All Mankind is Guilty before God! – Romans 3:9-20
Pastor Mark Hardy February 19, 2012
I don’t know about you, but I have always been a big fan of Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, and I enjoy watching the reruns of the old television series and movies whenever I can. Perry Mason was the infamous defense attorney who specialized in defending seemingly indefensible cases. With the aid of his secretary Della Street and investigator Paul Drake, he fought hard and creatively on behalf of his client, the defendant. Although Hamilton Burger, the state prosecutor, often thought that he had insurmountable evidence against Perry’s clients, Perry not only found a way to show that his client was innocent through his ingenious, shrewd, and sometimes bizarre courtroom skills, but also he often tricked the real criminals into unwittingly admitting their guilt.
However, in the case I call “The Sinfulness of all Mankind,” not even the great Perry Mason and all of today’s most expensive and high-powered defense attorneys combined could win, no matter how brilliant their courtroom skills. We will be looking at that case this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 3.
As we come to the final paragraph of Romans 3, using the imagery and terminology of a courtroom with a criminal on trial, the apostle Paul, acting as God’s prosecuting attorney, getting ready to rest his case against the accused, which is all mankind. In Romans 3:9-20 we see four steps in the judicial procedure against all mankind in the final courtroom trial on humanity’s universal guilt and condemnation before God.
The first step in the judicial procedure against all mankind is this:
I. The Charge against All of Humanity
A. Look at v. 9 where Paul poses two rapid-fire questions: What then? Are we better than they? (Stop there)
1. By asking “What then?” Paul is now bringing to a conclusion all that he has previously said about the sinfulness of all mankind since 1:18. As we saw, his focus shifted from the immoral and moral Jews and Gentiles in 1:18-2:16 to specifically the self-righteous Jews in 2:17-3:8.
2. Paul then asks, “Are we better than they?” The Greek word translated “better than” (proechometha) here is best taken as “to have an advantage over.”
3. Now who are the “we” and “they” that Paul is referring to here? Some scholars say the “we” refers to “we Christians,” speaking Paul and his fellow believers, and the “they” refers to those he has shown to be condemned before God.
4. Therefore, when Paul goes on to answer this question in v. 9, saying, “Not at all,” they say that he is showing that God didn’t save us who are Christians because we are superior or better in our basic human nature than others or that we are more deserving of salvation. No way! That could fit because Paul is referring to himself and other Christians in v. 8.
5. But most scholars say that the “we” refers to the Jews, Paul including himself, and the “they” refers to the Gentiles. And although Paul’s answer “Not at all” might seem to contradict what he just said in vv. 1-2, where the Jews advantage over the Gentiles is “Great in every respect,” they say it doesn’t when you clarify what “advantage” Paul has in mind here in v. 9.
6. Therefore, in vv. 1-2 Paul affirms that the Jews do have the great advantage of being “entrusted with the oracles of God,” which showed them the way of salvation. But if they see that advantage as giving them special favor with God then Paul says here in v. 9 “Not at all.”
7. For Paul has repeatedly emphasized in chapter 2 that the Jews have no advantage at all when it comes to God’s impartial judgment of every person “according to his deeds” (v. 6). Since increased privilege simply means greater accountability, in v. 9 he is saying that because of the Jews unbelief and sin they cannot claim an advantage over the Gentiles and exemption from God’s judgment. I lean toward this view.
B. Whatever view you hold to, Paul immediately goes on to restate the sinfulness of all mankind in v. 9, “…for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”
1. Throughout 1:18-3:8 Paul has “already charged” or brought an accusation against all of humanity. And notice again what this charge entails: “…both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”
2. To be “under sin” (huph hamartian) here means to be continuously and completely subservient and in bondage to the controlling power and dominion of sin, which manifests itself in specific sinful acts, as seen in vv. 10-18. Paul will further explain sin’s controlling power and dominion in people’s lives in chapters 5-7.
