way that’s completely inaccurate.
Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, sin affects every aspect of life and it affects everyone.
This includes, the Jews, the Greeks, and the Apostles. It also includes male, female, the rich, the poor... and you and me.
You see, sin is indiscriminate. It affects you regardless of your age, ethnicity, or background.
No matter how hard we try, no matter how well we manicure our reputation, sin eliminates our ability to be righteous on our own.
The Scriptures plainly teach this, we know deep in our soul all our horrendous thoughts and yet we convince ourselves that we’re good people.
No one is righteous. All of us are affected by sin and Paul tells us secondly, that we cannot seek righteousness.
No one seeks righteousness.
In verses 10-18, Paul quotes various Psalms, and a few verses from Isaiah as well. This reminds us that there were never really any good ol’ days. It’s in these verses that Paul is developing the progressive effects of sin.
In verse 10, Paul begins with, “None is righteous, no not one” and then he proceeds to show us the outworking of unrighteousness in the subsequent verses.
But “None is righteous, no not one” are tough words to hear.
This would have been very tough for a Jew to hear because they thought their ethnicity is what made them righteous before God. They had the Scriptures. God had made covenants with their ancestor Abraham.
But Paul takes that idea and turns it on them. Paul was probably quoting Psalm 14:3 which says, They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
The Jews should have been familiar with the Scriptures. He’s taking the very thing that they think contributes to their righteousness, the Scriptures, and saying, No, it actually condemns you.”
The Scriptures were a blessing to the Jewish people, but it didn’t make them righteous.
I read this verse with a group of folks not too long ago and someone piped up and said, “I don’t agree with that!”
That person had a hard time agreeing with Paul’s statement, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;”
She thought, “Well most people have a tiny bit of goodness tucked away somewhere in them. You just have to search for it and dig it out.”
But Paul states, as plainly as possible, none are righteous. There’s no ambiguity, there’s really no room for lawyering your way out of it.
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
It begs the question: what is ‘righteousness?’
It’s a common word that church people use and rarely define. Righteousness refers to meeting God’s holy and perfect standard.
Meeting God’s perfect standard is impossible outside of placing your hope and trust in the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.
The heart of the matter is that it’s a matter of the heart.
But what does our flesh want to do? We constantly reflect on all the good we have done and block any memory of any sinful actions we may have committed.
Or we compare ourselves to someone else. “Well at least I’m not as bad as fill in the blank.”
And when we create the standard we judge ourselves by, the good always outweighs the bad and somehow we’re always better than that person we compare ourselves to.
Our flesh wants us to believe the lie that we have done enough “good” to justify ourselves in the eyes of God.
But this way of thinking is completely shattered when Paul says, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
It’s a reference to the noetic effects of sin. All that simply means is how sin affects your mind.
Sin doesn’t simply affect what you do - it affects how you think. This doesn’t mean we cannot know anything “good.”
It means that we pervert good things for selfish or sinister ends.
A life apart from God is completely empty. Someone that lives their life apart from God is so discontent and restless.
Paul begins to make his point even stronger, by describing the unrighteousness of man and those that reject God altogether.
Not only are the unrighteous ignorant and refuse to seek God, but he says they’re worthless.
No good work is good enough to merit God’s favor and the further you run from God, the deeper into sin you will go.
But this isn’t our created purpose!
We’re created in God’s image and were made to worship and serve him.
The rejection of God’s creative ordinance is an attempt to hostile take over his throne.
Remember, God is goodness and justice. Therefore he cannot stand sin.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
So the question isn’t, “Why are some people worthlessly pursuing sin.” The question is, “Why does God save some worthless people?”
Then Paul begins to describe the unrighteous in more explicit terms. He says, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
Not only are they worthless, but they are sinister. Graves are for dead bodies - Paul here compares what comes out of their throat, their speech, with death.
The unrepentant are willing to deceive in order to protect their endless pursuit of sin. Paul also uses a metaphor to compare the speech of evil- doers to a venomous snake, an asp.
Serpents conjure up images of the devil, do they not? There are serious consequences to the way we speak.
Interestingly, the venom of an asp is capable of killing someone. Paul describes the speech of the unrepentant as deadly.
A pathological liar will say anything in order to do whatever it is he or she desires. I’ve read stories about people confronting a pathological liar — and they say it’s pointless because the individual will never confess any wrongdoing.
An unrepentant person is willing to say whatever it takes in order to pursue the idols of the flesh.
Paul says in verse 14 that their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. In Luke, Jesus says that out of the heart the mouth speaks. Consider what we just looked at: throat, tongue, lips, mouth.
