The Need of the Whole World Part 1 of 3 (series Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
The sinner has nothing within himself to enable him to deal with sin.
(12) The Need of the Whole World.
Paul has shown that the heathen are lost, because even though they had the witness of both nature and conscience, they suppressed the truth God gave to them. He has shown also that the moral man is lost, because even though he put on an outward show of piousness in order to judge the heathen, inwardly he was guilty of the same sins. Likewise the Jew is lost because he has not kept the law, and his circumcision, ancestry, or arguments can not save him from being condemned for being disobedient. Now Paul wraps up his argument and the summation assumes the terminology of the courtroom. He begins by making a charge against the whole world.
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
The first step in a judicial procedure is to make an accusation or charge against the offender. Paul does this when he says they are all under sin. Paul has charged the entire world with being inherently sinful. If the evidence is sufficient and the charge can be proved, the whole world will be judged guilty before God. Notice he does not say “all have sinned” but that all are under sin. This means they are all under the penalty as well as the power of sin. What the apostle has in mind here is a very definite contrast between being “under sin” and being “under grace.” Romans 6:14–15 speaks of being “under grace” with our sins pardoned and ourselves justified. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
Are we better than they? Essentially, the question is this: “Do the Jews have an excuse? Is there any escape from the final verdict of the universal guilt of all men?” The Jews enjoyed certain privileges as the elect nation of God, but these privileges did not include preferential treatment. To give evidence that the Jews have no preferred position, Paul stated that he had previously accused both Jews and Gentiles of being under sin, that is, they stand under sin’s power, control, and condemnation that results from it.
Not at all. Paul’s answer is Not at all. The Jews were certainly better off than the Gentiles, since they had the oracles of God to teach them better. But, because they were better, that only aggravated their guilt.
For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. The answer in either case is that the Jews are no better and no worse. All are sinners. "We" probably refers to the Christians in Rome who would receive this letter. The sinner has nothing within himself to enable him to deal with sin. He is under sin, that is, under the power, rule, command, and control of sin. He needs help from without, since his own resources cannot set him free. That leads up to the next question in Paul’s presentation. He has shown that the heathen are lost, the Jews are lost, and that the self-righteous moralists, whether Jews or Gentiles, are lost. Now he turns to the question: Are all men lost?
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
Next in the judicial procedure is an indictment. Webster defines indictment as “a charge; accusation; specifically, a formal written accusation charging one or more persons with the commission of a crime” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). And so, an indictment is a formal, written charge and every indictment must have at least one count, one specific charge to it. The more serious the crime, the more counts to the indictment. Paul immediately follows this indictment by quoting from a series of Old Testament passages which demonstrate, in no less than fourteen counts, the perversity and depravity of the entire world.
As it is written. This phrase is a common introduction to Old Testament questions. It is used to emphasize continuity and permanence, and implies that divine authority is behind it. It is
God’s word that proves the sweeping declaration that the whole human race is doomed. Not even one single solitary individual can stand before God on his own merit and hope for God to pardon his sin and accept him into the family of heaven…not one!
There is none righteous, no, not one. This same idea is seen throughout the Old Testament and is summarized in Psalm 14:1–3. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” We might paraphrase the last part of this verse as follows: “There is not a single righteous person.” Righteousness is not only the key word in this epistle; it is also the measure by which sin is judged.
11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
There is none who understands. Here understanding is not mental but spiritual. The world is totally lacking in spiritual discernment: “Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph 4:18). The natural man may not be mentally deranged, but he is certainly spiritually deranged and incapable of spiritual understanding: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor 2:14).
There is none who seeks after God. In Psalm 53:2–3 David remarked that there is no man who naturally seeks after God, because man is sinful—“God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.” When the sinner is drawn by God, he then seeks the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and confession. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44). There is no one who has a right understanding of God. If left to himself, fallen man would never seek God. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that anyone ever does. Because he naturally does not seek the Lord, man gives evidence of being guilty of unrighteousness.
12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
They have all turned aside. Man has not only “missed the mark,” he has also “perverted his path.” In this quote from Psalms 14:3 and 53:4, the picture is of a camel caravan crossing the desert which has strayed from the route and cannot return to the proper path. They are doomed. They left the way they knew was right. Primitive tribes have a tradition that way back at one time their forefathers knew the living and true God. But along the way to the present day, they lost God and took up the worship of idols made to represent animals and birds. If you are honest you know that you are not doing what you ought to do. Furthermore, you are not going to do it, although you know what it is. You have turned aside. Man has lost his way by deviating from God’s prescribed route of righteousness.
They have together become unprofitable. Man is unuseful, of no benefit. Like salt that has lost its savor or fruit that hast become rotten, so all men are viewed as useless, rotten, corrupted when compared to the righteousness of Christ.
There is none who does good, no, not one. Again the written indictment comes from Psalm 14. This means that he can do nothing of spiritual or eternal value. No matter what he does, as far as righteousness is concerned, it is nothing but filthy rags (Isa 64:6). "There is not one who lives a good life, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3).