3. John Stott said it well, “Paul appears almost to personify sin as a cruel tyrant who holds the human race imprisoned in guilt and under judgment. Sin is on top of us, weighs us down, and is a crushing burden.” (pg. 99)
4. And yet, for the most part people don’t see themselves as “sinners” who are under judgment, but rather think that they are really pretty good. Donald Grey Barnhouse describes it this way, “It is only stubborn self-pride that keeps man from the confession to God that would bring release, but that way he refuses to take. Man stands before God today like a little boy who swears with crying and tears that he has not been anywhere near the jam jar, and who with an air of outraged innocence, pleads the justice of his position, in total ignorance of the fact that a good spoonful of jam has fallen on his shirt under his chin and is plainly visible to all but himself.” (MacArthur pg. 179)
5. Having reviewed the formal charges and accusation of the sinfulness of all of humanity that Paul has already brought against them, including me and you, Paul now comes to the second step in the judicial procedure against all mankind, which is this:
II. The Indictment that Proves mankind’s Guilt
A. Look at the first part of v. 10: As it is written (Stop there)
1. Webster defines “indictment” as “a formal written statement framed by a prosecuting authority and found by a jury charging a person with an offense.” (Webster’s 9th pg. 614)
2. Therefore, here we see that Paul’s formal written indictment against mankind in vv. 10-18 is taken directly from the Old Testament Scriptures, to which “as it is written” refers. Since the word “written” (gegraptai) here is in the perfect tense in the Greek, Paul is stating the on-going permanence of what God’s Word says and its divine authority upon all men.
3. From the authoritative Old Testament Scriptures, Paul will use and quote several passages from Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah to form a devastating fourteen-count indictment to prove the universal guilt and condemnation of the entire human race. Leon Morris rightly states that Paul “follows here a common rabbinical practice of stringing passages together like pearls.” (pg. 166)
4. Now these specific counts are not just nails in the coffin lid of all humanity, but irreversible screws from which there is no escape. Therefore, in vv. 10-18 we see the most explicit description of the total depravity of mankind in all of Scripture.
5. This does not mean that people are always as bad as they could possibly be, but rather it means that every faculty and function of our being is morally stained by sin. It is important to understand that this description of sinful humanity describes us as Christians before we came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
B. Now these fourteen counts of Paul’s indictment can be divided into four categories. The first category is: The Character of depraved man in vv. 10-12. Here Paul shows the true heart character of every unregenerate person.
1. Count 1 in v. 10: “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;” (Eccl. 7:20)
• The word “righteousness” (dikaios) means both being right before God and living in perfect conformity to His law. Woodrow Kroll correctly states, “Righteousness is not only the key word in this epistle, it is also the criterion by which sin is judged. The bad news is, men and women lack the righteousness necessary to live with God in His heavenly home.” (pg. 40)
• No matter how righteous a person may think he is according to his standards, God says there is “none” who meet His holy standard of perfection (Matt. 5:48). Isaiah 64:6 says, “…all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
• And for those who might think that they are the exception, Paul says, “not even one.” Only Jesus Christ, the God-Man was perfectly righteous and sinless (2 Cor. 5:21).
2. Count 2 in v. 11: “THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,” (Ps. 43:2; 53:2)
• The word “understands” (sunion) speaks of spiritual understanding. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 we read, “But a natural man (i.e. an unbeliever, unregenerate, unsaved man) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
• Because the unsaved are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), darkened (Eph. 4:18), and blind (2 Cor. 4:4), absolutely “none” can understand spiritual truth.
3. Count 3 in v. 11: “THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;” (Ps. 14:2; 53:2)
• Judging from the vast number of religions and cults in the world, we might think that millions of people worldwide are seeking after God. But left to himself, unregenerate people never seek for the one true living God or His truth, instead they suppresses it and turn to idolatry (1:18-23). All man-made religious systems are in reality nothing more than a false god.
• Therefore, apart from God taking the initiative by His sovereign grace to first draw an unbeliever to Himself through His Spirit (Jn. 6:44), absolutely no one ever seeks for God. This is why I believe the modern “Seeker Services” in the church where the whole thing is geared to unbelievers is not biblical.
4. Count 4 in v. 12: “ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE,” (Ps. 14:3; 53:3)
• Not only are “none” seeking for God, but notice that “all” mankind is fleeing from Him. To have “turned aside” (ezeklinan) means to deviate from God’s prescribed path (Isa. 53:6; Mal. 2:8).
• The picture is of a camel caravan crossing the desert that has strayed from its course and cannot return to the proper path.
