WHEN GOD GIVES UP
As we learned last week, God still induces wrath on the world today. We learned last week also that he will allow his people to use their free will and experience the consequences of their decisions. Verse 18 can be viewed as the opening of a courtroom setting where man is on trial before God. Paul had to begin with the unrighteousness of man.
Until man knows he is a sinner, he cannot appreciate the gracious salvation God offers in Jesus Christ.
Paul followed the basic Bible pattern: first law and condemnation, then grace and salvation. In this section, God makes three declarations that together prove that all men are sinners and need Jesus Christ.
The Gentile World Is Guilty! (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. 32 Though they know God’s righteous 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
The opening arguments here by Paul are not pretty. There is a good illustration that uses the idea of driving through a bad neighborhood as an illustration. I admit that there are some neighborhoods that I dislike driving through, and I avoid them if I can. My avoiding them does not change them or eliminate them. God’s description of sinners is not a pretty one, but we cannot avoid it. A common verse that some of us have come to know is
You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there! – Jeremiah 6:14
When we look at the overall message of this section, it does not illustrate the evolution of man (that man started low and climbed high), but de-evolution (he started high and, because of sin, sank lower than the beasts).
There are four stages that outline man’s tragic de-evolution.
Intelligence (vv. 18–20)
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.– Romans 1:18-20
The story began in Genesis with Adam and Eve knowing God. Human history is not the story of a beast that worshiped idols, and then evolved into a man worshiping one God. Human history is just the opposite: man began knowing God, but turned from the truth and rejected God. God revealed Himself to man through creation, the things that He made.
From the world around him, man knew that there was a God who had the wisdom to plan and the power to create. Man realized too that this Creator was eternal …
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, – Romans 1:20
Since God could not be created if He is the Creator. These facts about God are not hidden in creation; they are “clearly seen”. Do you see God on a daily basis?
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. – Psalms 19:1
In Romans 1:18 translations either indicate that man “suppress the truth” or “hold the truth”.
What do you think suppressing or holding the truth means?
The original Greek word is katechó, which meant to “hold back, detain, restrain”. The Webster definition:
- to keep something a secret; to not allow people to know
- to not allow yourself to feel, show or be affected by (an emotion)
Can you share a time or situation where you may have suppress or held back the truth?
Men knew the truth about God, but they did not allow the truth to work in their lives. They suppressed it in order that they might live their own lives and not be convicted by God’s truth. The result, of course, was refusing the truth (Rom. 1:21–22), and then turning the truth into a lie (Rom. 1:25). Then finally, man so abandoned the truth that he became like a beast in his thinking and in his living.
Ignorance (vv. 21–23)
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. – Romans 1:21-23
Man knew God; this is clear. But man did not want to know God or honor Him as God. Instead of being thankful for all that God had given him, man refused to thank God or give Him the glory He deserves. Man was willing to use God’s gifts, but he was not willing to worship and praise God for His gifts.
Have you ever caught yourself in a situation where you went through a season of just using God’s gifts but not giving Him credit?
When we ignore God’s blessings the result is an empty mind and a darkened heart. Man the worshiper became man the philosopher, but his empty wisdom only revealed his foolishness. Paul summarized all of Greek history in one dramatic statement in the book of Acts when he stated: “the times of this ignorance” (Acts 17:30).
Let’s check out another reference to this subject in 1 Corinthians 1:18:31:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not [come to] know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Having suppressed God’s truth and refusing to acknowledge God’s glory, man separated himself from God, and by basic instincts he must worship something. Which resembles the old saying; “If you find yourself separated from God, you know who left”. It is by our own will and personal decisions that allow us to off on our own. Remember, he will turn us over to our own ways.
If man will not worship the true God, he will worship a false god, even if he has to manufacture it himself! This fact about man accounts for his propensity to idolatry. Man exchanged the glory of the true God for substitute gods that he himself made. He exchanged glory for shame, incorruption for corruption, truth for lies.
