Romans 3:9 – 20, Man’s Universal Guilt Before God

Romans 3:9 - 20, All of Mankind are Guilty Before GodIntroduction

Paul starts with the Gentiles, those who are not Jews, those who have not had access to God’s word directly as revealed through the prophets.  What he says about the Gentiles is:

“For the wrath of God is revealed through heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  Romans 1:18

Paul’s conclusion when dealing with the Gentiles, who haven’t had access to God’s word, who we might say are the un-churched today, is that God’s wrath is revealed against those who suppress His truth revealed in creation. The principal here is that God will judge people according to the light they have received.

“For as many as have sinned without law, will also perish without law, and as many who have sinned in the law, will be judged by the law. “
Romans 2:12

Those that do not have direct access to God’s word, do have the light of conscience. God our maker, has imprinted something of Himself upon us, we are made in His image.  The conscience reflects something of God’s law. Those that have never heard of God’s word, the Bible, will be judged according to the light of conscience. Those that have access to the scriptures will be judged according to their knowledge of God’s law gained from His word.  God’s principle is that we are judged according to the light that we have. That light is either conscience and/or scripture. Yet no one has lived out full obedience to the light they have of God’s law. Then Paul comes more explicitly to the Jews, those that do have God’s law:

“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” Romans 2:21

Paul goes on and makes it clear to the Jews, they might have the law, which is a great advantage to them, but they have not lived it out either.  What is the conclusion then? All of mankind is guilty before our holy God.

Man’s Separation From God

“There is no one righteous, not even one, and there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless, and there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:10 – 12

Sinful Man Separates Himself From God – He is Willfully Ignorant of God

Individuals do not understand God. Why do they not understand Him? It is because they don’t know Him. They have not learnt from His word how He operates, who He is, what His character is like, what He is like, how He has acted amongst human beings in times past.  They do not understand God and they have no desire to find out about Him either.  There is no one who understands because no one who seeks God. There is a willful ignorance, people do not understand God because they don’t want to. People do not innately think,” Yes, I want to find out about my creator.” Paul describes this in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

“They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:18

Why is man ignorant about God?  Man is ignorant about God because he has a hard heart. Due to the hardening of their hearts, they reject God.  We have a conscience, an innate sense of right or wrong. Where has that come from?  If we are just a bunch of chemicals, if we are just chemistry and physiological laws and biological laws operating, where does an innate sense of right and wrong come from?  God has left an image of himself upon us. Man is willfully ignorant, suppressing the knowledge of God, not seeking after God.

True Seeking After God

What does it mean to truly seek after God? It includes a willingness to engage in all the things that a knowledge of God will bring.  It starts with finding out about him, coming to His word and being amongst His people. It requires a humble heart, wanting to take God’s ways upon us, wanting to think over God’s word, wanting to think over how it affects our lives and how we can be different and changed, how we can reflect God’s glory. There needs to be a desire for Him, to worship Him and to be obedient to Him in our lives, to have every thought captive to a holy and a perfect God. Are we seeking after Him?

In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2 – 23).there is the seed that lands among the thorns. This is the seed that is choked, the seed that never fully gets to what it could be, because it is choked by the cares and worries of this world. Is that seed a human heart, that perhaps has received God’s word but never fully sought after God? It never quite got to what it could be. If the individual had truly sought the Lord with all their heart, their mind, their soul and their strength, making time for God’s word, time for prayer, time for meditation and reflection upon what God’s word means for their lives, could that seed have reached its true potential?. Paul said it is all too often that no one who seeks God.

God Separates Himself From Sinful Man – God Hands Man Over to His Depraved Nature

When men turn away from God, what is God’s response? He hands people over to their sinful desires. It is not just ungodly man who separates himself from God, God separates ungodly man from himself.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of the wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Romans 1:28, 29

God hands men over to evil desires and evil passions and also to depraved minds that men might scheme out and find out how to accomplish these desires. All the time this is leading men further into depravity, into bondage, into sin. It leads them away from salvation.

The Effects Of Man’s Separation From God

Man Has Become Morally Worthless Before God

“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” Romans 3:12

Man has become morally worthless before God. A 1p coin has some value, not a lot, but it has some value.  A blade of grass has some value to a grazing animal, not a lot, but a single blade of grass does have some value.  A car is designed to take us from one place to another, if it is written off, if it is broken down, it still has scrap value.  Man innately, morally before God, has no value; there is nothing of worth, of moral integrity in man in and of himself.

There is a difference between utter depravity and total depravity. Not all men are as bad as they could be, but we are corrupted in every part of our lives.   Innately and in and of ourselves, we want to put ourselves first, we want to do the things that we want, in the way that we want, at the time that we want, in the manner that we want. In what we say, in how we carry out our work life, our family life, our leisure pursuits and every aspect of our life, innately we want to go our own way. Now if you want to see the value that God places in human life, you look at the cross:

“God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

God valued human life so much, that he was willing to send his son to die on the cross for us, but morally we are utterly worthless, polluted in every part before the Lord.

Man’s Speech is Worthless Before God

“Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips.” Romans 3:13

Who can say they are perfect in speech? It is another example of how all have sinned.

