Romans 3:1-20


The setting is that of a courtroom.  For the past two chapters, Paul has been building a case against mankind.  He started with the pagan Gentile, showing that because of his innate knowledge of God, he is responsible for his rejection of God and for his idolatry.  Then Paul moves to the Jew, concluding that he is no better than the pagan when he knows to do right but does not.


At this point, we are given five questions for the defense - five arguments which might be leveled against Paul’s harsh stance.







Of what use is it to be a member of a church?  That’s a rather relevant question today.  I hear a lot of people, many of whom even claim to be Christians who think poorly of joining a church.


After all, church membership doesn't save you.  It doesn’t make you more spiritual.  It is what is on the INSIDE that counts, isn't it?  It is not the letter, but the spirit that is important.


Paul deals with this issue in Romans 3.  He has just gone to great lengths to show that being a member of God's Original Church (the nation of Israel) did not save.  This brings up an obvious question.


1.         The Question:  Then what advantage has the Jew?  Or what is the benefit of circumcision? (Romans 3:1).


If being a Jew did not save and did not give one an increased standing in the presence of God, then what good is it?


We can take the same question and apply it to the church.  If church membership does not save and if baptism does not save, then why should anyone belong to a church and be baptized?  Or more pointedly, is there any benefit to an unbeliever in being raised in a church?


2.         The Answer.


Having read what Paul said in the previous chapter on how it is the spirit which is important, we would expect him to say that being a Jew is of no advantage at all and the circumcision is without benefit.  But he does not say this.  To the contrary, he answers...


            Great in every respect.  First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:2).


While being a Jew does not save, it DOES carry with it a great benefit.  It was to the Jews that the Scriptures were entrusted.  When God spoke, He did not speak to everyone equally.  He did not speak equally in every language - He gave nearly all of the Old Testament in Hebrew.  Each one of the writers of the Old Testament (with the possible exception of Job) was a Jew.  This was a great blessing.  It meant that the Jew had ample opportunity to learn about God.


The same is true within the church.  A person who grows up in the church is not necessarily saved, but such a one DOES have amply opportunity to hear the message of the gospel.  This is because he happens to be in the one place where the gospel is the most vigorously preached.  It is true that you can hear the gospel anywhere.  But the one place you are likely to hear it above all others is in the church.




The next argument centers around God's faithfulness.  It goes like this:  God made promises to the Jews.  He said that He would be their God and that they would be His people.  But Paul has just shown that they are not accepted by God simply on the basis of their “Jewishness.”  Doesn’t this make God unfaithful to His covenant promise?


1.         The Question:  What then?  If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (Romans 3:3).


The question is phrased in such a way to expect a negative answer.

God’s covenant was made with the descendants of Abraham.  But being a child of Abraham was in itself no guarantee of receiving the covenant promises.  Faith was also necessary.  And the fact that some did not believe did not mean that God was unfaithful when they did not become partakers of the covenant.


There is a principle here.  It is that God has no spiritual grandchildren.  You can read in the Bible about His children, but you will never see anything about His grandchildren.  He doesn’t have any.  You are either His child or else you have no part of Him.  There are no second‑generation Christians.


One of the great evangelists of the 19th century was D. L. Moody.  He preached the gospel in the United States and England and thousands came to know the Lord.  But none of the Moody children ever came to know Jesus Christ.  Their relationship with Moody was not enough.


2.         The Answer.


            May it never be!  Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” (Romans 3:4).


The fact that there are some of Abraham’s descendants who do not believe is not an indictment against God.  To the contrary, it is man who is indicted.  God’s nature is not impacted by our failure.  Even if every one of us were found to be liars, God would still be true.




1.         The Question.


            But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms). (Romans 3:5).


When God judges our sin, the fact of our sin demonstrates the righteousness of God.  Here is the principle.  Light is light in proportion to how much you have seen the darkness.  Have you ever been in a very dark room and then someone turned on a very bright light?  That bright light seems to shine all the more brightly.


God’s righteousness shines all the more brightly when it is contrasted to our unrighteousness.  But this brings us to a question.  Does this put God into an alliance with our sin?  Does this mean that God is in league with sin?  Not at all!  He is in control of all things, including that which is sinful.  But this control does not make Him the direct author of sin.  The fact that our sin shows the righteousness of God to be all the more righteous does not mean that He is in league with sin.