One thing we must acknowledge is that the #1 false god is man himself. This fulfilled Satan’s purpose when he told Eve, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5 NASB). “Glory to man in the highest!” Satan encouraged man to say. Instead of man being made in God’s image, man made gods in his own image.
What are some idols that you have unfortunately made in your life? What have you put your focus in for comfort? For identity? For security?
Indulgence (vv. 24–27)
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. – Romans 1:24-27
The distance from idolatry to immorality is just one small step. If man is his own god, then he can do whatever he pleases and fulfill his desires without fear of judgment. We reach the climax of the man’s battle with God’s truth when man exchanges the truth of God for “the lie” and abandons truth completely.
Do we know what that one lie is that man took a hold of?
“The lie” is that man is his own god, and he should worship and serve himself and not the Creator. It was “the lie” Satan used in the garden to lead Eve into sin: “You shall be as God!” Satan has always wanted the worship that belongs only to God and in when man falls into idolatry, Satan receives that worship.
(Isa. 14:12–15; Matt. 4:8–10), (1 Cor. 10:19–21).
The result of this self-deification was self-indulgence, and here Paul mentions a vile sin that was rampant in that day and has become increasingly prevalent in our own day: homosexuality. This sin is repeatedly condemned in Scripture (Gen. 18:20ff.; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Jude 7). Paul characterizes it as “vile” and “unnatural,” as well as “against nature.” Not only were the men guilty, but “even the women.”
Because of their sin “God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24, 26), which means that He permitted them to go on in their sins and reap the sad consequences.
receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – 1 Romans 1:27
This is the meaning of Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” (literal translation). God revealed His wrath, not by sending fire from heaven, but by abandoning sinful men to their lustful ways. And there is one more…
Impenitence (vv. 28–32)
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:28-32 NASB
When man began to feel the tragic consequences of his sins, you would think he would repent and seek God, but just the opposite was true. Because he was abandoned by God, he could only become worse. Man did not even want to retain God in his knowledge!
And just as they did not see fit [a]to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, – Romans 1:28
Did you notice that this time, “God gave them over” this time to a “depraved mind” which means a mind that cannot form right judgments. They now abandoned themselves to sin.
Paul names twenty-four specific sins, all of which are with us today. (For other lists, see Mark 7:20–23; Gal. 5:19–21; 1 Tim. 1:9–10; 2 Tim. 3:2–5.)
But the worst is yet to come. Men not only committed these sins in open defiance of God, but encouraged others and applauded them when they sinned. How far man fell! He began glorifying God but ended exchanging that glory for idols. He began knowing God but ended refusing to keep the knowledge of God in his mind and heart. He began as the highest of God’s creatures, made in the image of God, but he ended lower than the beasts and insects, because he worshiped them as his gods. The verdict? “They are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The Jewish World Is Guilty! (2:1—3:8)
1 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. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 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? 4 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? 5 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.
6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
God’s Judgment and the Law
12 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. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 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. 15 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 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded[b] as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically[c] uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code[d] and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 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.
God’s Righteousness Upheld
1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 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.”
5 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.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. – Romans 2:1-3:8
It is not 100% for certain who Paul was addressing in the first part of the chapter (Romans 2:1–16). Some think he was dealing with the moral pagan who did not commit the sins named at the end of chapter 1 (Romans 1:18–32), but who sought to live a moral life.
But it seems apparent that Paul was addressing his Jewish readers in this section. To begin with, his discussion of the law in Romans 2:12–16 would have been more meaningful to a Jew than to a Gentile. And in Romans 2:17, he openly addressed his reader as “a Jew.” This would be a strange form of address if in the first half of the chapter he were addressing Gentiles, so we will go with the belief it is directed at the Jews.
Another thing we don’t immediately comprehend is that It would not be an easy task to find the Jews guilty, since disobedience to God was one sin they did not want to confess. The Old Testament prophets were persecuted for indicting Israel for her sins, and Jesus was crucified for the same reason.