5. Count 5 in v. 12: “TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;” (Ps. 14:3; 53:3)
• “Together,” all at the same time, the entire human race has become useless when compared to God’s original design of living to please Him.
• The word “useless” (echreothesan) means worthless and unprofitable. It was often used of rotten fruit or sour milk that had become unfit to eat or drink.
6. Count 6 in v. 12: “THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” (Ps. 14:1, 3; 53:1, 3; Eccl. 7:20)
• The word “good” (chrestoteta) here refers to God’s perfect standard of moral uprightness, goodness and kindness. This doesn’t mean that people cannot be of benefit to society, but “none” can do anything of spiritual or eternal value, “not even one.”
The second category is: The Communication of depraved man (vv. 13-14). A person’s heart character manifests itself in how he speaks to others. For Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “…the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
7. Count 7 in v. 13: “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE,” (Ps. 5:9)
• I think Kenneth Taylor said it best, “Their talk is foul and filthy like the stench from an open grave.” (The Living Bible)
8. Count 8 in v. 13: “WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” (Ps. 5:9)
• Man’s sinfulness is continually evidenced through the small instrument of his tongue. He deceives by lying, flattery, smooth talking to get his way, and making promises he never intends to keep.
9. Count 9 in v. 13: “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS;” (Ps. 140:3)
• The “Asp” is the Egyptian cobra, but is probably used here of all poisonous snakes, which “under their lips” or at the base of their fangs, are equipped with sacs filled with deadly poison.
• The speech of unbelievers is often like the deadly poison of a viper. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
• Words have tremendous power to wound and damage people’s lives. That’s why whoever started the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” didn’t know the Bible.
10. Count 10 in v. 14: “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS;” (Ps. 10:7)
• No one has to teach anyone how to curse and be vulgar. It is the common expression of the anger and bitterness within a person toward God, others, and life itself when he is offended or doesn’t get what he demands. And nowadays it seems to be just another way of acting “cool.” (Pro. 10:28)
The third category is: The Conduct of depraved man (vv. 15-17). This sounds like a condensed history of the world.
11. Count 11 in v. 15: “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD,” (Isa. 59:7)
• The unregenerate heart is innately murderous and is eager to commit violent acts of injustice and war against others. The world is filled with animosity, hatred, terrorists, and murderers. (Prov. 1:16)
• Although not everyone literally commits murder, Jesus put anger and hatred in our hearts toward others into the very same category (Matt. 5:21-22).
12. Count 12 in v. 16: “DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS,” (Isa. 59:7)
• Wherever sinful man goes destruction and misery always follows him. In his self-centered pride he carries out destructive acts toward others, and the result of such sinful things is that he brings misery upon others and upon himself.
13. Count 13 in v. 17: “AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” (Isa. 59:8)
• Since destruction and misery are characteristic to them, naturally the path of peace is totally unknown or foreign to them. Unsaved people will never truly experience peace with others until they have first made peace with God.
The fourth category is: The Cause of man’s depravity (v. 18)
14. Count 14 1n v. 18: “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Ps. 36:1)
• Here we see the root cause of all the sins of humanity described in vv. 10-17. To have “no fear of God before their eyes” means that God is totally excluded from their thinking and they live their daily lives as if He doesn’t exist.
• John Murray accurately states, “To be destitute of the fear of God is to be godless, and no indictment could be more inclusive and decisive than the charge here made.” (pp. 104-105)
• Today we see people who have “No Fear” toward all kinds of dangerous things, and they wear T-shirts that say it. But to have “no fear” or terror of God who has the power to destroy their body and soul in hell (Matt. 16:28) is the epitome of a depraved and godless heart.
C. Now what an appalling picture of the total depravity of all mankind!
1. Paul’s fourteen-count indictment here proves the universal guilt and condemnation of the entire human race. This is the sinful character, communication, conduct, and cause that God in Christ has saved true believers from. Praise Him for that!
2. But although sin’s controlling power and dominion has been broken in our lives, we still struggle with sin’s indwelling presence and influence (Gal. 5:17). Therefore, we must constantly live in dependence on God and be controlled by His Spirit to daily experience His victory over it in our lives (Gal. 5:16).