2.         The Answer.


            May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:6).


The fact that God will someday judge the world is proof of the fact that He is not in league with sin.  You don’t judge that with which you have made an alliance.


There is an important lesson here.  It is that the ends do NOT justify the means.  The result of our sin is that God is glorified.  But that does not mean that men will not be held accountable for their sins.  They will be judged, not for the results of their sin, but for their rebellion in sinning in the first place.  This means that the argument, “But it didn’t hurt anyone,” is invalid when in comes to God’s judgment.  Sin is still sin even if it were possible to sin without hurting someone else.




This question is closely related to the last one.  But there is a difference.  The last question had its focus upon the character of GOD.  This question has its focus upon the judgment of MAN.


1.         The Question:  But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (Romans 3:7).


The proposed argument is this:   If God is ultimately glorified by our sin, then why should our sin be judged, since to condemn our sin would be to condemn that which glorifies God?


After all, we have just stated that God IS glorified by my sin.  He is glorified when He judges my sin and condemns it.  When you look at man’s sinfulness and then look at God’s righteousness, it is seen to be infinitely righteous.  The result is that there is a way in which our sin glorifies God.


2.         The Answer.


            And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”?  Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:8).


If our sin glorifies God, then why would we just not say, “I want God to be glorified, so I am going to go out and sin a lot.  Apparently, there were some who were making this charge against the Christian church.  They listened to Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith and they concluded, “If God’s grace is magnified by freely forgiving our sins, then let us go out and make God’s grace even more magnified by sinning more!”


Such a position is directly opposed to God.  Paul will come back to this question in Romans 6.  For now, it will suffice to say that God is righteous and He calls men to live righteously.





Have you ever had someone come to you and say, “I have some good news and I have some bad news”?  I don’t know about you, but I always want to hear the bad news first so that the good news can cheer me up.


This is what Paul does here.  He has some bad news.  And the bad news is really bad.  And when you hear how bad the bad news is, you will be able to appreciate how good the good news is.


That is the problem with our evangelism.  We are trying to tell people the good news and they don’t realize how good it is because they haven’t heard the bad news.  The bad news is that we are all under sin.  And this sin is a very heavy-handed taskmaster.  It is a power that has control over our lives.  If you are not a Christian, then you are a slave.  You are in spiritual chains.  In this chapter, Paul catalogues the sinfulness of man.


Dr. James Kennedy was talking one day to a man who insisted that all men are basically good.  Kennedy asked to see the man’s keychain.  The man showed the chain full of keys.  Kennedy asked, “Why do you have keys if man is good?”


The reason that you have keys is because we live in a fallen world.  The reason that we have law enforcement officers is because we also have law breakers.


1.         The Conclusion.


            What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (Romans 3:9).


Martin Luther called this paragraph the most important in the Bible.

The conclusion is that every person is sinful before God.  Everyone is guilty.  If you have the law, then you are guilty of breaking the law which you have been given.  If you are without the law, you are guilty of breaking the law that God has placed in your heart and in your conscience.


If you live a blatantly unrighteous life, you are guilty.  If you live a relatively moral life, you are still guilty.  If you are irreligious, then you are guilty.  If you are religious, then you are still guilty.


2.         The Testimony of the Scriptures. it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;  11  there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;  12  all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

            “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”;  14  “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;  15  “their feet are swift to shed blood,  16  destruction and misery are in their paths,  17  and the path of peace they have not known. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18).


Paul strings together six Old Testament passages to compose a powerful argument for the universal depravity of all men.  Most of these are taken from the Psalms.



Statement of Man’s Sin

Four times we read the statement, “There is none...”


Picture of Man’s Sin

Man’s sinfulness is said to affect his...

  • Throat
  • Tongue
  • Mouth
  • Feet
  • Eyes


a.         Universal Extent of man’s sinful condition.

Four times we read the phrase, “There is none...”  There is none who...

(1)        Is righteous.

(2)        Understands righteousness.

(3)        Seeks for righteousness.

(4)        Practices righteousness (“does good”).


This brings up a question.  Should we take these negations (“none”, “no”, “not”) in verses 10‑11 to refer to...


m People’s total sinfulness?

m The pervasiveness of sinful behavior in everyone?