In our courtroom scenario, Paul summons four witnesses to prove the guilt of the Jewish nation.
The Gentiles (2:1–3)
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. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 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? – Romans 2:1-3
We can relate to the situation where the Jews would applaud the condemnation that Paul was giving those “gentiles” to conclude chapter 1. We must remember that during these times Jewish national and religious pride encouraged them to despise the “Gentile dogs” and have nothing to do with them. This was one of those situations where it seems Paul showed a bit of Jesus’ character. Paul used the Jews judgmental attitude towards the Gentiles to prove the guilt of the they had. It was the very things they condemned the Gentiles of, they themselves were practicing! They thought that they were free from judgment because they were God’s chosen people, entitled. But Paul affirmed that God’s election of the Jews made their responsibility and accountability even greater.
God’s judgment is according to truth. He does not have one standard for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. We must remember this also. The truth is the truth. There is not one set of rules for followers of Christ, another set for casual Sunday attenders and yet another set for unbelievers. One who reads the list of sins in Romans 1:29–32 cannot escape the fact that each person is guilty of at least one of them. Paul later goes on to explain in 2 Corinthians that there are two roots of sin, flesh and spirit.
Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1
We can simply remember the story of the Prodigal son. Remember how the story initially focuses on how the one son went off and disposed of all his inheritance and made a fool of himself, but then the brother that stayed alongside his father was upset upon the return of his brother. (Luke 15:11-32) There are “prodigal sons” and “elder brothers” In condemning the Gentiles for their sins, the Jews were really condemning themselves. As the old saying puts it, “When you point your finger at somebody else, the other three are pointing at you.”
The next witness to the stand…
God’s blessing (2:4–11)
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.. – Romans 2:4-11
Instead of giving the Jews special treatment from God, Paul illustrates that the blessings they received from God gave them a greater responsibility to obey Him and glorify Him.
I was reminded this last week that the opportunity to be a leader in God’s kingdom is a gift, a blessing. That when I am expected to do things in more alignment with God’s will, that is not a burden or a blessing. Even this morning, taking a call from a fellow Christian that is in trouble and how my schedule and agenda must be altered. I must realize that is a blessing to be used by God, not a burden that I can’t do what I want to do.
We learned in the Multiply study about how in His goodness, God had given Israel great material and spiritual riches: a wonderful land, a righteous law, a temple and priesthood, God’s providential care, and many more blessings. God had patiently endured Israel’s many sins and rebellions, and had even sent them His Son to be their Messiah. Even after Israel crucified Christ (we must remember who was in the crowd chanting “crucify him!”), God gave the nation nearly forty more years of grace and withheld His judgment. It is not the judgment of God that leads men to repentance, but the goodness of God— but Israel did not repent.
In Romans 2:6–11, Paul was not teaching salvation by character or good deeds. He was explaining another basic principle of God’s judgment: God judges according to deeds, just as He judges according to truth. Paul was dealing here with the consistent actions of a person’s life, the total impact of his character and conduct. We have all sinned and will sin, but the soul is categorized by how it responds to such situations.
Some examples are David and Judas. David committed some terrible sins, but the total emphasis of his life was obedience to God. Judas confessed his sin and supplied the money for buying a cemetery for strangers, yet the total emphasis of his life was disobedience and unbelief.
True saving faith results in obedience and godly living, even though there may be occasional falls. When God measured the deeds of the Jews, He found them to be as wicked as those of the Gentiles. The fact that the Jews occasionally celebrated a feast or even regularly honored the Sabbath day did not change the fact that their consistent daily life was one of disobedience to God. God’s blessings did not lead them to repentance.
We need to apply this to our lives as a learning tool. Just because we go to church on Sunday, make an occasional bible study and serve people in need, does not mean that we are any better than those that do not do all those things.
