The Need of the Whole World: Part 3 of 3 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
Unregenerate man can never find peace with his fellowman, until peace has been made with his Creator. Take a good look at the world today. After all these years man is still talking about peace, but he hasn’t found it. Just read your news paper or watch the evening news, my friend; there is no peace in this world. The United Nations and other peace-oriented agencies are doomed to failure because man is a ferocious animal. The most savage of animals does not destroy his own species to appease his hunger, but man destroys his fellowman for much less. The world is filled with animosity, hatred, terrorists, and murderers. Man will never be at peace with himself until he is at peace with God. Isaiah said the same thing long before Paul came on the scene. “The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways; They have made themselves crooked paths; Whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isa 59:8).
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Quoted from Psalm 36:1—“An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.” This final charge is the fountain from which all the others spring. All the characteristics of man, his lack of understanding, his unprofitableness, his lack of peace, etc. stem from the fact that man does not fear God. Since man has no spiritual understanding, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, man is caught in a vicious circle. Only the external force of the Holy Spirit of God can break the circle of man’s ignorance, arrogance, and guilt. Paul presents these fourteen specific, written counts in his indictment against the whole world.
This, then, is God’s X-ray of the human race. It reveals universal unrighteousness (3:10); ignorance and independence toward God (3:11); waywardness, unprofitableness, and lack of any goodness (3:12). Man’s throat is full of rottenness, his tongue is deceitful, his lips are venomous (3:13); his mouth is full of swearing (3:14); his feet are bent on murder (3:15); he leaves behind trouble and destruction (3:16); he doesn’t know how to make peace (3:17); and he has no regard for God (3:18). Here we see the total depravity of man, by which we mean that sin has affected all of mankind and that it has affected every part of his being. Obviously every man has not committed every sin, but he has a nature which is capable of committing them all.
If Paul had wanted to give a more complete catalog of sins, he could have mentioned the sins of sex: adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, perversion, bestiality, prostitution, rape, lewdness, pornography, and smut. He could have mentioned the sins associated with war: destruction of innocents, atrocities, gas chambers, ovens, concentration camps, torture devices, sadism. He could have mentioned sins of the home: unfaithfulness, divorce, wifebeating, mental cruelty, child abuse. Add to these the crimes of murder, mutilation, theft, burglary, embezzlement, vandalism, graft, corruption. Also the sins of speech: profanity, suggestive jokes, sensual language, cursing, blasphemy, lies, backbiting, gossip, character assassination, grumbling, and complaining. Other personal sins are: drunkenness, drug addiction, pride, envy, covetousness, ingratitude, filthy thought-life, hatred, and bitterness. The list is seemingly endless—pollution, littering, racism, exploitation, deceit, betrayal, broken promises, and on and on. What further proof of human depravity is needed?
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
When God gave the law to Israel, He was using Israel as a sample of the human race. He found that Israel was a failure, and He correctly applied this finding to all of humanity. It is the same as when a health inspector takes a test-tube of water from a well, tests the sample, finds it polluted, and then pronounces the entire well polluted. Having charged the whole world with being under sin, and having listed fourteen counts to His indictment, Paul now moves
in the judicial procedure to the defense on behalf of the world. He quickly anticipates the line of argument the Jew will use in his defense. The Jew will say that Paul’s description of mankind in the preceding verses does not describe him, but it does describe the heathen. So Paul makes it clear: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law. By the law, he means the entire Old Testament Scriptures. The apostle makes it clear that he was in fact speaking of Jews as well as the heathen for they had received the oracles of God and were bound by them.
Ordinarily, in a civil court, the time spent by the defense is usually used up making flowery speeches, insinuations, discrediting witnesses, muddling of the issues, etc. But this will not be the case at the judgment bar of God. When the evidence against the universal sinfulness and guilt of man is presented and the opportunity for defense comes, there will be no defense. That every mouth may be stopped. The mouth of the heathen will be stopped. The mouth of the moral man and religious man will be stopped. Even the mouth of the cursing and bitter man will be stopped. A silent world will stand in judgment before the bar of God and neither clever lawyers, plea bargaining, bribing the judge, nor an impassioned appeal will get the sinner off. The famous French infidel, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who refused to marry and sent his illegitimate children to an orphanage, exclaimed: “I will stand before God and defend my conduct!” Bad news for Rousseau. No one will utter a word in his defense, for no one will have a defense before the Righteous Judge—the Lord Jesus Christ.
All that remains in the judicial procedure is the verdict. The charge has been made. The indictment has been read. No defense can be made for there is no supporting case for mankind. The verdict is now ready to be heard. All the world may become guilty before God. The verdict is guilty, the only thing it can be. In the New Testament, “guilt” is a judicial concept affirming criminal responsibility. This is true whether the court is human or divine.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Therefore. Anytime we see the word “therefore” we ought to ask ourselves what is “therefore” there for; a better translation is “because.” Paul is now coming to the summation of his argument and is about to make an application and draw the conclusion. He began back in chapter 1, verse 18, by proposing that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. He has shown that the righteousness of God is sadly needed in the world. It is needed by the heathen, the moralist, the Jew. The righteousness of God is needed by the whole world. Having given his proposition and the facts assembled from the Old Testament and present experience, Paul is now ready to draw a conclusion. He begins with therefore or “because.”
By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight. Paul concludes that there is no law anywhere that can justify any man. The law of the heathen, the law of nature, the law of morality, the law of conscience, the Law of Moses, none can justify a man and make him righteous in the sight of God. Even the law of Christ, laid down in the Sermon on the Mount, cannot justify a man. It is by the law that the knowledge of sin comes, but no law can save a man. The law can convict men of sin, it can define sin, but it cannot liberate man from sin. Only the grace of God can do that. The whole world is sinful and desperately in need of the righteousness of God. But if that righteousness is to come to the individual, it must come through God’s grace, sovereign grace, and not human works.