Gordon E. Johnson


God's Final Indictment of the Sin Nature

Romans 3:1-20 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul devotes some sixty-three verses in his denunciation of the principle of sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20). To some, my three studies may seem too extensive a treatment of sin. But in one sense, our appreciation for our "so great salvation" (Heb. 2:3) is reflected in our conviction of the sinfulness of sin. If nothing less than the death of God's own Son was needed to remove that insuperable barrier between God and man; the magnitude of sin as a principle must be granted.

Paul begins with the wrath of God against all ungodliness (1:18); he proceeds to speak of God's general revelation (v. 19) and the entrance of sin with its six downward steps (vv. 21-23) until God three times ratifies man's rebellion ( vv.24-28). Paul then lists 22 sins men practice and justify.

If that exposé appears to apply to the Gentile, he devotes Rom. 2 to the human heart in general and to the Jew in particular. The far more subtle sins of self righteousness are exposed for what they are. «spiritual» pride, hypocrisy, legalism, a judgmental attitude to all others with a self forgiving tolerance for one's own sins, this amounts to a defiance of God's holiness. Paul concludes by removing the Jew's false confidence in circumcision, leaving him as destitute as any Gentile --a truly masterful exposé of my heart and yours.

Paul Responds to Two Questions that Trouble the Jew  Romans 3:1- 9

Paul recognizes the force of his argument but his opponent asks a pertinent question: "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?  Paul's response is immediate and positive: "Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God (Old Testament)" (3:1, 2).  Indeed God did privilege the Jew by entrusting to Abraham and his descendents a written record of his faithfulness and salvation. But the added indictment of the Jew is that he has not believed that record and has rather set about to establish his own righteousness at God's expense (Rom. 10:1-3).  The Jew stands doubly guilty of privilege and disobedience.

One further question remains for Paul to answer. "What then? Are we (Jews) better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jew and Greeks that they are all under sin" (Rom. 3:9). Paul leaves no escape, no pretext available to the Jew or the self righteous in his own sight. Such a resounding indictment leaves absolutely no room for any works, neither good for merit nor bad for demerit. Paul closes the door to any salvation by which any man or woman might hope to enter. The bottom line is the human heart is lost by virtue of its own sin, be it unrighteousness or assumed self righteousness.  This has devastating consequences for any view of man's good works as being acceptable to God.

Paul Marshals Evidence from the Very Scriptures God Gave to the Jew - Romans 3:10-18

There is no more damming evidence in all of Scripture than this passage; the human heart is devoid of any goodness that God can ever accept. The theologians call this Total Depravity.  A word of caution. Total Depravity does not mean that every individual is as totally evil as can be; nor does it imply that man may not be capable of some human goodness as a vestige of the image of God in which he was created. Horizontally toward his fellow man there may be «virtues» of patience, kindness and human love, etc. Total depravity is, however, God's final statement of man in his vertical relationship to a holy God. In that relationship man is destitute of merit and good works.  Any salvation or true holiness can never proceed for that source.

Paul's denunciation of the human heart remains true for the unbeliever and the believer who apart from the grace of God may hope that efforts in his cause or service in his name proceeding from the old nature may be acceptable to God.  Paul denies any such service that proceeds from the flesh. In Romans 8, a chapter of victory in Christ Paul states: "So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). This basic truth will have most profound implications for the believer who may choose to live according to the flesh.

Can there be anything clearer? "There is none righteous no, not one: . . .They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one" (3:10, 12).

God's Final Judicial Judgment on Jew and Gentile - Romans 3:19-20

We often say: "this is the bottom line, the last word." Paul sums it up by saying that God's law demands nothing less than absolute perfection, thus excluding all and any human merit. From a heart of pride, rebellion and disobedience, can any good thing come forth? Remember it must be good by God's absolute standard, not man's relative standard. Paul is not judging all human endeavor on the horizontal plane but rather on man's final standing before an infinitely holy God. "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law (Jews) that every mouth ( Gentiles) may be  stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (v.19).

This would seem to deny the human heart of ever realizing salvation.  But here is precisely where the grace and love of God appear. With an about face Paul asserts: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed . . . ." (3: 21). We leave the darkness of sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20) to enter the light of the Gospel (3: 21-31). Our next study awaits the Good News of the grace of God.

Some Powerful Deductions from God's Final Indictment

  1. All have sinned (past tense) and fall short (present tense) of the glory of God.
  2. A holy God cannot accept anything less than his law's demands.
  3. God's only Son did, however, achieve God's full acceptance: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).  A way is open for the lost sinner.
  4. By extension the human heart unaided by the grace of God cannot serve God acceptably. This is God's final verdict for the sinner and the saint who would serve in the energy of the flesh for self glory or self righteousness.

Dr. E. Gordon Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
October 8, 2007