In Romans 3:23, Paul declares, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” By the time he reaches that statement, the Apostle has made his case. Since chapter one, verse eighteen, he has established the guilt of the heathen, the hypocrite, the Hebrew and now sums it all up with the guilt of all humanity. He has read the indictment of man’s wicked ways in 3:10-12 and has pointed out that our problem is what we are—our demonic character. He next turns to the proof of our sinfulness in what we say and what we do.
MAN’S WICKED WORDS—Our Diabolic Conversation: what we say “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” (v.13-14) What we are determines what we say, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt.12:34) Our evil character at heart is the well from which the bucket of our lips brings up and pours out evil conversation.
Our throat a vile sepulcher "Their throat is an open tomb” (Rom.3:13a). It can be a bit frightening walking through a cemetery at night—but exceedingly perilous if someone has dug a grave and you fall into it! There are those whose speech is just as deadly. Also, consider the stench of decomposing bodies suggested in this imagery. There is a lot of speech that just stinks. It is filthy talk, right out of the sewer, the profane and obscene language of the ungodly.
Our tongue a vicious slanderer “with their tongues they have practiced deceit” (13b). Satan is a liar and slanderer—and so are his spawn. False teachers, in particular, present a message that purports to be from God, but is from the pit. People are seduced by it and led astray.
Our teeth a venomous serpent “the poison of asps is under their lips” (13c). Just behind the asp’s fangs is a sac of deadly poison. What makes the snake so deadly is its stealthy manner. It strikes suddenly and unexpectedly. That kind of verbal venom lies behind the lips of sinners and when you least expect it, they will sink their fangs into you.
Our talk a violent sword “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (v.14). The tongue is a sword that can be wielded to inflict grave damage on others. Ridicule and sarcastic speech marks our age.
MAN’S WICKED WORKS—Our Destructive Conduct: what we do “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (v.15-18). Total depravity implies that sin is woven into the entire fabric of our being—and that is what Paul is declaring here. We have the anatomy of a sinner as Paul speaks of his throat, tongue, lips, feet and eyes. The inner-working of evil character issues into the outer-working of evil conversation and conduct.
Malicious work “Their feet are swift to shed blood” (v.15). As we race into brutality, we experience an exponential increase in the speed and scope with which mankind destroys life. Savagery is celebrated in cinema and glorified in children’s video games. The most defenseless among us are exterminated in their mother’s womb by the millions. In the name of Allah, women and children will explode themselves in order to kill others, and men will fly planes into buildings in their misguided zeal.
Miserable ways “destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known” (v.16-17). Wanton destruction and wretched despair lie strewn in the wake of their path. They not only inflict this misery, but in the end will experience it eternally.
Mutinous walk “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (v.18). This final statement is the source, substance and sum of all evil. Ultimately all sin is against God. It affects others. It affects us. But the thing that makes sin to be sin is it is desecration of God’s holy character and defiance of His holy commands.
It isn’t a pretty picture. But, it is an accurate one. This is how God sees us apart from Christ—so that apart from Him, we are convicted and condemned.
Cry to Jesus. His grace alone is powerful enough to lift us out of degradation and fit us for heaven. Then, the Righteous Judge will see us in Christ and accept us in His Beloved Son.