In a court proceeding, the charges must be written and read, so Paul says, “it is written” (Romans 3:10). He then lists fourteen counts of crimes against God. As you know, in a criminal trial, the more counts that are brought, the more severe the crime, and the sentence if convicted. These crimes are summed up in three categories: man’s wicked ways, wicked words and wicked walk. Today we will consider the first series of indictments: man’s wicked ways.
The focus of these crimes against God is our demonic character: what we are:
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NKJV)
Paul begins here, for the problem isn’t just the sins we commit, but the sinners we are. The heart of human evil is the evil of human hearts. John Phillips in his commentary on Romans notes that we are unrighteous, unreasonable, unresponsive, and unrepentant.
UNRIGHTEOUS “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom.3:10). This is what theologians call “total depravity.” That doesn’t mean that all of us are as bad as we might be. Neither does Paul mean that even the worst of people may not at times do the right thing. Recall the “Godfather” novel, and subsequent movies made based on Mario Puzo’s book. It was a fictional account, rooted in the reality of organized crime families. They were brutal. They made their fortune in gambling, prostitution, and a host of other illegal activities. But there was also a tender side displayed to their children, qualities of loyalty to each other, certainly industry and creativity, and often respect for religion! Witness the remarkable scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone is at the christening of his nephew. There they are in church before the priest and Corleone is set aside as the infant’s godfather. We hear him respond to the priest by confessing his belief in God, Christ, the church and even renouncing Satan! The chilling camera shots keep cutting in of Corleone’s competing crime family heads being gunned down. Michael may have done some right things, but he was not righteous! We may not be part of the Mafia, but the apostle is declaring the bottom line: we are not right with God—not even one of us!
UNREASONABLE “There is none who understands” (Rom.3:11a). Again, before we can grasp the teaching, we need to set aside what Paul is not saying. This doesn’t mean we can’t understand the facts of the Gospel. There are agnostic philosophers that could lecture on the doctrines of Christianity and accurately compare them with other religious systems in a way as precise as any pulpit presentation. We could find an atheist professor of history that could give all the details of the Reformation and state the meaning of justification by faith. Yet, despite being intellectually enlightened, they—and indeed all sinners—are in spiritual darkness. They may know the facts, but then reason to the wrong conclusions. This is what sin does. Paul has already framed it in this fashion:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Rom.1:18-22)
Weigh carefully the words of 1 Corinthians2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” So it was that an eighteen year old student wrote:
“Union with Christ is found in a close and living fellowship with Him and in the fact that we always have Him before our eyes and in our hearts. And at the same time that we are possessed by the greatest love of Him, we direct our hearts to our brothers, with whom He bound us closely, and for whom He sacrificed Himself.”
The student was Karl Marx!
UNRESPONSIVE “There is none who seeks after God” (Rom.3:11b). You might argue that the world is full of religious people seeking after God. No—they are seeking after a false god made in their image, that will allow them to live in sin, and with every step they take pursuing the false god, they are running away from the true God. The Gospels show the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the Jews as their king. After all He had taught, the life He lived, and the miracles He performed, clearly attesting to His rightful claim to be their king, their decision was, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). If He came today, men and women would treat Him the same. When I was eighteen years old, I wasn’t seeking God. I was seeking the pleasures of sin, pursuing them relentlessly. But, God stopped me in my tracks—unknown to me, in His grace, the Good Shepherd had been seeking me! Apart from that grace, I would not have come to Him. Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).
UNREPENTANT “They have all turned aside” (Rom.3:12a). Repentance is turning from sin and turning to God. We, according to our sinful nature, do the opposite. Isaiah 53:6 mirrors this, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way.” We come into this world wanting our way! No one has to teach us—it is our natural inclination. “They have together become unprofitable” (Rom.3:12b). The original word in the Old Testament quote Paul is referencing was used of milk gone bad—fit only to pour out. All the potential of what God might have done with us wasted! “There is none who does good, no not one” (Rom.3:12c). Our concept of goodness isn’t God’s reckoning of goodness. We compare ourselves with fellow sinners and then proclaim our own goodness. A good baseball player makes an out 2 of 3 times. Compared to other players, he is hall-of-fame material, if he can just get a hit once out of every three times at bat. But God demands we bat 1.000! During the long career of our lifespan, we can never foul out, popup, ground out, hit a deep fly in the gap to the warning track that is hauled in by an outfielder—not once. Who can do that? Oh, theoretically we could say it’s possible, but practically, it is impossible. No one can. Yet, a Holy God demands His holy law be kept perfectly—not one time can we sin and enter heaven. That leaves us all out. Some do worse than others, but even the best of us has bad in us. The Russian poet Turgenev said, “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible.”
If God is dealing with your heart today, you cannot afford to brush Him aside. Turn to Him and you can be sure that His Spirit is drawing you and He will save you, or else you would not even care.
As for me, and those of you who know Christ also, how we should marvel, be struck with amazement, that God would give the righteousness of Christ to the unrighteous through faith, that He would reason with the unreasonable and cause the Light of life to dawn in our dark souls, that He would seek us and catch us when we try to run from Him, and that He would break our stubborn wills and bend us in repentance. Praise God. To Him be all the glory!