Forum Class #4 September 28, 2003

The Universal Human Condition

Romans 3:1. Then what advantage has the Jew [or the churchgoer who does not know the Lord]? Or what is the value of circumcision? [or baptism, or church membership] 2 Much in every way. To begin with [foremost], the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God [logion, plural from logia, singular, oracles, therefore, "the very words of God"].

(1) A person who goes to church will be associating with a good class of people. He or she is likely to live a better life style than a non-churchgoer. Even if that person stays lost, there will be less punishment in the hereafter for them because they will have fewer wicked deeds to be dealt with. (2) "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." A religious Jew or a churchgoer who hears the word of God over and over again may well be on his way to knowing Jesus. (3) Knowing the Bible puts a person in touch with reality. Biblical principles are valuable in living daily life even if one is not a believer. It will be clear to that person that there is no other path and the true nature of God will be made clearer. The Bible is mankind's greatest possession.

The heritage of the Jews is further explained in Romans 9: They are "Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption [as sons], the [shekinah] glory, the [Old and New] covenants, the giving of the law [of Moses], the [temple] service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers [the patriarchs] and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came, who is God over all, the eternally blessed. Amen."

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every man be false, as it is written, "That thou mayest be justified in thy words, and prevail when thou art judged." 5 But if our wickedness serves to show the justice of God, what shall we say? That God is unjust 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 falsehood God's truthfulness 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. 9 What then? Are we Jews any better off?

No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands, no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they do not know." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

19 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. 20 For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

At the Pearly Gates: One frequently hears jokes about people reaching the Pearly Gates. The assumption seems to be that but a few very bad people all will enter heaven. Bravo television's program Actors' Studio features a weekly interview of a prominent actor or actress by James Lipton. One question asked of each guest is "If there is a heaven, what would you like to have God say to you when you get to there?" The answers, of course, are all positive and upbeat. Romans teaches that no one is righteous, all are under the power of sin, no one seeks God, everyone has gone wrong. Why should a holy God let anyone into His heaven? On what basis? On what grounds? The popular view seems to be that one will be admitted if his or her good deeds outweigh the bad. Obviously Romans 3 shoots down all such illusion. Every mouth will be stopped, every human being must die and give account of Himself to God. Only those who have personally settled accounts beforehand and received the righteousness of Christ can enter. It is not a question of falling short of the entrance requirements by some small amount, the gulf between sinful mankind and a Holy God is infinite.

 The Teachings of Jesus and Romans 3 (from Roger Nicole)

Our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the concern, compassion and love which he showed to mankind, made some very vivid portrayals of man's condition. He did not mince words about the gravity of human sin. He talked of man as salt that has lost its savor (Matt. 5:13). He talked of man as a corrupt tree which is bound to produce corrupt fruit (Matt. 7:7). He talked of man as being evil: "You, being evil, know how to give good things to your children" (Luke 11:13). On one occasion he lifted up his eyes toward heaven and talked about an "evil and adulterous generation" (Matt. 12:39), or again, "this wicked generation" (v. 45). In a great passage dealing with what constitutes true impurity and true purity he made the startling statement that out of the heart proceed murders, adulteries, evil thoughts and things of that kind (Mark 7:21-23). He spoke about Moses having to give special permissive commandments to men because of the hardness of their hearts (Matt. 19:8). When the rich young ruler approached him, saying, "Good Master," Jesus said, 'There is none good but God" (Mark 10:18).

Jesus compared men, even the leaders of his country, to wicked servants in a vineyard (Matt. 21:33-41). He exploded in condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, who were considered to be among the best men, men who were in the upper ranges of virtue and in the upper classes of society (Matt. 23:2-39).

The Lord Jesus made a fundamental statement about man's depravity in John 3:6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." He saw in man an unwillingness to respond to grace--"You will not come to God" (John 5:40), "You have not the love of God" (v. 42), "You receive me not" (v. 43), "You believe not" (v. 47). Such sayings occur repeatedly in the Gospel of John. "The world's works are evil" (John 7:7); "None of you keeps the law" (v. 19). "You shall die in your sins," he says (John 8:21). "You are from beneath" (v. 23); "Your father is the devil, who is a murderer and a liar" (vv. 38, 44); "You are not of God" (v. 47); "You are not of my sheep" (John 10:26); "He that hates me hates my Father" (John 15:23-25). This is the way in which our Lord spoke to the leaders of the Jews. He brought to the fore their utter inability to please God.

