As I said last week, we cannot read the words of these verses too often. It would not be a waste of time to force ourselves to memorize every word in these eleven verses. It would be profitable to repeat them at least once every day of our lives. And if someone overheard us quoting Romans 3:9-19 it could do them a great deal of good as well. I also said last week that Paul’s primary theme here is the universality of sin. There is not a man, woman or child on earth today who is not a sinner in the eyes of God. There has never been a single soul on earth, except the Son of God, who was not a sinner. Of course, that includes both the nation of Israel and everyone else. Or to put one other way – YOU are a sinner in the eyes of the Lord. It doesn’t matter how sweet you are, or what other sinners think of you. It doesn’t matter how strong your religion or your faith might be – you are a sinner. It doesn’t matter if you are six years old, six months old, sixty-six or a hundred and six. Paul’s primary point at this point is to say that we are in no way better than anyone else. “For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they (we) are all under sin.”
With verse 10 we come to a series of references which support Paul’s thesis. In fact we come to a “catena” – which is a new word to which I was introduced this week. A “catena” is a closely linked series of excerpts – in this case it is a series of Old Testament scriptures. Paul here quotes, paraphrases or other wise refers to half a dozen Psalms and to the Book of Isaiah. And in verse 19 he concludes by saying that we are bound-up under those scriptures – We are all guilty before God, condemned by those scriptures. There is no refuting the evidence, certainly no debating the law, and no appealing the judgment against us. “That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
As I jotted down some notes while reading these scriptures again, I picked four high points. “There is NONE RIGHTEOUS; there is none that UNDERSTANDETH; there is none that SEEKETH AFTER GOD; and there is none that FEARETH GOD.” I’m going to leave each of the other statements in these verses to work themselves out in your hearts. But in meditating on these four, I noticed that three of these points relate to action verbs: understandeth, seeketh and feareth. But the first is a state of being – the true condition of the soul before God. So looking at these in that way, the primary point would be: There is none righteous. Then flowing from that are three supporting points.
First, as it is written, there is NONE RIGHTEOUS.
This is one of those quotes which can’t be found in our English version of the Old Testament. In fact it’s not a direct quote from the Septuagint, the Jewish Greek translation, either. But it is the gist of two of David’s Psalms – Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. In fact this pair of nearly identical Psalms gave Paul three of the four high points here in Romans 3. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that DOETH GOOD. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did UNDERSTAND, that did SEEK God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that DOETH GOOD, NO, NOT ONE.” The reason that there are none who DO good, is due to the fact that there are none who ARE good.
The first thing that we have to settle in our minds is that this is God’s statement and not David’s or Paul’s, yours or mine. Warren Buffet may be the most generous man in the world, but that doesn’t make him good in God’s eyes. Fitzswilliam Darcy, in “Pride and Prejudice,” may have been the most perfect man Elizabeth Bennet had ever met, but that didn’t make him righteous. And Elizabeth Barrett may have worshiped Robert Browning, but that doesn’t mean that he was a good or righteous man before the Lord.
Humanly speaking, the first step toward salvation and a positive relationship with Jehovah is a recognition that “there is not a just man (woman or child) upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” And that means you and me – we are not good, we are not righteous. “There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” Don’t argue against the Word God; Don’t excuse your sins as weaknesses or minor limitations, rather acknowledge Paul’s statement, believe it and humble yourself before it.
David had been told by the Holy Spirit that the omniscient God looked down from heaven searching through the children of men to see if there were any, even one, who was righteous. He looked at Abraham and saw deceit and unbelief. He saw Noah, another who had found grace in His sight, but still he recognized a foolish man. The Lord looked at David the penman of those Psalms, and David recorded what God saw – there are none righteous and there are none who do good. God glanced at Peter and Paul, Mary and Joseph, Aquila and Priscilla, Timothy and Titus, and still couldn’t find a righteous man upon the earth. If there was even one, the Lord would have admitted it, but there wasn’t so much as even one.
But what exactly do we mean by this highly religious word – “righteousness”? Righteousness is an attribute of absolute purity which, by definition, can belong to God alone. It is one of those words which cannot be made bigger or better than it already is. There is no such things as righteous, righteouser and righteousest. There is nothing and no one who is more righteous than something else, even though foolish men sometimes talk that way. Something is either righteous or it is not. Jehovah is righteous and every human being on earth comes short of that glory of God.
