Romans 3:14-20 by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:59 mins 13 secs

No Human Can be Righteous – Part 1
Romans 3:14–20
Romans Lesson #032
September 1, 2011


Psalm 10 speaks of the wicked. It is a psalm wherein David as the psalmist is calling upon God to intercede in the midst of adversity in his life. The way this psalm begins is to articulate two questions, questions that are commonly asked by people we know and there are times when we ask these questions. As we go through life we face injustice—from people, from systems that are unfair and unjust. So we ask questions related to the fact that it seems like there’s no justice, and where in the world is God with all this injustice going on? So these two questions express the fact that we all ask where God is in times of difficulty.

Psalm 10:1 NASB “Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide {Yourself} in times of trouble?” That doesn’t mean that God hides or that He is not there, it just seems that way to us because we do not always understand what God is doing in our life. And as we go through various circumstances and situations we think God ought to be there doing something, we shouldn’t be going through this. Scripture teaches that we do go through difficult times; we expect that. We live in the devil’s world, a fallen world; life is not what God intended it to be; life in not what it ought to be because of sin.

In vv. 2-7 David pictures the characteristics of the wicked person who oppresses the righteous. He uses very graphic terms to express this, terms like proud and boastful, people who are blasphemous, arrogant, careless about God, deceitful, destructive; and he paints an extremely dark but accurate picture of the basic orientation of the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 NASB “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

The negatives in Psalm 10:2-7. The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor. [2] “In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted; Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.” Every verse in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament that indicts the culture for failing to take care of the poor and the widows and the orphans is indicting not the government but the individuals. The Bible emphasizes that it is the responsibility of the individual, the responsibility of the family unit to take care of the poor and the orphan and the widow, and that it is not the responsibility of the government. The wicked here is talking about an individual and in his arrogance he persecutes the poor, and David prays that they may be caught in the plots that they have devised.

This brings in an interesting idea that is found in a number of psalms called imprecatory psalms—a psalm where David is petitioning God to bring judgment upon his enemies. Some people say we can’t do that today. Why not? What is wrong with it? As we have seen in Romans chapter thirteen the Old Testament principle is quoted: “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” The idea of vengeance isn’t the idea of personal vendetta, getting personal revenge. The core meaning of the Old Testament word translated “vengeance” has to do with the execution and application of justice. And in these imprecatory psalms that is exactly what David is doing. He is calling upon God in His justice to bring judgment and discipline upon those who are in rebellion against Him. It is not some personal vendetta.

He explains further why he is calling upon God to allow the wicked to be caught in their own traps. Psalm 10:3 NASB “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, And the greedy man curses {and} spurns the LORD.” He is boastful, arrogant; his heart’s desire is wicked. Greed in Colossians 3 is tantamount to one form of idolatry. It is worshipping the things that money can buy rather than worshipping God, so it is a violation of the first commandment in the Torah. [4] “The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek {Him.}…” He is hostile to God, negative toward God. “… All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’” God is in none of his thoughts, he never thinks about being grateful to God. We need to thank God for everything that we have and to focus upon that and be grateful for what He has given us. [5] “His ways prosper at all times…” This is the sense of injustice that David has. The wicked seem to be getting away with it. “… Your judgments are on high, out of his sight; As for all his adversaries, he snorts at them.” That is, You are so far away he doesn’t experience divine judgment. No matter how people try to deal with this wicked person, no matter what enemies there are they never seem to be able to take him down and he just looks down upon them. Then we see the motivation of his mental attitude. [6] “He says to himself, ‘I will not be moved; Throughout all generations I will not be in adversity.’” He thinks he is above it all.

Psalm 10:7 is the quote we have in Romans. “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression… ” When Paul quotes “His mouth is full of curses and bitterness” he is not just saying “his mouth,” this is what rolls off the end of his tongue—a manifestation of the arrogance and the wickedness of his heart, which is what is the focal point of vv. 2-6. So when Paul talks again about the sins of the tongue here in verse 14 he is talking not only about the overt sins of the tongue but also about his mental attitude state. The word for cursing here is a word that can be used in a positive sense or a negative sense. Here it is used in a negative sense where he is probably using God’s name in an invalid way in relation to some sort of oath, so his mouth is full of this wrong oath-bearing, as it were, and bitterness. That is the content of his speech. It is always bringing forth bitterness. “… under his tongue is mischief and wickedness”—a metaphorical way of saying that this is what he produces as a result of the sins of the tongue. So again, we see that Paul develops the indictment of the wicked, i.e. who is not righteous—all mankind.

Rom 3:15-17 NASB “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” This is a quotation from Isaiah. Isaiah 59 is focusing again on the indictment that God is bringing through Isaiah to the southern kingdom of Judah because they have rebelled against and disobeyed God. He is announcing that if they do not turn from their idolatry, their arrogance and self-centeredness and turn back to God in terms of obedience then God is going to bring judgment on them and He will eventually remove them from the land. Earlier in Isaiah he goes through a number of the different judgments, including the prophecy that they would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Here as he comes to the close of his prophecy he brings this reminder of their sinfulness.