Following another line of approach he showed also the blindness of man, that is, his utter inability to know God and understand him. Here again we have a whole series of passages showing that no man knows the Father but him to whom the Son has revealed him (Matt. 11:27). He compared men to the blind leading the blind (Matt. 15:14). He mentioned that Jerusalem itself did not know or understand the purpose of God and, as a result, disregarded the things that concern salvation (Luke 19:42). The Gospel of John records him as saying that he that believed not was condemned already because he had not believed on the Son of God (John 3:18). "This is the condemnation, loved the darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (v. 19). He said that only the one who has been reached by grace can walk not in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12). The Lord Jesus emphasized that it is essential for man to be saved by a mighty act of God if he is to be rescued from his condition of misery (John 3:3, 5, 7-16). Even in the Lord's Prayer the Lord teaches us to say, "Forgive us our debts" (Matt. 6:12). And this is a prayer that we need to repeat again and again. He said, "The sick are the people who need a physician" (Matt. 9:12). We are those sick people who need a physician to help us and redeem us. He said that we are people who are burdened and heavy-laden (Matt. 11:28).

The people who were most readily received by the Lord were those who had this sense of need and who therefore did not come to him with a sense of the sufficiency of their performance. The people he received were those who came broken-hearted and bruised with the sense of their inadequacy. (Professor Roger R. Nicole, "The Doctrines of Grace in Jesus' Teaching" quoted by James M. Boice, Romans).

James Montgomery Boice--Comments on Romans 3:13-18

"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:13-18)

The difference between this and the passage in Romans 1 is that each of these sentences is a quotation from the Old Testament, whereas the earlier passage was made up merely of the apostle's own descriptive terminology. In other words, the verses in Romans 1 are a description of the world as Paul saw it, though he is also writing as an apostle and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The verses in Romans 3 are more specifically and obviously God's own description of the race's depravity.

Wicked Words from Wicked Men: Verses 13 and 14 are made up of three quotations from the Old Testament: Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, and Psalm 10:7, though there are other passages that are similar. What is striking about them is that they all refer to the organs of speech: throat, tongue, lips, and mouth. And they describe how the words spoken by these organs are used to harm others. In the previous verses we have been shown how people harm themselves by turning away from God. Here we learn how they also harm others by the organs of speech that God gave them.

What do you think of first when you read these verses? If you are like me, you notice the words cursing and bitterness and think, first of all, of harsh speech, which is meant to wound another person. Perhaps when you were a child and other children said hurtful things to you, you were taught this little saying by a parent or a family friend: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Unfortunately, I am sure you also learned--if you thought about it--that this little saying is not really true. It is a way of bolstering our egos to help us get through some difficult times, but it is not true that words do not hurt us. Words do hurt; they hurt deeply. In fact, they often hurt permanently. When I think back on my childhood I can remember times when I suffered some physical injury. I broke my collarbone, damaged two teeth, tore the cartilage in my left leg, and suffered scores of bumps, bangs, and bruises. But, although I can sometimes recall the incidents, I cannot remember even one bit of the pain. Yet I remember the pain of words. I remember harsh things other people said, and I still hurt when I recall them. Sticks and stones do hurt our bones--temporarily. But words wound forever.

Yet, I think that what Paul is saying here goes deeper. Indeed, it is clear that it does, because the words that describe the outcome of the harmful words of the ungodly all have to do, not with psychological injury, but with death. Martin Luther has written the most penetrating study of this passage of any commentator I have studied, and he, with characteristic insight and brilliance, relates these evil words not just to hurtful things someone may say to us, but to false teachings or heresy, which are able to kill the soul. Luther suggests that those who teach falsely do three things:

(1) They devour the dead. This means that they devour those who are spiritually dead already. Here he writes vividly: "Their teaching...swallows up the dead, who have gone from faith to unbelief, and swallows them up in such a way that there is no hope of returning from the death of this unbelief, unless they can be recalled by the most wonderful power of God before they descend to hell, as the Lord showed in the case of Lazarus who had been dead for four days. He says, moreover, that the grave is 'open' because they devour and seduce many people." Luther quotes Psalm 14:4 ("Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread?"), then continues: 'That is, just as there is squeamishness about eating bread, even though it is eaten more frequently than other foods, so also they do not cease to devour their dead, and their disciples are never satisfied." Luther concludes, "Heresy, or faithless teaching, is nothing else than a kind of disease or plague which infects and kills many people, just as is the case with the physical plague."

