Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 5, 2002
We live in a society that greatly values equality. That is understandable given that the founders of our
nation thought this was important enough to include the statement, all men are created equal, as a
fundamental presupposition for the nation to exist. The founders meant that every person has the same
intrinsic value. Today, there are many that have latched onto the socialist idea of equality of outcome. A
lot of political pressure is thrown these days by different groups in their efforts to gain equality of
outcome at the expense of others. However, the fact is that this socialistic idea can never be achieved
because people vary too much in intellect, physical ability, economic resources and social standing for
there to ever be equality of outcome. Even if you redistributed everything evenly, it would not take long
for some to increase what they have while others would squander what they were given. There is only
one area in which all mankind is equal, and apart from divine intervention, all will achieve an equal
outcome. Turn to Romans 3:9.
Paul has begun his presentation of the righteousness of God in the gospel of grace by systematically
proving the unrighteousness of man. Admittedly, this is not the way in which the gospel is now usually
presented in America. American Christians have been perverted by our culture and poor theology to the
degree that the gospel message has actually been distorted into a positive sales presentation about how
God can make your life so much better. Yes, God does make your life better, but the gospel Paul
presents is predicated on first understanding the bad news that you are a sinner under God’s just
condemnation. Only then does he present the good news that God has provided a way to redeem and
forgive you from your sin through faith in Jesus Christ who will change your life. The gospel is not
about getting a better life as if it is optional. The gospel tells us the only means by which man can be
made right with God and escape Hell.
In Romans 1 & 2, Paul demonstrates the unrighteousness of three categories of mankind. The
immoral unrighteous and their spiral downward into depravity are presented in 1:21-32. Their
ungodliness is obvious to all by their very behavior. The moral unrighteous have a higher code of
conduct, but Paul exposes their unrighteousness in 2:1-16 by proving their hypocrisy. They condemn
others for what they themselves also do. They do not even keep their own standards and are condemned
by their own consciences. Paul uses the Jews in 2:17-29 as the ultimate example of the religious
unrighteous. These are the people that claim to have a knowledge of God, yet they do not obey what has
been revealed to them. The result is that they cause the name of God to be blasphemed. Neither
knowledge alone nor religious heritage can make a person righteous before God.
Last week we looked at the first part of chapter 3 and the objections that some Jews had to Paul’s
arguments that not all Jews would be saved from God’s wrath.
What advantage would there be to being a Jew and following the religious rituals if they did not save
a person and make them righteous before God? Paul answered that there are great advantages to being a
Jew in every respect, the primary one was being entrusted with the very word of God. They were told
what God was like and how He wanted them to live. They were not left in the darkness of ignorance as
were the Gentiles.
Some objected that if God did not save all the Jews, then He would not be true to His promises. In
short, they were claiming that Paul was making God out to be a liar. Of course Paul was not saying any
such thing. The fact that some Jews would not obey God and thus were under His just condemnation
does not in anyway nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel. God will fulfill all His promises to His
Others objected and even slandered Paul claiming that he was saying that sin would bring glory to
God, so why not do evil that good might come of it. But Paul did not say any such thing. That would
make God unjust in His judgement of man. There is no evil in God and God does not cause evil, and
neither does God gain glory from sin. God is glorified in His overcoming sin through Jesus Christ.
Man’s Equality – All are Unrighteous
As we now come to our passage for study this morning in Romans 3:9-20, we find the only area in
which all people are equal. Every person is ungodly and unrighteous, and unless there is divine
intervention, every person will remain under the just wrath of God upon sin. Let us read through the
passage then come back to look at it in detail.
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 have they 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, 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.
In verse 9 Paul anticipates the next objection that would be given to him. Paul has demonstrated that
God’s wrath abides on all those who are ungodly and unrighteous including the immoral unrighteous, the
moral unrighteous and the religious unrighteous. Is Paul claiming that he and his followers are somehow
superior to everyone else and thus have escaped God’s wrath? Paul says, "not at all," or "by no means."
Paul has already charged both Jews and Greeks with sin. Everyone is born under the just wrath of God
and it will take divine intervention to change the matter. Why? Because the very nature of man is against
God. Paul quotes from various Old Testament texts as he details out the natural character and conduct of
man in verses 10-18. Paul also makes it clear that this is all inclusive by using the term "none" or an
equivalent 6 times in this section. The only exception to the "none" is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
None Righteous: The overall character of natural man is that he is unrighteous. Paul states this
emphatically by quoting from Psalm 14:1-3 which is repeated also in Psalm 53:1-3. "There is none
righteous, not even one." I like the paraphrase that personalizes this as, "There is none righteous, not
even you." No one is exempt.
