Imagine two people, one is obviously sick while the other looks and feels healthy but, unknown to them, has a treatable but serious form of cancer. The first person will probably seek help by going to the doctor or getting the appropriate medicine. The second will probably do nothing. The same help is available to both but only one will accept it. Why? Because although both are in need, only one is aware of this need.
I have been preaching a sermon series on Romans at Orchard Community Church (which you can listen to online here) and the past 4 messages have been about our sin. This is not because I just love to talk about sin – quite the contrary – but Paul spends about 2 full chapters in Romans (1:18 – 2:20) talking about sin. He has dealt with people who don’t care about God. He has dealt with people who think they are basically good. He has even dealt with people who are living religious lives. This past Sunday was the last sermon on this section and it is where Paul brings his teaching on this subject to a dramatic conclusion in Romans 3:9-20 – all are sinners. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). We are all in a sort of unholy togetherness. Doesn’t that just give you the warm fuzzies?
No One Left Out: Scripture makes it very clear that we are all sinners. Not just the really bad people, not just the people we don’t like, ALL OF US. Part of our struggle with this is that we have defined sin as merely breaking a rule so if we just don’t break the rules (or, so we think, as long as we don’t break the really big rules) then we’re OK. But we are created by God and exist for his glory. Sin is not merely breaking a rule – it is living for anything other that God, and we all do this.
But there is a ray of hope in this passage. Paul says we “have turned away” and that we “have become worthless.” Sure, we could crawl into a corner and wallow in pity over this, or maybe climb onto a soapbox and try to argue with God over his assessment of our condition – but to do that misses the incredible truth that is being given even in this judgment – we were created for something better! If we have turned away then there must be a sense that we were once turned toward. If we have become worthless then there must have been a time when we were of great worth. This is part of the message of grace in Scripture. The bible doesn’t start with sinful, worthless people. It starts with people who were made by God and judged to be “very good.” We were made with the incredible privilege of enjoying and reflecting God’s glory and living in his very presence! Sin is not the definition of who we are – it is an intruder, a slave owner who has caught every one of us because we willing ran to it’s captivity. But we were made for better things.
Nothing Untouched: Though sin is an intruder, it is an intruder with devastating effect and no part of who we are is free from its influence. This is what Paul is saying in Romans 3:13-18. He uses Old Testament verses that specifically mention different parts of us – our throats, tongues, lips, mouths, feet, ways, and eyes – and show how each is impacted and infected by sin. This is not to say that we are as sinful as we can possibly be in every area of our lives – oh, no, we can always get worse! No, it is simply to say that there is no part of who we are that is untouched by sin. Our physical bodies do not work they way they were created to work because of sin. Our will does not work properly – we can’t just want to do the right things all the time. Our emotions are influenced by sin so that we cannot just do what feels good or makes us happy. Our minds are flawed by sin so that we can’t just think that we will figure things out on our own. We must always have a caution when operating on our own ideas, feelings, or desires. Not that they are always necessarily wrong, but we cannot know if they are right or wrong until we have measured them against God’s holy standard given to us in his word.
No Defense: Finally, in verses 19-20 Paul says that we have no defense. We cannot stand before God and point to the good things we have done or the ways we have tried to keep his rules because the rules (his law) cannot save us and was never meant to. It can only point out our sinful condition and our need for salvation but still leaves us in our enslavement to sin. Since our problem is not just doing wrong things, the answer is not as simple as just doing right things. Our problem is that our life is being lived contrary to what we are created for. The answer is not a better life – it is a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We like to think that we are basically good. But just as a sick person who thinks they are healthy will not go to the doctor, a sinner who thinks they are righteous will not accept God’s gracious offer of salvation. This is why the message of our sin – as hard as it is to hear – is so important. Christ came to save sinners, but those who thought they were OK (already righteous) wanted nothing to do with him. It was this way when he walked this earth and it has been this way ever since. If we don’t accept God’s view of our sin then we will not hear the incredible grace in the following passage (Romans 3:21-31) that speaks about a righteousness that is the gift of God given to us by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Understanding that all are sinners means no one is alone. We are all in this together, as awful as this “together” may be. You may think you’re some sort of exception and that you cannot possibly be loved by God because of who you are or what you’ve done, but we are all the same under sin and are all offered the same possibility for being saved – but only those who accept the diagnosis will even consider the cure.