And, of course, this is precisely the business the world's purveyors of words are engaged in, even those who are highly regarded by our society. I was once talking with josh D. McDowell, the popular Christian apologist who speaks widely on college campuses for Campus Crusade for Christ and is author of the best-selling books Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. McDowell was in the process of launching a nationwide campaign called "Why Wait?" whose purpose was to encourage today's teens to reject sexual experience before marriage. We were discussing this campaign and some of the pressures on today's young people. He mentioned television, pointing out that the average young person today will have seen more than ninety thousand explicit sexual encounters on television before he or she reaches the age of nineteen. Whenever anyone on television says, "I love you" to another person, the two always end up in bed. This is all "love" is allowed to mean. Moreover, the young person will probably not see even one example of anyone contracting a sexual disease as the result of such open sex practices. Nor will the TV screen show the pain or psychological damage that promiscuous sex brings. As we were talking about these things, McDowell said, "On television immorality has become morality. Sin is the norm."

But immorality kills! That is the thrust of the first three chapters of Romans and the point of Paul's specific quotations from the Old Testament. Can you see this? If you can, you need to start thinking differently about the contemporary media-television, newspapers, magazines, and movies. Their messages are not harmless entertainment, as we sometimes think. They are a death machine. They are killing our young people and many older people as well. They are an open grave for the unwary.

(2) They teach deceitfully. The second thing Luther noticed about those who disseminate false teaching is that they teach deceitfully, which is what Paul says. "Their tongues practice deceit" (v. 13).

Luther notices the difference between the mouth, which has teeth and chews--it is referred to later ("Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness")--and the tongue, which is soft. He says: "To teach deceitfully' is to teach a pleasing and wanton doctrine, as if it were holy, salutary, and from God, so that people who have been thus deceived hear this doctrine as if from God and believe that they are hearing him. For the message appears good to them and truthful and godly ....The tongue is soft, it has no bones, and it licks softly. Thus their every speech only softens the heart of men to be pleased with themselves in their own wisdom, their own righteousness, their own word or work. As it says in Isaiah 30:10: "Speak to us smooth things. Prophesy not to us what is right."

Isn't this what we hear in the words of the world around us? The world generally does not speak warnings--except as threats to other people. Or the contrary, we are encouraged to think that everything is all right with us--that we can do anything we wish, satisfy any desire, avoid any responsibility, above all, never express true repentance for anything-and ever). thing will come out right in the end. This is damnable heresy in the literal sense! It is false teaching that will transport many to hell.

(3) They kill those who have been taught such things. In the third of his three points Luther comes to the end result of false teaching, showing that it lead to death. "This same flattering and pleasing doctrine...not only does not make alive those who believe it but [it] actually kills them. And it kills them in such a way that they are beyond recovery." Paul has already said the same thing himself in Romans 2: "But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger...trouble and distress" (w. 8-9). He says it even more clearly later: "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23a).

Violent Acts from Violent Men: We are not to think that this grim description is limited to mere words, however, still less to charming (though deceptive) words. In verse 14 the deceitful and poisonous speech of verse 13 boils over into harsh "cursing and bitterness" on those who refuse to be deceived. And in verses 15-17 those who teach falsehood move from words to violent actions. These verses, quoted from Isaiah 59:7-8, describe three acts of violent men, beginning with the end result of these acts. To see the progression, we need to take them in reverse order.

(1) "The way of peace they do not know' (v. 17). This relates to people as they are in themselves apart from God. They know no personal peace--". ..the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud' (Isa. 57:20). But this also describes the effects such persons have upon others. Having no peace themselves, they disrupt the peace of other people. Commentator Haldane says rightly, "Such is a just description of man's ferocity, which fills the world with animosities, quarrels and hatred in the private connections of families and neighborhoods; and with revolution, wars and murders among nations. The most savage animals do not destroy so many of their own species to appease their hunger, as man destroys of his fellows to satiate his ambition, revenge or cupidity."

There are three ways in which men and women lack peace apart from God. First, they are not at peace with God; they are at war with him. Second, they are not at peace with one another; they hate and attack one another. Third, they are not at peace in themselves; they are restless and distressed. The only way we can find peace is by coming to the cross of Christ, where God has himself bridged the gap to man and has made peace. There sinners find peace with God and within themselves. And they are drawn together into fellowship with those who have likewise found peace and who are therefore able to live in peace with one another.

(2) "Ruin and misery mark their ways" (v. 16). Again, this is something wicked persons experience themselves; their way is misery and ruin. But it is also something they bring on others. In other words, this verse has an active and not just a passive sense. Without a changed nature, human beings naturally labor to destroy and ruin one another, as Paul has already shown earlier.

(3) "Their feet are swift to shed blood" (v. 15). Working backward, we come to the last of these deceitful actions. Their end is death-and not just physical death, though that would be bad enough in itself--but spiritual death, which is the death of the soul and spirit in hell. Death means separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God. It is forever.