To be righteous is to be right before God as God had originally created man to be. To say that there
are "none righteous" means that no man is characterized by having the attitudes and doing the things
God wants them to do. It is also to say that even when man does do something generally considered
good, it will not be for the proper motive of glorifying the living God who created him. Even his attempt
to do an act of righteousness will fall short and be as a filthy rag before the Holy God (Isa. 64:6). Why?
Because the standard of righteousness is God Himself. We are to be perfect, even as God the Father is
perfect (Mt. 5:48).
None Who Understands: The quote goes on that there are none who understand. How could man
achieve righteousness when He does not even understand what it is or the God who set the standard for
it? God has placed within man a limited knowledge of Himself and in Creation God has displayed some
of His attributes, so much so that men are without excuse for not seeking God out to honor Him, yet
those are not sufficient to bring man to a knowledge of the Holy One. Man does not know or understand
God, and as 1 Cor. 2:14 states, he will reject even what he does know, for "a natural man does not
accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them,
because they are spiritually appraised."
In other words, man does not and cannot understand for even when he is presented the truth, he
judges it to be foolishness. Inherent in this is man’s pride by which he sets himself up to judge by his
own limited and distorted knowledge. It is God that judges man, yet man sets himself up to judge God.
That is part of the reason that is so foolish to present the gospel through marketing strategies even if they
did not distort the message. Natural man cannot understand what is good for himself. He will judge the
options presented based on his own sinful desires instead of what is right before God.
It should also be understood that God is not to blame for man’s ignorance. As already stated, God
has already revealed himself to man, but man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). As
Paul points out in Ephesians 4:18,19, man does not understand because he does not want to. His
hardness of heart and callousness leaves him ignorant and excluded from the life of God. This truth is
further pointed out in the next character flaw of natural man.
None Seek after God: There is none who seek after God. This is an aspect of man’s rebellion
against God. God calls upon man to seek after Him and promises reward to those that will do so (Deut.
4:29-31; Isa. 55:6,7; Jer. 29:13), but natural man will not do so. This does not mean that man is not
religious. Man is innately religious, but the god that man seeks is one of his own making. That is why it
is silly to have what are popularly called "Seeker Services" targeting non-Christians. The non-Christian
does not seek God, and if a ministry has a whole lot of non-Christians coming, and they leave feel ing
comfortable without radical changes in their lives, then you can be sure they are not presenting the true
God. While we want to be "sinner sensitive" in the sense we want them to know what we are talking
about and not unnecessarily offend them over non-Biblical issues and practices. The Gospel does offend
the sinner, and the only way in which man will seek the true God is after God initiates and draws the
person to Jesus Christ. In fact, as Jesus Himself said in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me, unless the
Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." God is not to blame, for the
failure is on man’s part. God is to be praised that out of His great love He would initiate and draw
rebellious man to Himself. Man’s inability to seek God is because of his sin nature. Man will not seek
God on His own. In fact, as the next phrase states, they do just the opposite.
All Have Turned Aside: All have turned aside. Instead of seeking God, they have turned away from
Him. The aorist tense used here indicating this is something they have already done and therefore one of
the reasons they do not seek God. The brief picture presented by Paul here is presented in more fully by
Jesus in Matthew 7:13,14. "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that
leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. 14 "For the gate is small, and the way is
narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." There is a path that leads to God, but man
turns aside from that path to go by the broad way that leads to destruction. People do not choose the
broad path knowing that it leads to destruction, though some may. Most people think the way they are
going will get them to heaven. But as Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way [which seems] right to a
man, But its end is the way of death." Some are self deceived, and some are deceived by others, which is
why Jesus warns about false teachers in verses 15-23. Man does not seek out and follow the path to God
because he has already turned aside to a wrong path. The result is that they are spiritually worthless.
Useless: Together, they have become useless. The idea is that they produce nothing of benefit, or to
use a common Biblical analogy, they produce no good fruit. John the Baptist warned that fruit needed to
be brought forth that was in keeping with repentance and that those that did not bear good fruit would be
cast into the fire (Mt. 3:8-10). Jesus warned about the false prophets and that they would be known by
their fruit, for a bad tree produces bad fruit and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and
thrown into the fire (Mt. 7:16-20). The natural man has no spiritual value. Man was created to bring
forth the fruit of righteousness (Phil. 1:11) in walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in
all respects and bearing fruit in every good work while increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10).
But natural man does not do good.
