Romans 3: The Closing Arguments

Joshua Steele · May 16, 2009

For the past few weeks at ABS, we’ve been teaching through the first two chapters of Romans. Since his opening statement in Romans 1:18, Paul has built an air-tight case against the ungodly. Furthermore, having drawn us into a position of judgment, he has shown that we who consider ourselves to be “better than the wicked” are in fact just as guilty, condemned by our own mouths.

This past week, we taught through Romans 3:1-20. In this chapter, Paul begins by addressing several common heresies of his day. He first clarifies the significance of the Jewish people - God gave us the Scriptures through the Jews - but points out that even if the majority of the Jews (or people in general) did not receive God’s plan of salvation, that does not negate it. God is not an elected official who needs a majority vote in order to move forward.

Paul then moves on to address the erroneous idea that the sin of mankind is simply his assigned role in the universe. This heresy, based on the assumption that God’s sovereignty denotes His direct control over and responsibility for human wickedness, attempts to justify men by claiming that sin is part of God’s design. They point out that God receives glory by forgiving sin, and then move on to say, “If my sin results in God’s glory, why then does God blame me? Am I not simply another actor in the drama, contributing in my own way to the ‘success’ of the picture?” Paul answers this notion with a very appropriate “God forbid,” and points out that if we are all “puppet sinners” as these heretics claim, then it follows that God Himself is the author of sin and thus unfit to be the Judge of the world. (Rom. 3:5-6)

If we have learned nothing else in Romans, we have learned that Paul is a master of persuasive logic. He lays out his arguments so clearly that we feel our thoughts are structured for us, and we are brought not only to agreement, but to an enthusiastic embrace of his position. It would be well to note that this is the natural effect of truth. God has written truth on our hearts (Rom. 2:15). Our very nature demands adherence to His laws (Rom. 2:14). When we hear genuine truth, it touches a chord deep in our being, and we not only agree with its statements, but volunteer our sincerest efforts to ensure its promotion. “Yes, Paul, it’s true! How wicked are those who blame God for their sinful state. Their damnation is just!” (Rom. 3:8)

But then, once again, Paul turns his finger away from the accused, and points at the jury. As we gather at the edge of hell to see the wicked cast into the flames, Paul reminds us that we are only there because our turn is also coming. Romans 3:9: “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.” Our position is right: the wicked are blameworthy. But in taking a stand for righteousness, we have condemned ourselves, for we are willingly unrighteous.

Romans 3:9 is one of a few very significant turning points in the book of Romans, and one that is, I think, often overlooked. Having reached this point, we are all in agreement with the fact that the whole human race is under sin. We are now only a few verses away from that famous pronouncement: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And yet, did we not already hold that view before we read Paul’s arguments? Certainly we did not understand it to the extent that we do now, but most people readily agree that “we’re all sinners” without ever reading Romans. After all, nobody’s perfect. The significance of Paul’s case lies not so much in his statement that we are all sinners (we already knew that), but in the root cause of our sinful state. The fact of our depravity alone could be - and often is - considered trivial. The cause of our depravity is a much more painful question to raise, for its answer carries condemnation for the one responsible.

By way of illustration, consider the following scenario. Let’s suppose that you are asked to prove the cause of the universal sinfulness of mankind, and you are allowed to use only the Book of Romans to do it. Which chapter would you turn to? Many of us, good theologians that we are, would turn right over to Romans 5. Verse 12 is one of our favorites: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” See there? It all started with Adam. He blew it, we blew it with him, and here we are. What we do now, so the reasoning goes, is mostly the result of what happened in the garden of Eden.

Now let’s suppose we take away chapter five. You still have to prove the cause of universal sinfulness but you don’t get to use chapter five or any of the following chapters to build your case. Could you still prove the point? “Weeelll… I guess we could use Romans 3:23.” OK, let’s chop that one off too. In fact, we’re taking away everything after Romans 3:9. Could you still prove that all are under sin? Paul did: “…for we have BEFORE proved … that they are all under sin.” And Paul proved it without a word about Adam, the devil, the sins of your parents, the state in which you were born, or your so-called sinful nature. How did he prove the cause of your sin? By pointing out that you know truth, you hold truth to be precious, and yet you consciously choose evil. (Rom. 1:18) YOU are to blame for your sin, and no one else. You do not sin because you were born a sinner; you became a sinner because you chose to sin. James 1:13-15 “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Yes, the Bible talks about Adam’s fall, God’s curse on the planet, and the fact that we are all born separated from our Maker. But those issues are completely separate from our personal guilt. WE are to blame: not Adam, not our parents, and certainly not God.

When the liberal media tries to tell us that homosexuals were “born that way,” we cry foul. We know better. They had a chance to live right, and they perverted themselves. Genetic determinism is a fallacy and Christians rightly reject it. When a psychiatrist sends a murderer to the insane asylum because “he was born into a bad family and can’t help it,” we cry foul. Don’t blame society. He wasn’t born a murderer; he became one when he pulled the trigger. But when we lust, we say, “Well, after all, I was born a sinner.” When we lie it’s because, “My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Oh how we twist the Scriptures to justify ourselves! Do you claim that you sin because you have an evil heart? What? Are you simply bearing the fruit of the seed placed within you? You would do well to remember Who gave you that heart (Psalm 33:15), and who caused it to darken (Rom. 1:21). Why does God try the heart? (Jer. 17:10) Because it is an accurate barometer of your works.

Romans 3:10-18 gives us Paul’s final exposure of the acts of wicked: there is none that seeks God, their throats are like open tombs, they run to shed the blood of the innocent, their ways are destruction and misery. And thus we come to his conclusion in Romans 3:20: no one can be justified by the law. Whatever men may say of each other, God’s verdict is clear: our works are evil, and we stand silenced, guilty before a Holy God (Rom. 3:19). The law, which was given to show us the way of life, judges us to be sinners. It is the light of the law that exposes our sin and demands our damnation. This is a grim conclusion indeed, but if we keep reading, we find that we have come to yet another major turning point in Romans. Hope begins here with verse 21: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…” The disease has been defined, we are convinced of our need, and the cure is coming. Let’s not run back to our old excuses before God has a chance to offer us salvation.

I am not afraid to confess that Joshua Steele is fully to blame for the sins of Joshua Steele. I do not need to search for a scapegoat. Why? Because God has provided One for me. (Lev. 16:10-14) He sent His beloved Son to be the scapegoat for my sin. Jesus took it all: the sin, the shame, the punishment. He died in my place as though He were to blame, so that I can live as though I never sinned at all. I am no longer a son of Adam, stumbling along through a life of disillusionment and guilt. I am an overcoming son of God, cleansed by His blood, walking in freedom (I John 5:1, 4). Christ has made me so. (II Cor. 5:21) He is the Author of this work in my life, and in the lives of all believers. (Phil. 1:6) Let us call sin by its right name: our willful plunge into evil. And having confessed our sin (I John 1:9), thus receiving total forgiveness once and for all eternity (Col. 2:13), let us rejoice as saints in the victory of our Savior, who has plunged us into His own cleansing blood, granting us His righteousness and eternal life!

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die!
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To God be the Glory

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