God’s law (2:12–24)
When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.
The Jews and the Law
You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.
Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” – Romans 2:12-24 NLT
Paul’s statement in Romans 2:11, “For there is no respect of persons with God,” would shock the Jew, for he considered himself deserving of special treatment because he was chosen by God. But Paul explained that the Jewish law only made the guilt of Israel that much greater! God did not give the law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15).
Wherever we go, we find people with an inner sense of right and wrong, and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” We find among all cultures, regardless of religion or belief, a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.
Jews were dishonoring God, in verse 24 Paul quoted Isaiah 52:5 to prove his point. The pagan Gentiles had daily contact with the Jews in business and other activities, and they were not fooled by the Jews’ devotion to the law. The very law that the Jews claimed to obey only indicted them! Our witness to the world will show our real character.
Next witness to the stand…
Being a Jew is worth something if you obey God’s laws; but if you don’t, then you are no better off than the heathen. And if the heathen obey God’s laws, won’t God give them all the rights and honors he planned to give the Jews? In fact, those heathen will be much better off than you Jews who know so much about God and have his promises but don’t obey his laws.
For you are not real Jews just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish initiation ceremony of circumcision. No, a real Jew is anyone whose heart is right with God. For God is not looking for those who cut their bodies in actual body circumcision, but he is looking for those with changed hearts and minds. Whoever has that kind of change in his life will get his praise from God, even if not from you.. – Romans 2:25-29 TLB
This was the great mark of the covenant, and it had its beginning with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Gen. 17). To the Jews, the Gentiles were “uncircumcised dogs.” The tragedy is that the Jews depended on this physical mark instead of the spiritual reality it represented (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 9:26; Ezek. 44:9). A true Jew is one who has had an inward spiritual experience in the heart, and not merely an outward physical operation. People today make this same mistake with reference to baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or even church membership.
God judges according to “the secrets of the heart” (Rom. 2:16), so that He is not impressed with mere outward formalities. An obedient Gentile with no circumcision would be more acceptable than a disobedient Jew with circumcision. In fact, a disobedient Jew turns his circumcision into uncircumcision in God’s sight, for God looks at the heart. The Jews praised each other for their obedience to the law, but the important thing is the “praise of God” and not the praise of men (Rom. 2:29). When you recall that the name “Jew” comes from “Judah,” which means “praise,” this statement takes on new meaning (Gen. 29:35; 49:8).
Paul’s summation (3:1–8)
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 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.”
5 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.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. – Romans 3:1-8 ESV
All of Paul’s four witnesses agreed: the Jews were guilty before God. In Romans 3:1–8, Paul summed up the argument and refuted those Jews who tried to debate with him. They raised three questions:
- “What advantage is it to be a Jew?”
Reply: Every advantage, especially possessing the Word of God;
- “Will Jewish unbelief cancel God’s faithfulness?”
Reply: Absolutely not—it establishes it;
- “If our sin commends his righteousness, how can he judge us?”
Reply: We do not do evil that good may come of it. God judges the world righteously.
The Whole World Is Guilty! (3:9–20)
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
The third declaration was obvious, for Paul had already proved (charged) both Jews and Gentiles to be guilty before God. Next he declared that all men were sinners, and proved it with several quotations from the Old Testament. Note the repetition of the words none and all, which in themselves assert the universality of human guilt.
His first quotation was from Psalm 14:1–3.
This psalm begins with, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The words “there is” were added by the translators, so you can read the sentence, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No, God!’” This parallels the description of man’s devolution given in Romans 1:18–32, for it all started with man saying no to God.
These verses indicate that the whole of man’s inner being is controlled by sin: his mind, his heart, and his will. Measured by God’s perfect righteousness, no human being is sinless. No sinner seeks after God. Therefore, God must seek the sinner (Gen. 3:8–10; Luke 19:10). Man has gone astray and has become unprofitable both to himself and to God. The parables that Jesus uses in Luke 15, Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Prodigal Son, illustrate this perfectly.