The answer is the latter.  Total depravity does not mean that everyone is as bad as they could be.  Man is not so totally sinful that he could not commit any worse sins.  When we speak of total depravity, we mean that every part of man has been infected with sin.


b.         The Society of man’s sinful condition.


Verse 12 says that “all have turned aside, together they have become useless.”  There is a truth here.  It is that we do not sin just as individuals acting alone.  Rather, the sin of one person often provides just enough encouragement for others, socially connected in some way, to encourage them to sin, too.  We often sin in unison.   That is why the world likes to see you sin.  The excuse that “everyone’s doing it” is as old as the garden of Eden.


c.         The Anatomy of man’s sinful condition.


Verses 13-18 give us a vivid portrait of the sinner, focusing upon the various parts of his body to show how they are given over to sin.



Anatomical Part




Sins of Speech

Open grave




Poison of asps



Full of cursing



Action Sins

Swift to shed blood


Their path

Destruction and misery


No peace




No fear of God


Every part of this man is seen to be in rebellion against God.  He is a sinner from head to toe.  In one of the Hollywood remakes of The Three Musketeers, the young hero D’Artangen is asked about his love for Constance in light of his passion for another woman.  He replies, “I love the one with my head, but I love the other with my heart.”  To which his friend retorts, “You have a most conveniently discriminating anatomy.”  The truth is that sin affects the entire man.





            Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20).


The scene throughout this chapter has been one of a courtroom.  The Judge is the Lord Himself.  The accused is all of mankind.  The witnesses for the defense have been frustrated.


Here is the result of the indictment.  It is that the accused has no excuse.  His mouth is closed.  Have you ever known one of those people who, went confronted with something they have done wrong, always had an excuse?  “Yes, I did that, but...”  However, in this instance, there is no excuse which cannot be made.  And into this silence, the Law speaks.


1.         The Law’s Message.


            Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law... (Romans 3:19a).


The Law’s message is that of a measuring stick.  It sets forth the measurement of the righteousness of God.  And it measures your life according to that perfect standard.  What do you do when you find that you don’t measure up?


·        The worldly person pretends the measuring stick isn’t there.  When that doesn’t work, he tries to break the measuring stick.

·        The moral person tries to stand taller and straighter, but is frustrated and eventually gives up.

·        The religious person makes his own stick to which he is able to measure up.


2.         The Law’s Recipients.


            Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law... (Romans 3:19a).


The Law only speaks to those who are under the Law.  Does this let the Gentiles off the hook?  Not at all!  They also have the Law, albeit written in their hearts.  Their conscience bears witness of the Law that is within them.


3.         The Law’s Result.


            ...the Law... speaks... that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God (Romans 3:19b).


I meet a lot of people who want to pass judgment on God.  “If there is a God, then why doesn't He put a stop to all of this pain and suffering?  Why doesn't He stop all of the hypocrisy in the church?”  But there is coming a day when every mouth shall be closed.


When you are faced with the cold reality of the Law of God, you are left without a thing to answer on your behalf.

Notice, the purpose of the Law was NOT to save the righteous.  It was to make sinners guilty.  The Law was a hammer that smashed the self-righteousness of men.


4.         The Law’s Helplessness.


            ...because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" Romans 3:20).


The Law was fully able to condemn.  But when it came to justifying someone it was helpless.  The Law cannot declare that someone is righteous unless that person already IS righteous.  It cannot make anyone righteous.  The only thing that the Law could accomplish was our condemnation, not our salvation.


5.         The Law’s Accompaniment.


...for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20b).


The Law tells you what sin is.  It points to sin and it says, “Thou shalt not!”  It this, it is like a diagnosis.  When you go to the doctor with a sickness, he runs a series of tests on you and then he gives you a medical diagnosis.  That diagnosis tells you what is wrong with you.  But it doesn’t heal you.  It isn’t designed to do that.  Imagine how silly it would be to take the doctor’s written diagnosis and say, “Thank you doctor, I’ll take this diagnosis home and rub it all over my body and I’ll sleep with it and I’ll eat with it and I’ll read it every day and then I will get better.”  That would be ridiculous!  A diagnosis is not meant to heal.  It is meant to tell you what it is from which you need to be healed.  And the law is the same way.


The good news is that we have a Great Physician.  We have a Healer who heals.  We have a Savior who saves.  He still makes house calls.  Indeed, He happens to be knocking at the door of your heart right now.  You can let Him in and be healed of what ails you.


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