“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;” (Romans 3:9)
Paul is probably referring back to the heathen man described in chapter one. After having done such a thorough job of putting on display the guilt of all mankind, no more room exists for boasting. Neither the moral man nor the most devout Jew can boast of his goodness, because he shares the same wicked heart and the same shortcomings of the most depraved man. All mankind is basically wicked.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
The Holy Spirit has brought the discussion full circle. He will now describe the general bent of all humanity. As this list of sins and shortcomings is read, the temptation may exist to say, “But I'm not as wicked as this list describes!” However, one must remember that man's standards are infinitely lower than God's. The thought, desire, or motive can condemn just as easily as the action. If given its own way, the flesh would plummet as far into sin as it possibly could. Only God's grace and merciful intervention have prevented the complete demise of all mankind.
“As it is written....” When this phrase appears in the New Testament, the tense of the verb is in the perfect, the strongest tense possible in the Greek text. The action is viewed as having taken place with the results being, in this case, irreversible. IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN! Oh, the power and enduring nature of God's everlasting Word! Man can choose to ignore what he is about to read. He can choose to persist in self-justification and pride if he so desires, but someday he will be forced to face his Maker in judgment if he neglects the Savior, because, “It has been written”!
“There is none righteous, no, not one.” This simple statement puts to bed any argument that man might attain to righteousness on his own. In and of himself, he is void of justification. If he is to be righteous before God, his righteousness will have to be imparted, a subject soon to be discussed. This verse echoes the saying of Solomon, the Old Testament preacher, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Ecclesiastes 7:20).”
“There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Apart from divine intervention and enlightenment, no mortal truly understands and grasps the things of righteousness. The natural (lost) man does not receive or desire the things of God (I Corinthians 2:14). He must be drawn (John 6:44), convicted (John 16:8), and enlightened to truth (Acts 16:14). The verb used for seeketh is intensive. It means to seek out or search for. Man does not naturally seek God with great intensity. After their sin, Adam and Eve did not seek after God; God sought after them. This pattern has not changed.
“They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” The verb doeth is in the present continuous tense. This means that the action is viewed as repetitive. Most people would argue, “I do good most of the time. I only mess up on occasion.” Even if this were true, it is not good enough. To meet God's holy standard, the good works must be the unbroken fruits of an intrinsically good character. The line of good deeds springing from a flawless nature must be continual, complete, and flawless! This can be said of none but the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:” In general, mankind does not recognize the evils of the mouth. The mouth and the tongue are a conduit for the wickedness of the heart. As a body part, the tongue is not evil. It is spoken of as evil because it aids the evil heart of man in carrying out wickedness. God likens the throat to an open grave with all of the rot and stink that such a picture entails. The text says that the tongue has used three things: deceit, cursing, and bitterness. Every man has been guilty of these things to one degree or another. Words can be the most hurtful and the most harmful things of all. No wonder that God likens the tongue and its ways to the venom of a snake! If it were possible for a man to be perfectly just in every other area of his life, surely his tongue would remain the unconquered territory.
“Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known:” A literal translation of the first part of this passage would read, “Swift (are) the feet of them.” The speedy nature of the desire to do evil is emphasized. How quick is man to hate, judge, and condemn. Judgment is not evil, but man's judgment is motivated by a desire to destroy, not restore. Not much time passed before man's blood was poured upon a young earth. Not even one generation had passed before God said to Cain, “...What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground (Genesis 4:10).” Wherever man is found, destruction and misery are right beside him. The lost world says, “More education and better living conditions will curb or put an end to crime,” but God says that such are man's ways. Such is his very nature because of his rebellion against God. The word for known has the idea of coming to realize or to know by experience. Apart from the saving grace of God, man has never truly experienced the ways of peace that righteousness has to offer. Man does not come by peace naturally. He must be taught it through Scripture. He must choose to humble himself to it. Everything in man fights against the peace of God.
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This final statement stands as a summary of mankind's root issue. He simply does not fear God. This word for fear is the word from which phobia is derived. Many have attempted to explain away the fear of God as nothing more than a healthy respect; however, this dilutes the force of the statement. God isn't to be feared because He possesses some oppressive or vindictive character trait; He is to be feared because His primary attribute is holiness (Isaiah 57:15). Man, being utterly depraved and completely worthy of damnation ought to fear his High and Holy Creator; however, he does not. The fear of God leads a man to life (Proverbs 14:27), yet, as a whole, mankind is without it. Men fear one another, the unknown, pain, death, sorrow, hunger, hardship, but they fail to fear the one who is able to deliver from the very grip of damnation itself.
Should any man still choose to argue that he is worthy of entering heaven's gates, let him refer to this final list. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, Paul has nicely summarized the nature of man. A nature in which all share a part.