Digressing for just a moment, the blasphemy of the sinner is seen in his misuse of this word. Whereas the some Christians overuse the word “awesome” when they see things that they like. And as it is popular in Britain to say that things are “brilliant” when they are neither bright nor smart, it is popular among some to use word “righteous” when talking about something which is a little special. Some might say that a fancy little sports car is “righteous,” but it isn’t, and it never can be. In reality there is not a single thing, which finds it source in men, which is righteous. All our human righteousnesses are as filthy rags – Isaiah 64:6.
One of Paul’s sources for this passage seems to be Isaiah 57 – listen carefully. “Draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks? Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these? And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell. Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved. And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? I WILL DECLARE THY RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND THY WORKS; FOR THEY SHALL NOT PROFIT THEE.” God says, “I will declare, I will expose your professed righteousness and it shall not profit thee.”
I cannot stress too seriously or too often that neither you, nor I, possess any righteousness in the sight of God.
And this is seen in the fact that there is NONE THAT UNDERSTANDETH.
This quote clearly comes from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, although it is taught throughout the scriptures. Despite the fact that we came from the hand of God, and we are still surrounded by God’s goodness, there are none who truly or fully understand. We don’t understand, and cannot understand the Lord, because He is infinite in every way. He is infinite in holiness, knowledge, power, and in a hundred other areas. How many of you are wearing glasses or contacts at this moment? How many of you can see me just fine, despite the fact that there is a speck of dust on your lenses? There are no specks on the spectacles, in the heart, the purpose, the will or the character of the Lord. And having never experienced perfection like that it is impossible for us to imagine such a thing. We don’t understand our duties or the problems with not doing our duties, or we’d always do them. As Christians, we don’t understand our eternal destiny, because if we did it would revolutionize our lives. “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” As mere men, we don’t understand our eternal destiny, or the house of God would be filled with terrified souls seeking refuge from the on-coming wrath of God. We don’t understand the Saviour or what it took of God to save sinners like ourselves. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at 6:27 GMT last Friday night the population of the world was 6,640,432,554 souls. And it seems that for those 6.64 billion people, there are close to 6.64 million methods of salvation. Some recognize a need for salvation from sin, and there are millions of ideas to solve that sin problem. Then there are billions of people who refuse to recognize sin, but they still have salvation plans running in the areas of politics, health, intellectual truth and so on. Another poor woman was assassinated in Pakistan, and now the politicians of the world are scrambling to find another plan of salvation from the perceived destruction that her murder is going to encourage. Oh, how little they really understand about the true problems in this world.
And WHY is it that there are none that understand? First, it’s because nearly everyone is essentially untroubled by the trouble that they face. Why worry about sin, when we deny the reality or the real effects of sin? Why worry about hell, since we have erased that word from our dictionaries, except as a mild expletive or swear word? Why worry about our lack of righteousness before the holiness of God, when we can’t understand or perceive the holiness of God?
Why are there none that understand? It’s because the effects of sin have so corrupted us that we cannot understand. Peter discusses this in his second epistle. He describes people walking “after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” These people “as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you,” they “CANNOT cease from sin.” They cannot cease from sin, and they cannot understand, because they are not righteous. But while they cannot understand, they do not understand, because they don’t really want to. God calls them fools, because there is nothing more foolish than this.
The third thing that Paul says to summerize us all is that there is NONE THAT SEEKETH AFTER GOD.
If you follow Paul’s line of thought you might see an ongoing digression. There is none righteous by nature, and there is none that understandeth as a result. It’s not necessary to work hard in order to not understand, although some people actually do work at it. They are forced to attend a Bible-believing church, and they do their best not to hear or believe. Then on the other hand, to not understand is as natural as laying in bed and not opening your eyes. But Paul’s next thought suggests just a bit more rebellion and stubbornness – “I WILL NOT seek after God.” For most people, it is as a result of their choice that they cannot find God, because He is everywhere.
Let’s say that you awoke tomorrow with an excruciating pain in your lower right abdomen. You eat a little breakfast, and you do a little exercise, but the pain does not diminish. In fact throughout the day it intensifies; it gives you a head ache; it makes you nauseous; it makes you throw up – you can’t think of anything else – you can’t function – you are miserable. You remember what your mother used to tell you about swallowing your bubble gum, but you did it anyway. You remember what happened to Molly Little a few years ago, and to one or two others that you know. But you refuse to see a doctor, because you are pretty sure that you have appendicitis, and that means that you will have to have surgery. But under those circumstances it is folly not to see a doctor, and you will probably die pretty soon. Or let’s change the circumstances just a bit and say that you have no idea what is causing you all this pain. Whether you understand or not, you still need to seek some medical attention, or you will die.