None Who Does Good: There is none who does good, there is not even one. The word good here,(
crhstovth" / chrestotes), refers to what is morally good. That which has integrity, is excellent, and
upright. God is the standard of what is good, and because natural man is not good he cannot do what is
good. That does not mean that all men are as bad as they can be. We have already seen that in comparing
the immoral unrighteous with the moral and religious unrighteous. But no man is truly good or does
what is truly good because they do not meet God’s standard for it. They are not godly. They are not
righteous. They are not holy. Paul again emphasizes the point that this applies to all men by adding,
there is not even one. Not you. Not me. Not saint whoever. No one.
Sinful character results in sinful conduct. Paul details this out in verses 13-18
Sinful Speech: The first area of sinful conduct is the speech of the natural man. Their throat is an
open grace, with their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth
is full of cursing and bitterness. This section is a compilation of quotes from Psalm 5:9; 140:3 and 10:7.
Jesus explained to His disciples in Matthew 15:18,19 that it was what came out of the mouth that
defiled a man for they reveal what was in the heart. The speech of the natural man reveals the sinfulness
that is in his heart – evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders, etc.
The description Paul uses here is very vivid. When people die, we bury them. Partly this is out of
dignity for the deceased. Partly it is out of concern for community health, and partly it is to protect
people from the stench of the decaying body. Describing the mouth as an open grave pictures the rot and
stench of the spiritual deadness of the heart. A person might try to cover it up with the perfume of
flowery speech, but there is no life in the words.
The speech of the natural man is also deceptive. Sometimes this can be very flagrant and sometimes
very subtle. People often try to get you believe what is not true in order to get something from you.
Much of marketing practice today is simply sophisticated con-artistry and swindling. They want you to
think you are getting much more than you actually are. Consider just how things are packaged.
Another form of deception is flattery. People try to impress you so that you will like and trust them.
They will then use your good will toward them later to get what they want from you. Proverbs warns, A
man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps (29:5). He who hates disguises [it] with
his lips, But he lays up deceit in his heart. 25 When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there
are seven abominations in his heart" (26:24,25). "A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering
mouth works ruin ( 26:27).
At other times the deceit is to try to hide the truth so you will not think badly of them or try to take
advantage of their weaknesses. It is not so much that they want to get something from you as they want
to protect themselves.
But the truth is that deception is really just a form of lying, and lying is lying regardless of whether it
is deceive for personal gain or for self-protection. Revelation 21:8 is explicit in stating that "all liars,
their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone."
The natural man’s tongue is poisonous. The asp is a pit viper. Similar to a rattlesnake, they have
fangs that curve back into their mouths when they are closed, but project outward when they are opened.
Attached to the fangs are poison sacks which release their deadly contents through the fangs when the
snake bites into something. It was such a snake that had bit Paul when he was shipwrecked on the island
of Malta (Acts 28:3).
Both John the Baptizer and Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees vipers because of the poisonous
nature of their teaching. Jesus condemned them in Matthew 23:15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one,
you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." But the term can be applied to any false
teacher, and that means parents, mentors and friends, not just the professionals. Words have meaning
and when they convey things that are not true about God and how He wants us to live, they are like a
poison that goes into the blood and defiles the whole body. James 3:1 warns, "Let not many of you
become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement." False teachers
are bad enough, but most people pick up their erroneous beliefs about God and what life is about from
their parents and friends. What have you taught others through your conversations and example? All of
us are teachers to someone.
Paul concludes this section with a quote from Psalm 10:7. "Whose mouth is full of cursing and
bitterness." To curse is to invoke divine punishment or harm to come upon someone. Bitterness here is
in the emotional sense. It is open expression of an abiding anger. All of this together describes the verbal
venting of hatred, defamation, and insult. Two fancy words for this are malediction and imprecation. It
includes cursing, cussing, swearing, expletives, railing, and slandering. We have all had people do this to
us, and we have all done it to other people. Your choice of words may not be as crude as others, but
calling someone a jerk, a dolt, stupid or an idiot is really the same thing. Jesus warned us about such
expressions of anger in Matthew 5:22. The Christian is to "Let no unwholesome word proceed from
[their] mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that
it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29) Some years ago I invented an acronym to remind
myself of these truths. Instead of calling someone a name, I call them a PINOGAM – Person In Need of
Grace And Mercy. Diane says that it is doubly helpful for it will remind you how you should treat
others, and by the time you remember what the word is, you forgot why you were angry. Try it the next
time someone does something that makes you angry – PINOGAM – Person In Need of Grace And
Sinful Actions: Sinful character will be expressed by sinful speech and both result in sinful conduct.
Paul points this out in verse 15-18 which are taken from Psalm 36:1.
