In the first three chapters of the book of Romans, Paul provides us with irrefutable evidence that all men are indeed under sin. A firm grasp of this concept is foundational in understanding the Gospel. Contrary to what is commonly taught, Paul does not point to a birth defect as the basis for the sinner’s blame. Rather, he points out that God judges men who hold truth in unrighteousness. (Rom. 1:18) That is, those who understand good, embrace it as a worthy standard of conduct, even judge others by it, and yet still commit sin by violating their own standard. (See Matt. 7:1-2)
Beginning with Romans 1:18, Paul invites us into the courtroom to observe the sinful acts of the wicked: failure to glorify God, ungratefulness, murder, fornication, homosexuality, deceit, envy, idolatry, disobedience to parents, etc., etc., etc. Then, as we point our fingers in agreement with God and condemn those who have committed such evil, Paul points right back at us: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” All men stand blameworthy before God, condemned by their own mouths. As the master said to the servant in Luke 19:22, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.”
Often, when preaching the Gospel, we fall short of presenting the whole counsel of God. We tell a sinner that he was born lost, and that he needs to believe on Jesus or face eternal damnation. While this is certainly true, it’s only part of the message. Paul on the other hand writes nearly three chapters with no Gospel whatsoever. His message to the wicked begins by pointing out their personal offenses against God. They’re not guilty because they were born that way; they’re guilty because, having known and embraced righteousness, they consciously chose evil. No one is excluded. All have failed. Finally, in the latter part of Romans 3, having proven beyond all doubt that the human race is depraved by choice, Paul brings us to his conclusion: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20)
At this point, when the self-righteous have been humbled, when the religious and the philosophical have been exposed for the fools they are, when all human hope has been taken away, the audience is finally ready to hear of Grace: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:” (Rom. 3:21-22)
For the past three weeks at ABS, we have been teaching through the opening chapters of Romans. Last week, we made it up through 2:16. As we examine these passages on man’s depravity, we get lots of silent, sober looks. Some just sit and stare at the floor. People are hearing, perhaps for the first time, irrefutable proof of their personal guilt before God. Ukraine is full of various religious groups, all claiming to be the way to heaven. Ukrainians have all heard the message of “You have to join our church/denomination/sect or be condemned.” They hear that taught by everyone from the JW’s to the Catholics to the Baptists. But now they’re hearing something different. They’re not condemned because they failed to join the right group or denomination, but because they have knowingly rebelled against their Creator. They have judged others to be sinful, and then transgressed their own standard. These are hard realities, difficult to hear and not pleasant to preach. But as stated before, they are foundational. Farmers don’t plant precious seed in hard earth, and God does not give grace to the proud. (Jas. 4:6) We still have a ways to go through Romans, but when we get to the Gospel, our hearers will be ready.
As I teach through these passages, I am again reminded of my own great need of Christ. When I read the opening chapters of the book of Romans, I am left just as hopeless as the murderers and fornicators. I am under no illusions as to the frailty of man’s righteousness. Christ alone is my hope. Were it not for His sacrifice, I would be condemned right along with the men and women I preach to. I often recall Paul’s words from Philippians 3:8-9, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:”
Make no mistake: there are no sinners in heaven (I Cor. 6:9-10), and no good men in hell (Prov. 17:15). Only righteousness can deliver the soul from condemnation (Prov. 11:4). I rejoice that I have Christ’s righteousness on my account (Rom. 4:4-5). I dare not trust my own. When you stand before God, whose righteousness will you have?
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
II Cor. 5:21