We are all dying of a more lethal disease than appendicitis, cancer, or tetanus. “The wages of SIN is death. BUT the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If the cure for our disease is found in Christ, why aren’t we seeking medical attention from this great Physician? The scripture says that “there are none that seek after God”
One reason is that the world is full of pain-relievers like aspirin, laudanum, cocaine, alcohol and more sin. We have a million pleasures to draw our attentions away from our spiritual pain. We have money either to make or to spend, and that diverts us from the important things of eternity. And in addition to the internal spiritual problems that keep us from seeking the Lord, there is an external spiritual problem called Satan. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Let the world deny the existence of Satan, just as they deny the existence of Hell or of sin, but their denial doesn’t change the reality.
It might be argued that all the different religions in the world proves that mankind is seeking after God. But while it is to be granted that the world is seeking after religion, because something in us demands it, it is quite something else to seek Jehovah in all his holiness and glory. There are literally millions of gods that are sought and prayed to constantly, but they are not Jehovah. I will return to this verse in just a moment, but Jeremiah 29:13 says, “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Here we come back to the problem – “the heart is a deceitful thing and desperately wicked” – it is not righteous. The sinner doesn’t seek for God any more than a drunk driver seeks for the police. (Actually, he might keep his eye out for the police, but not to be found of them, but to avoid them.)
Something else that Paul says here is that there is NONE THAT FEARETH GOD.
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The word “fear” might be understood in several ways. For example it might be considered as fright or terror. If that was the case then Paul’s statement is both right and wrong. Most of the people of this world do not have any real terror when they think of God. They either refuse to consider Him, or they consider God as a sugar daddy – who only wants to give them more of His kind blessings. But then there are millions of people who really do have a mortal fear of God, which keeps them in hiding like Adam and Eve in the garden after their sin. And yet if this kind of fear really held sway in their lives, then they should realize that their only hope would be to humbly cast themselves down before Him. This kind of fear, doesn’t draw sinners toward the Lord, it makes them hate and reject Him even more.
But I don’t think that it was terror about which Paul was thinking. He was using the common Biblical language of reverence and worship. Paul was talking about the kind of fear that a child has for the father with whom he has mutual love. This is a fear – not of punishment – but of offending and disappointing. Listen to the first verses of Revelation 19 – “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that FEAR him, both small and great.”
In Romans 3:19 Paul quotes David’s 36th Psalm saying that there is no fear of God before the sinner’s eyes. In other words, it is not in the heart of the sinner to worship the true and living God. There isn’t in us a desire to praise the Lord and glorify His name, because of the sin that corrupts us. We are depraved by that sin – totally depraved. The beginning of wisdom is this fear of the Lord, but it is totally lacking in us who are fools by nature.
This is a terrible picture that Paul is painting for us.
I think that he had every intention of making it as ugly as possible, but it is possible to end on a positive note. Please return to Jeremiah 29:10. I realize that this is talking about a particular case, specific sins and a different people than us. But the principle illustrated here is universal and true. “For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.” “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:” “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.”
The Lord tells Judah that they will soon be punished for their sins. They will be taken by the Babylonians into captivity, despite the lies of their religious leaders to the contrary. We might say the same thing about the lies of the heretics today – there is no judgment, they say. But after the captivity, the Lord promised to turn toward those sinful reprobates with grace and mercy. And after HE turns toward them, THEY will turn to the Lord, seeking him with all their hearts. The Lord will be found of them then, because miraculously, they will have hearts that actually want Him. Once they have been regenerated – born again – they will understand, seek and worship the Lord. Once they have been regenerated they will be righteous – “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” – Philippians 3:9. Despite the dismal picture here in Romans 3, Paul is going to shine the glorious light of the grace of God upon his readers.
There is righteousness for sinners like us – but it is the righteousness of Christ – not of ourselves. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Bow before him – humble yourself in repentance before him – love, worship and trust him. We are nothing but reprobate sinners in need of true righteousness. That righteousness is the gift of God, given to those who repent of their sins and put their faith, hope and trust in the Christ who died on the cross to deliver them from their sins.