Murder: The first statement is Their feet are swift to shed blood. Murder is the final result of the
desire that is expressed in the cursing and bitterness. Jesus equated the two in Matthew 5:21-22 stating
that those who become angry and call others names or a fool are as guilty before God as the one who
murders. 1 John 3:15 also equates the two saying, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and
you know that no murderer has eternal life." If hatred is given its full expression, it will result in
murder. While we find it commendable that people will restrain themselves to some degree, for all of us
would rather be called names than murdered, we must keep in mind that God looks on the heart and
judges it. The natural man may be constrained in carrying out what he desires, but God knows the heart.
A tract some years ago recounted a reporter meeting one of Hitler’s henchmen at the Nuremberg
trials after WW II. The meeting caused him to break down weeping for he realized that this vile man
who was responsible for a large part of the holocaust was really no different than he was. He was
confronted with his own sinfulness and realized how easily it was for a supposedly good person to carry
out unspeakable evil if given the opportunity. Praise the Lord that this man came to Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of his sin, but that is the true nature of the human heart and the actions that will follow if
given the chance – feet that are swift to shed blood.
Destruction and Misery: This describes the physical and emotional devastation that follows the
natural man’s actions. He breaks things into pieces resulting in harm to others. This includes not only
physical property, but people too. Our post-Christian society continues to move away from the Christian
moral standards that once held it in check, and as it does so, the number of crimes committed by people
for the sheer evil pleasure of destroying things and hurting people continues to rise. That is what we
should expect from natural man. But keep in mind here that this destruction does not have to be
something expensive. Think about when your children were little. Did they not exhibit a natural desire to
break and damage things just to do so? Whether it is smashing their toys, hitting, scratching or biting the
other kids, or striping the leaves of the shrubs, all of it demonstrates the evil that is in the natural man
from early on.
No Peace: The paths of peace they have not known. The world cries out for peace, but there cannot
be peace because the evil in the natural man will always destroy it. At the collapse of the Soviet Union,
American politicians started talking about how they wanted to spend the "peace dividend" since the
focus of so much of our military defense spending no longer exited. It was sheer foolishness, because all
men, not just the Soviets, are inherently evil and military force must be ready and available to stop them
from carrying out their evil desires. There will not be peace until the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of
Peace returns to reign in Jerusalem.
The cause for man’s sinful speech and actions goes back to their sinful nature. Though God has
revealed Himself to man so that all people are without excuse, man purposely suppresses the truth in his
unrighteousness. He is so bold in this that "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Both creation
and the evidence around us of God’s wrath upon the ungodly cry out that He should be greatly feared,
but like an ostrich with its head in the sand, sinful man willfully ignores the evidence and so he does not
Consider the statements of 2 Peter 3:3-7. "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will
come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His
coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of
creation." 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens
existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at
that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are
being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men."
They willingly suppress the truth in unrighteousness and thus do not have the proper fear of their
Holy Creator who currently subjects them to His wrath in letting them reap the consequences of their
sin, and who will bring eternal judgement upon them.
Proverbs 9:10 states, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy
One is understanding. 8:13 says, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil
way. . .". But, 1:7 adds that fools despise wisdom and destruction. Do you fear the Lord?
The point of this passage is simply this. All men are equal in the sense that no mere human has ever
or will ever meet God’s standard of righteousness in themselves. All men are naturally ungodly and
unrighteous, and so they are justly under God’s wrath and condemnation. Man cannot be saved by His
heritage, for salvation is not genetic, but individual. Man cannot be saved by his own efforts to be
righteous. His very deeds condemn him. Man cannot be saved by his own will or the will of another
person. His own will is contrary to God’s. Salvation is all of God and man has no hope except in God
intervening and bringing them to Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins through faith in Him.
John 1:12,13 puts it this way. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will
of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Those of us who are Christians should praise God for His infinite mercy and grace that has been
poured out on us. We have in no way earned what we have received. We in no way deserve what we
have received. All praise, honor and glory is to be given to Jesus Christ for this precious gift of salvation
from sin and being made righteous.
For those who are not yet true Christians, you may be wondering how this can happen? Not by
anything you can do or initiate. You can only respond to what God is doing in you. Is God convicting
you of your sinfulness? Then repent, that is, turn from your sinful deeds and attitudes and to God to do
what He says. Is God convicting you of your unrighteousness? Then plead with Him to give you an
understanding of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His payment for your sins on the cross that you
might receive His forgiveness and be clothed with His righteousness through faith in Him? Are you
afraid of God’s present wrath and future judgement? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
and wisdom. Cry out to Him for mercy and you will find peace in Him through faith in Jesus. Are you
realizing how ignorant and foolish you have been? Then pick up a Bible and start discovering God’s
revelation of Himself to you. You may not even be sure God is there, but if you will call out to Him, that
in itself demonstrates that God is working in you, and He will cause you to understand His revelation of