In Romans 3:13–18, Paul gave us an X-ray study of the lost sinner, from head to foot. His quotations are as follows: verse 13a—Psalm 5:9; verse 13b—Psalm 140:3; verse 14—Psalm 10:7; verses 15–17—Isaiah 59:7–8; verse 18—Psalm 36:1. These verses need to be read in their contexts for the full impact.
Romans 3:13–14 emphasize human speech—the throat, tongue, lips, and mouth. The connection between words and character is seen in Matthew 12:34: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The sinner is spiritually dead by nature (Eph. 2:1–3), therefore only death can come out of his mouth. The condemned mouth can become a converted mouth and acknowledge that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Rom. 10:9–10). “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37).
In Romans 3:15–16, Paul pictured the sinner’s feet. Just as his words are deceitful, so his ways are destructive. The Christians’ feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), but the lost sinner brings death, destruction, and misery wherever he goes. These tragedies may not occur immediately, but they will come inevitably. The lost sinner is on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13–14); he needs to repent, trust Jesus Christ, and get on the narrow road that leads to life.
Romans 3:17 deals with the sinner’s mind: he does not know the way of God’s peace. This is what caused Jesus to weep over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44). The sinner does not want to know God’s truth (Rom. 1:21, 25, 28); he prefers to believe Satan’s lie. God’s way of peace is through Jesus Christ: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
In Romans 3:18, which cites Psalm 36:1, the sinner’s arrogant pride is prescribed: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The entire psalm should be read to get the full picture.
1 Sin lurks deep in the hearts of the wicked, forever urging them on to evil deeds. They have no fear of God to hold them back. 2 Instead, in their conceit, they think they can hide their evil deeds and not get caught. 3 Everything they say is crooked and deceitful; they are no longer wise and good. 4 They lie awake at night to hatch their evil plots instead of planning how to keep away from wrong.
5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, is as great as all the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. 6 Your justice is as solid as God’s mountains. Your decisions are as full of wisdom as the oceans are with water. You are concerned[a] for men and animals alike. 7 How precious is your constant love, O God! All humanity takes refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 You feed them with blessings from your own table and let them drink from your rivers of delight.
9 For you are the Fountain of life; our light is from your light. 10 Pour out your unfailing love on those who know you! Never stop giving your blessings[b] to those who long to do your will.
11 Don’t let these proud men trample me. Don’t let their wicked hands push me around. 12 Look! They have fallen. They are thrown down and will not rise again. – Psalms 36 TLB
The ignorance mentioned in Romans 3:17 is caused by the pride of verse 18, for it is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7 ESV
These quotations from God’s law, the Old Testament Scriptures, lead to one conclusion: the whole world is guilty before God! There may be those who want to argue, but every mouth is stopped. There is no debate or defense. The whole world is guilty, Jews and Gentiles, you and me. The Jews stand condemned by the law of which they boast, and the Gentiles stand condemned on the basis of creation and conscience.
The word therefore in Romans 3:20 carries the meaning of “because,” and gives the reason why the whole world is guilty. No flesh can obey God’s law and be justified (declared righteous) in His sight. It is true that “the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13), but nobody can do what the law demands! This inability is one way that men know they are sinners. When they try to obey the law, they fail miserably and need to cry out for God’s mercy. Neither Jew nor Gentile can obey God’s law; therefore God must save sinners by some other means. The explanation of that means by which man can be saved occupied Paul for the rest of his letter.
The best way to close this section would be to ask a simple question: Has your mouth ever been stopped? Are you boasting of your own self-righteousness and defending yourself before God? If so, then perhaps you have never been saved by God’s grace. It is only when we stand silent before Him as sinners that He can save us. As long as we defend ourselves and commend our- selves, we cannot be saved by God’s grace. The whole world is guilty before God—and that includes you and me!