No Fear of God: The last phrase of this great summary of the human race in ruin is from Psalm 36:1, and it is an apt conclusion. It tells why all these other violent and wicked acts have happened: "There is no fear of God before their eyes. "

You know, I am sure, that the word fear in this sentence does not mean exactly what we usually mean by the word. We mean "fright" or "terror," but in the Bible the word fear, when used of God, denotes a right and reverential frame of mind before him. It has to do with worshiping him, obeying him, and departing from evil. That is why we read in Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." This means that if we approach God rightly, all other things will fall into their proper places. When Romans 3:18 declares that the human race has not done this, it is saying what Paul has been stating all along. Because men and women will not know God, choosing rather to suppress the truth about him, their minds are darkened and they become fools. They claimed to be wise but "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:22).

One commentator says, "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." I find it interesting, however, that Paul here also refers to "eyes." This is the sixth of the specific body references Paul makes in these verses in order to make his accusations vivid. He has referred to throats, tongues, lips, mouths, and feet. Now he mentions eyes.

Since eyes are our organs of vision, to have the fear of God before our eyes means that we have God constantly in our thoughts and in a central position in everything that concerns us. It means that we are ever looking toward him. Here I remind you of what we see in Psalm 8:5, where man is described as being "a little lower than the heavenly beings." Earlier I pointed out, in discussing man's downward path, that it is our destiny as those made in God's image to look up to the heavenly beings and beyond them to God and thus become increasingly like God. To have the "fear of God before [our] eyes" is to do just that. It is the way of all blessing, growth, and knowledge. But if we will not do that, we will inevitably look down and become like the beasts who are below us.

I began this section with a reminder that "fear" in regard to God does not mean "fright" or "terror," but rather a right and reverential frame of mind before him. But I need to add that if we will not come to God as he presents himself to us in Jesus Christ (as Savior), it is not inappropriate to be actually afraid of the Almighty. God's wrath hangs over us. His terrible judgment awaits us as the proper recompense for our unatoned sins.

The irony of the state of human beings in our sin, however, is that we do not fear the one, holy, and judging God. Instead, we fear lesser entities. The pagan of Paul's day feared the vast pantheon of Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and an assortment of other gods. The pagan in the distant jungle fears the rivers, rocks, and trees. He fears the sky, the thunder, the spirits of the night. The "civilized" pagan--that is, a contemporary man or woman--fears the future, hostile neighbors, disease, technological breakdown, and a host of other dangers. Above all, everyone fears death.

What irony: To fear these things, all of which pass away eventually, and yet not fear God, to whom all of us must one day give an accounting. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah: "Öyou fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, [but] you forget the Loan your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, [and] you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor. (Isa. 51:12-13). No wonder the psalmist says, "Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways" (Ps. 128:1).

Mercy Alone: As we near the end of our studies of this first and most important section of Romans, it is helpful to note what others have written in summary about these words. One man who has written wisely is John Calvin:

"In his conclusion [Paul] again repeats, in different words, what we stated at the beginning, namely, that all wickedness flows from a disregard of God. When we have forsaken the fear of God, which is the essential part of wisdom, there is no right or purity left. In short, since the fear of God is the bridle by which our wickedness is held back, its removal frees us to indulge in every kind of licentious conduct.

David, in Psalm 14:3, says that there was such perversity in men that God, when looking on them all in succession, could not find even one righteous man. It therefore follows that this infection had spread into the whole human race, since nothing is hidden from the sight of God ....In other psalms he complains of the wickedness of his enemies, foreshadowing in himself and his descendants a type of the kingdom of Christ. In his adversaries, therefore, are represented all those who, being estranged from Christ, are not led by his Spirit. Isaiah expressly mentions Israel, and his accusation therefore applies still more to the Gentiles. There is no doubt that human nature is described in these words, in order that we may see what man is when left to himself, since Scripture testifies that all who are not regenerated by the grace of God are in this state. The condition of the saints would be not better unless this depravity were amended in them. That they may still, however, remember that they are not different from others by nature, they find in what remains of their carnal nature, from which they can never escape, the seeds of those evils which would continually produce their effect in them, if they were not prevented by being mortified. For this they are indebted to the mercy of God and not to their own nature."

How could our salvation be due to anything but mercy if we really are as ruined as Paul describes us? Ruined? Yes! But we may be saved from ruin by the glorious work of our divine Savior, Jesus Christ. (Romans, An Expositional Commentary, Baker Books, 2000).

Highly Recommended: James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, 4 volumes, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2000. Available from PBC Bookroom ($18.50 per volume plus shipping)

Romans Class Notes:   Index  |  1  | 2  |  3  |  4  | 5  |  6  |   |  8  |  9  | 10  |  11  | 12  | 13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18

Lambert Dolphin | | | September 24, 2003