Speech was given to man in order to carry out the exact opposite of what Paul is describing here. We receive salvation through hearing the words of life. And we should use our speech to praise the Lord. But sin takes the good things the Lord has given to man and corrupts them for evil use.
Is your speech promoting life or death?
Paul moves from mouth, to foot. He moves from speech to actions. Paul says, “they are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
Paul is making the point that as one progresses in sin he will be willing to do whatever it takes to proceed in it. If deceptive speech is ineffective, then evildoers will shed innocent blood, and create ruin and misery in order to pursue the idols of their flesh.
And they only want peace as long as they can pursue their sin. One commentator said, “They may talk of peace, such a peace as is in the devil’s palace.”
And they’re fearless. We usually think of fear as an emotional response to something that we believe will cause us harm. But many times in the Scriptures we see biblical writers use the word fear in a way that means respect or reverence.
They don’t fear God and they don’t fear man. They don’t care about consequences or about God. They just want to pursue sin at all costs.
It’s sort of like how most drug addicts will do anything to get their drug. They’ll lie, steal, kill in order to get their fix.
It’s terribly said. But what starts out for most as a recreational drug becomes something that they’re completely dependant upon just to get through the day.
Sin is a powerful intoxicant. And you and I should know this firsthand. In our natural state, in our flesh, we often want to pursue sin.
We don’t always seek after righteousness, much less God. Amazingly, even though we don’t seek after Him, He seeks after us. He pursues us with his love.
But not because of our righteousness. He pursues us and seeks after us because of the Righteous One. We need the Righteous One.
Everyone needs the Righteous One
In verses 19 and 20 Paul provides a sort of conclusion. He says in verse 19, “...whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law...”
It’s in this verse Paul is saying that although the law was given to the Jews, it doesn’t only apply to them. It applies to everyone. And what does it do? It “stops every mouth” or leaves you without excuse.
If you look in chapter 2 verse 15; Paul says, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts...”
Here’s Paul’s point: Everyone inherently knows what is evil, and they choose to do it anyway.
Parents: How many of you had to teach your children to disobey? They just knew, right?
I got my undergraduate at the Virginia Military Institute. And while I was there I had the privilege of serving on the Honor Court.
VMI probably has the most rigid Honor Systems in the entire country because it’s single sanction.
The Honor Code at VMI is very simple, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do.”
It’s simple and straightforward. And in order to convict someone of an Honor violation you had to be able to prove their intent. So if someone was accused of lying you had to prove there was intent to deceive in order to convict them of an honor violation. Intent to deceive.
Our intentions spring forth from our heart. Sin begins in our hearts.
That is why Paul can say at the end of verse 19 we are accountable to God. We are accountable because we know what is sinful and yet we do it anyway.
And that, the “works of the law,” which is a reference to the Old Testament scriptures, will not justify anyone before God.
It’s similar to someone who calls himself a Christian and thinks he’s better than a non-Christian simply because he owns a Bible.
He doesn't read it and let it’s words dive deep into his heart. He just lets it sit on a coffee table at his house, and therefore thinks of himself as better than someone living an openly sinful life.
Paul is trying to correct this misunderstanding among the Jews here in Romans 3. He‘s saying, “yes, the law is a blessing from God, but it’s not what saves you. It’s not what makes you right with God.”
You can only be right before God if you rest your hope of salvation completely on the work of Jesus Christ.
You see the law has always been there to expose your sin. Jesus actually spoke about the law in the Sermon on the Mount. And remember, He didn’t nullify the law, He actually made it harder to keep.
In fact, Jesus teaches us that it’s impossible to keep the law. It was Jesus who said, “If any man looks upon another with hate in his heart, he is guilty of murder.”
It’s always been about what captures your heart.
God doesn't demand you to stop smoking, or to be well-mannered, or for your family to remind your friends of a Norman Rockwell painting - he demands your life in its entirety.
His standard of perfection - the law - shows you and me that we have no hope of perfection within ourselves and he will hold us accountable for that.
Here’s what the key takeaway is from these verses: We’re all sinners.
Did you see that one coming?
Sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and it’s infected all of humanity for all time.
Sin is easy. For those that trust in Christ for salvation - Satan wants to drag you back into old sin patterns and for those of you that have never trusted in Christ he wants to drag you even deeper into sin.
So here’s an important question: Does your sin help you see your need for a Savior? Do you recognize your need for the Righteous One, Jesus Christ?
John Newton famously said, “Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
But I think this passage should do a little bit more for us. Recognizing our sin and recognizing our need for Christ should warm our hearts to trust him. Our faith should be on Him because he is our only hope for righteousness. Are you trusting in the Righteous One?
Let’s pray together.