“If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” James 3:2

When fighting in the playground, children often bring forth such cursing upon their fellow children.  Upset employees will malign the characters and actions of their superiors or their colleagues at work.  Among family members when there are disputes between them, harsh words can be said. Who has a perfect family life? Who has always said that which is right and that which is good to your family members? If we speak not out of love, but out of bitterness or anger or hatred, God judges the heart, and to God the motive is as guilty as the actual action.  The throat is an open grave, what proceeds from man’s mouth is like the noxious fumes of an open grave, man’s tongue is far from praising God, which is what it should be put to.

As one commentator has pointed out, the viper’s poison is a particularly painful death. An individual’s reputation may be murdered by false rumors and slander, and that can be very painful to the individual.  Again, man is far from loving his neighbor, which is God’s command for his life.

Man Uses Bitterness and Cursing in His Speech

“their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” Romans 3:14

Whether we think about men and their mouths being full of cursing and bitterness, or whether it is men who are being deceitful when they flatter and when they bring forth these things, they are being true to their hearts.  Or as Paul puts it in the Book of Titus,

“We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” Titus 3:3

It is not the natural tendency of our hearts to love those round about us.  Do drivers stuck in traffic show love toward the motorists in front of them as they are delayed and the frustration is building? When someone excels in what they do or have great fortune, do those around them naturally congratulate them, applaud them, or is there envy present too? People are critical of the faults and failings of those about them, while completely ignoring the points to praise in others.  When people are quick to insult and envy others, and they bring forth the fruit of their godless character.

Human Life is Cheap to Fallen Man

There are sins of speech in our godless characters, and there are also sins of action.

“There feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. “ Romans 3:15 – 17

“To man, the life of his fellow man is cheap in comparison to his own pride and malicious feelings.” Charles Hodge

When unrestrained by laws, people gratify their hateful feelings toward their fellow man, and they are all too often swift to take life.  Conflicts around the world have their own war crimes hearings afterwards, where atrocities have been committed against innocent civilians.  Coming closer to home, alcohol often leads to unrestraint. Even when there are laws as we have in this country, alcohol can lead to unrestraint and thee is much alcohol related violence. Ask any nurse or any doctor who works in a casualty unit on a Friday or Saturday night.  Where there is no restraint, or no law as in times of war, we see the atrocities committed.  Or where people get half a chance to act in a way where there is no restraint, as with alcohol, we often see trouble there too.

The Root of The Problem – No Fear Of God

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” Romans 3:18

Man has no concern for God, no regard for His greatness, His majesty, His laws or His threatening. He does not have that fear of God, which is the beginning of true wisdom.  How often do you hear God’s name misused, say in the workplace or on the TV?  God has promised He will not hold people innocent who misuse His name (Exodus 20:7). He will catch up with them. Their sin will find them out. This is what God has promised in His word, and do people care? There is no fear of God before their eyes. He means nothing to them. They can use his name flippantly, and it doesn’t matter. Man acts as if there is no God who could stop him or punish him:

Man’s Guilt and His Recognition of That Guilt

Man’s Guilt Before God

So we have a picture of man living a complete law unto himself, without reference to his creator, without desire to find out what his creator wants from his life, or how he can glorify his creator. Man is completely defiant, he doesn’t want to know God, he wants to go his own way. But God will catch up with people in the end:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable God” Romans 3:19

The Greek word, which is translated “under” here, means that to which we are bound to be conformed. It determines what is right and wrong. The heart, our motives and the entirety of our lives should be conformed to God’s law.  Whether it be revealed in the constitution of our nature, our conscience, or in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments or in the full law of Moses or in the scriptures, it is the word of revelation of the will of God, considered as the norm or rule which men must conform their lives, their faith and their practice too. Just as there is no escape from death, there is no escape from God’s law.

Man Will Know His Guilt Before A Holy God

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law, rather through the law, we become conscience of sin.” Romans 3:20

To paraphrase Calvin, “life and death do not flow from the same fountain”. The law brings death, and you cannot find eternal life in obedience to the law. The law is good; it is reflection of the nature of God. God said, “be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  The law in itself is good and holy like the God who has given it, but it is a law of death to human beings, because we cannot keep it.  Life and death do not flow from the same fountain.

“The figure used is dramatic, fear inspiring, unforgettable. Everybody is standing in front of God, the judge.  The records are read and as it were, one by one. The accused are given an opportunity to answer the charges made against them, their mouths are silenced, stopped.”
William Hendrickson.

Only the Good News of Jesus Christ Can Save Us

We are guilty before a Holy God. Man will spend eternity in Hell, under the wrath of God.  There is only one thing that can save us from the coming wrath of God on Judgment Day, and that is the gospel. That’s why we are not ashamed of it. That’s why we are willing to proclaim it.

There is the evidence of God in creation all around us. There is the evidence of what God has put of his nature in us in our conscience.  We know the truth. Judgment Day is coming, and the gospel will carry us through. In the gospel we have life to the full now, and life to the full in eternity on the New Heavens and the New Earth, with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for His Word!


All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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