Romans 3:9-20
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What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as 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.”
13 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.”

19 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 3:9-20


If you ever wondered if you were measuring up... you're not. Not at all. If you ever thought even a part of you earned God's favor or somehow you provoked Him to overlook your sin by the things you've done or by the things you've abstained from doing, you didn't (Rom. 9:16, James 2:10). Why? Because you have no bargaining chip before God (Rom. 11:35). If our study through Romans thus far didn't clear that up, let these verses tell you it very plainly as Paul intended it to be. God who delights in righteousness (Jer. 9:24) looked down and found none.


Paul thus far in Romans has walked us through scripture, facts, and sound reasoning in order to give us understanding, now tells us plainly to our face. Paul who first showed us that according to scripture, nature, logic, experience, and evidence that we are not right with God. Now, to those who may be left hanging onto the law;  Paul tells them very plainly from that very law, we are bankrupt (Matt. 5:3). We have nothing to offer God (Psalm 8:3-4, 144:3, Job 7:17) and you're clinging to a sinking ship. Think about it. What is God lacking that He needs from us or as Romans 11:35 puts it:


35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? - Romans 11:35


When you see the term sinner in the bible you are seeing a reference of those who are detestable to God.


13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they? - Habakkuk 1:13


As Christians, especially those of us who are legalists, we like to think we are "good" sinners. In the back of our minds we measure our merits according to a standard of our own, grasping for something to hold onto that will declare us an "okay person". In our own minds we victimize ourselves (to avoid blame) our change our standards (to avoid judgement). Paul here wants us to recognize that there is no such thing as an "upright thief" nor is there an "honest liar". If we rob a bank but in the process vow to not hurt anyone, we're still a robber. Oh but such declarations help us avoid guilt doesn't it. Let the Romans road which comes to a point in these verses sink in. The law has found you guilty of being a sinner. The law which was intended for our good, to show us the right way of living (Rom. 7:10), because of the weakness of our flesh (Matt. 26:41, Rom. 8:3), has only pointed out to us our shortcomings "for through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (v20).


Question: What's a sinner? Let me help you with this. There are only two categories of people. Saints and sinners. Perhaps it will help you understand what a sinner is if you first understand what a saint is. According to the bible a saint is NOT someone who has done mighty works or good deeds, nor is it someone who has been deemed a saint by a church or organization. The word translated "saint" in the new Testament, hagios, literally means "sacred, physically pure; morally blameless or religious; ceremonially consecrated; holy."


A sinner then is anyone who is not a saint. Let me ask you a follow up question then, which are you? If you've answered saint, then you are either grossly delusional or by grace you understand the depths of what is written in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.


If you've ever wondered if you're teetering on earning God's favor or earning God's wrath, know now without a doubt that you fall into the classification of sinner and therefore have earned the latter. Remember this when you feel entitled and take caution next time you ask God to give you what you deserve. Anyone who wants to measure up to God has to do so under the standards God has set (Matt. 5:18), i.e. the law. Verse 19 and 20 make it very clear that according to this standard no flesh will be justified in His sight as it's by this standard, revealed through the law, that our sin has become evident.


Paul has been hammering this point home for three chapters for a very good reason. It's CRUCIAL that you acknowledge the truth on these matters. Why? Because in acknowledging these things and agreeing with God you are taking a position of humility and are fulfilling the first beatitude in Matthew (v5:3). And we know that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. (Psa. 138:6, Pro. 3:34, 29:23, Luke 1:52, Jam. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5) and that he who exalts himself will be humbled but he that humbles himself will be exalted (Matt. 23:12).


And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” - Luke 18:9-14


Question: What is humility and what does it mean to humble ourselves? Humility is not self-abasement, that is, it is not belittling or humiliating oneself. No, even that is prideful. True humility is honestly acknowledging the truth of our circumstances. Paul, and ultimately God Himself (solely to His credit) I'm convinced out of love has thus far in Romans and with great effort and through any means (1 Cor. 9:19-22) tried to penetrate the ugliest pleasure seeker, the most arrogant judgementalist, and the most stubborn legalist, to break them. Not because He wants to destroy them but because He wants to exalt them! If they humble themselves before God, that is, like the tax collector, who threw himself on the mercy of God, God is then freed up to exalt them (2 Pet. 3:9, Isa. 30:18)! God would rather die than condemn a sinner (John 3:17).


James exhorts us this way:


Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. - James 4:9-10


Be broken. Be broken about your sin, be broken about your failings, and like the prodigal, come to your senses! (Luke 15:17). If you are, know this. There's something else hidden in these verses. While Paul is showing us we are all equally guilty, at the same time, he's showing us that we're all equal candidates for God's grace; God who shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11). Furthermore, these verses show us that we were at the bottom of the barrel. So keep in mind, if God reached down while you were at the bottom of the barrel and at your worst, then there is always hope for you.