3. And even as believers, we must have a holy, reverential fear of God, for this is not only the beginning of spiritual wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10), but also it will protect us from sinning. Proverbs 16:6 says, “…by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.” Is that true in your life?
4. Paul now moves to the third step in the judicial procedure against all mankind, which is this:
III. The Defense on Behalf of Mankind
A. Look at v. 19: Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed… (Stop there)
1. Here Paul anticipates the line of argument the Jews will use in their defense. Since he knew that his Jewish kinsmen would listen to these quotations from “the Law,” referring to the entire Old Testament Scriptures, agree with them, and then say that they applied to the Gentiles instead of themselves, he doesn’t let them off the hook.
2. In saying “we know” (oidamen) Paul refers to a knowledge that is certain and commonly held in that, “…whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law.” He is referring especially to the Jews who were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (v. 2), and therefore were bound to live by them.
3. In essence, Paul is saying since the Jews, God’s chosen people, are shown by Scripture to not be exempt from their guilt before God in light of their own unbelief and disobedience to the Law, then there is no question that the Gentiles, who have no claim on God’s favor, are also guilty. The Law on which the Jews prided themselves convicts them as well as the Gentiles.
4. This is why Paul then declares in v. 19, “…so that every mouth may be closed.” Every mouth of all humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike. There are no exceptions and no one slips between the cracks!
5. Imagine the frightening scene that Paul is describing here! In the courtroom the entire human race is standing in front of Almighty God who is both the offended party and the Judge. Their guilt having been thoroughly exposed and every fact laid bare. Now one by one the accused are given an opportunity to answer the charges made against them and bring a defense.
6. This is similar to what we see in courtrooms today. Woodrow Kroll says, “Ordinarily in a civil court the time of the defense is usually given to flowery speeches, insinuation, discrediting of witnesses, muddling of the issues, and so on. But this will not be the case at the judgment bar of God. When the evidence against the universal sinfulness and guilt of humanity is presented and the opportunity for defense comes, there will be no defense.” (pg. 43)
7. There is no defense because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of mankind’s innocence. Paul says, “…every mouth (is) closed.”
8. The word “closed” (phrage) here means to be stopped or silenced. In other words, the weight of evidence is so decisive that all mankind is overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and terror that they stand speechless before God in utter silence.
9. There are no clever lawyers, no impassioned appeals, no arguing, no blame-shifting, no plea bargaining, and no bribing the Judge. It is so silent that you can hear a pin drop!
10. So the charge has been made, the indictment has been proved, and no defense has been given. Now we come to the fourth step in the judicial procedure against all mankind is this:
IV. The Verdict that Mankind is Guilty
A. Look at the end of v. 19: … and all the world may become accountable to God.
1. The word “accountable” (hupodikos) here is a legal term and means to be guilty and legally liable to come under judgment. On all counts of being a sinner and sinning against the holy God of the universe, the verdict rings out loud and clear—All mankind is guilty before God!
2. Now all that is left is for mankind to await God’s sentence of eternal condemnation to come (Jn. 3:36). Never forget that people feel guilty today because they are guilty, and unless their sin is removed their guilt and condemnation cannot be.
B. Paul then hammers home the irrefutable truth of all mankind’s guilt by declaring in v. 20: Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight… (Stop there)
1. Since God’s standard is perfection, absolutely no one can earn salvation or be “justified” (kikaiothesetai)—declared righteous by the “works of the Law” or obedience to the requirements of God’s Law because no one can keep it (Gal. 2:16; 3:11). Why not?
2. Because Paul says in v. 20, “…for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” The Law was given not as an instrument of salvation but of condemnation.
3. Its function is to show everyone that we don’t have the ability to keep it and we are sinners, in order to lead us to despair in ourselves and drive us to Jesus Christ who alone can grant us grace and forgiveness of our sins (4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:7-11; Gal. 3:17-24).
In closing, all mankind is guilty before God! If we got what we deserved we’d all be in eternal hell. That’s the bad news, but now we are ready for the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, which we will begin to see next time.
On the cross Jesus paid in full the penalty for sin that we deserved. He is the only hope of escape from God’s righteous judgment. Have you turned to Him to save you?