But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8


If God showed up while we were at the bottom of the barrel, then know that His love for you will never waiver. Why? Because it didn't start out being contingent on our performance (if it had, you wouldn't have had a shot in the first place) and God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6, Jam. 1:17), His love endures forever (Psalm 136) in fact, His very nature is love (1 John 4:8). These verses make it very clear that we have not merited God's love, but the bible makes it very clear that we are loved by God apart from our performance (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10). With those two constants, God who loves us apart from works will not someday change and make His love contingent on works. In other words, we who did not earn God's love in the first place will not be expected to perform in order to maintain His love (Gal. 3:3, 5:4-6). Yes faith will product works ([James 2:18] after all, wouldn't so great a love provoke you and make you eager to tell others?) But works are not required to provoke God to love. Neither are they a disqualifier (Rom. 8:31-39). It didn't start that way and it's not maintained that way. This is where the Jews erred. Instead of trusting in God to make them right with God (Rom 4:3, Gen. 15:6) they erroneously held to the law as being their source for justification as if it were provoking God's favor. Paul is making it clear that righteousness does NOT come through the law, if it had, Christ died needlessly (Gal. 2:21). Christians make the same mistake as the Jews today with their own made up rules. "Read your bible, pray so much, go to church, greet one another, etc.". Feeling better before God or "in the right" as long as they maintain this new "law" or else feeling unjustified if they haven't. This merit based mindset is as much of an error today as it was then. God loves us not on the basis of what we've done or not done but on the basis of who He is, and as we covered previously, God is always true to His own character! God's character is love, therefore God loves (period).


38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39


This is the very love being demonstrated in Romans 5:8! Notice the word "demonstrates". It actually makes me think of Costco where on any given day I can go in and there are people giving demonstrations of a product in order to entice you to buy more. They hand you a cracker with cheese on it as a "demonstration" of what you would be getting if you bought from the boxes of the same cheese and crackers stacked behind them. Essentially they are putting on a show and telling me that what they've demonstrated to me is an exact representation of what I would be getting in those boxes. Demonstration is defined as "the action or process of showing the existence or truth of something by giving proof or evidence". Therefore, God has proven His love is not on the basis of merit as demonstrated on the cross. Because we have so great a demonstration, we can count on all the "boxes" of God's love thereafter are exactly the same.


God always intended the law to break us like the tax collector not puff us up like the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). Not to compete with Christ thereby trusting in our own righteousness which proves us coming up short (Rom. 3:23) but to lead us to Christ Who loved us and give Himself up for us (Eph. 5:2)! It's okay to acknowledge your shortcomings knowing it's without risk of losing God's love which is given on the basis of grace not works. Actually when you realize His love isn't contingent on your performance you are freed up to acknowledge your weaknesses. In the book of John the writer at least three times referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23, 19:26, 21:7). One who holds to a system of merits (legalism) may think that was a statement of arrogance. Afterall, if the system is works provoke God's favor, John, in declaring such a high standing as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" may be considered to be bragging in the highest. If it were works based, then John is saying by working his butt off he's reached the highest standing! This notion is ridiculous! John, like Paul and the other disciples have learned merits have nothing to do with it (Rom. 3:24, 2 Cor. 11:16-33, Phil. 3:2-9). When he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" he is actually exhibiting faith! He is trusting that God is true to His own character (1 John 4:8) and he's confident that Christ's work on the cross was sufficient for him (John 19:30) in covering all his sins. When I was more legalistic (of which I still struggle) I saw this statement as an arrogant one. Now I see it as a testimony of faith and trust in the finish work of Christ. When we measure our merits and come up short, we bow our head. When we look to the cross, and trust in Christ's finish work, we raise our head, not as the Pharisee, but confident that we've been redeemed. When you raise your head in faith, similar to taking communion, you are proclaiming the Lord's death as being satisfactory for you! (1 Cor. 11:26). Next time the enemy whispers "you're not worthy" or "you're useless" his real temptation is getting you focused back on merits, looking at the waves (Matt. 14:30-31). Whether you find yourself guilty or vindicated doesn't matter, the fact you are measuring your merits is a victory for him as it got your eyes off Jesus.


Can I exhort you for a moment to disregard merit entirely? Right now you may be feeling like you should be better, could do better, should have done better. You may be feeling the guilt of the world which is denoted by regret and therefore is NOT of God (2 Cor. 7:10). Can you, for a moment, declare to yourself that God's grace for you is sufficient! You are not being presumptuous in doing this but like David, you can take courage (2 Sam. 7:27) despite your feelings simply because God has said it! No other reason is needed! I say this on the authority of God's word (Acts 10:15, 2 Cor. 12:9, Rom. 3:31, 5:20, Matt. 5:17), at any given moment you can step out on your front porch and declare that you are "the saint whom Jesus loves!" (2 Cor. 5:17). Know another who's received Christ that may need to hear this? Declare to them on the basis of what Christ has done that they are "the saint whom Jesus loves!".


The next time the enemy whispers in your ear "you're a failure" reply with "I agree, but it's okay." Why is it okay? How is that possible? We'll get into the logistics of that starting next week and continuing through the book of Romans.


Question: Grace is the only way we are going to make it (John 15:4-5) and in humility God is freed to lavish it on us. So what are ways we can seek true humility?


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