Isaiah 59:1 NASB “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” His focus initially is on the character of God, on who God is. God is always the standard, so we have to step back and think about who God is. The first phrase “the Lord’s hand” is a negative way of saying that God’s power is not limited; the hand of the Lord represents His power. His omnipotence is no limited so that He cannot save. In other words, he is saying through the use of these negatives that God’s power is still capable of saving. “Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” In other words, it is not that God isn’t listening.

There is a point that is clear from the Scriptures; it is clear from the psalms. Psalm 66:18 NASB “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Think about this. This is a passage that comes out of the Old Testament Scriptures; it is a clear statement of David that if a person regards sin, if they are the wicked and not the righteous, then God doesn’t hear their prayers. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t aware; in His omniscience He is certainly aware. It means that God is not going to efficaciously listen to that prayer. It is a prayer that will be known to God on one level but God will not respond to that prayer. There is only one prayer that God responds to from the wicked, the unrighteous, from the unbeliever, and that is a prayer that God would give them more knowledge about Him so that they could have a relationship with Him.

That is what God is saying here in Isaiah 59. It is not that God isn’t listening but He is not listening to you because of your sin. Isaiah 59:2 NASB “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden {His} face from you so that He does not hear.” This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1-3. Because of sin every one of us is separated from God. It happens legally from the moment we are born. We are born spiritually separated from God and every human being is born in that state. Only the grace of God can change that status, and it can only be changed by God as the one who removes the barrier. That barrier is composed of sin. Sin is what separates us and without that problem being solved we can’t, as unrighteous, be in the presence of righteousness.

Then we have an explanation. Isaiah 59:3 NASB “For your hands are defiled with blood …” This is an overt sin related to violence and murder; they are responsible for death one way or the other. “… And your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken falsehood, Your tongue mutters wickedness.” The fingers stand metaphorically for the things that you have produced, the things you have done in your life. All of these different body parts—fingers, lips, tongue—come together to represent the totality of a person, and they have all yielded sin, iniquity, the violation of God’s laws. [4] “No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” There is in the culture not a concern about righteousness. There is a false concern about righteousness. Among some religious people in different religious communities they are hyper-sensitive to righteousness and morality and are just up tight in trying to get into everybody else’s business and dictate a strict moral code. That is the other extreme. There is one extreme of licentiousness and the other of legalism.

Over the last fifty years the judicial system has become so focused on the rights of the criminal that they have ignored justice for the victim. It has swung the pendulum bar to the other extreme. We all recognize that it is better to let a guilty man go free in some cases than to punish an innocent one. That is true in a theoretical sense, but we have gone far beyond that and let criminals go on the most inconsequential minutia instead of punishing them. Punishment is now built on a concept of rehabilitation rather than punishment and so that fails as well. As a result there is a massive explosion within prisons. We are not concerned about justice for the victim, we are concerned about a pseudo justice for the criminal.

“No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly [for truth].” We live in a culture that has rejected the concept of truth, a culture that says there is no truth. Your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth, so let’s just all let one another go and live their life however they think it ought to be lived. If everybody’s truth is truth then how do we know that that is true? That is a self-refuting syllogism; it is just pure irrationality. This is what was happening in Israel.

“They trust in confusion and speak lies…” This is typically what happens every year in an election cycle. Most people in the country are going to trust in empty words of politicians and the lies of politicians. It is amazing the things that are said by politicians that are knowingly said and known to be untrue when they are said. This says something about the population of the nation that is gullible. It will believe what it wants to believe as opposed to what is right or true, because they have lost any sense of absolute truth or absolute knowledge. “… They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” Conceiving evil has to do with the mental attitude state; bringing forth iniquity is the overt sin, sins of the tongue.

Again, relating it to the serpent. Isaiah 59:5 NASB “They hatch adders’ eggs and weave the spider’s web; He who eats of their eggs dies, And {from} that which is crushed a snake breaks forth.” It is using the imagery of viper’s eggs and a spider’s web to indicate that which produces disaster within the culture and brings death to the culture. [6] “Their webs will not become clothing,…” You can’t dress yourself up in a cloak that is like the emperor’s robe that doesn’t exist. You can’t manufacture a fantasy world and then go live as if it is true. “… Nor will they cover themselves with their works; Their works are works of iniquity, And an act of violence is in their hands.” What they are engaged in is insufficient because.

Verse 7 is the first of the quotes in Romans 3:15. Isaiah 59:7 NASB “Their feet run to evil…” This indicates a propensity to evil, a desire to be engaged in evil, an attraction to evil that is not restrained through self-discipline. “… And they hasten to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, Devastation and destruction are in their highways.” The apostle Paul picks up two phrases: “they make haste to shed innocent blood,” which has to do with overt sin and bringing violence, murder into the life; “wasting and destruction are in their highways” is the result of this. It brings emptiness, it is a waste of resources and it destroys the life.

Isaiah 59:8 NASB “They do not know the way of peace, And there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, Whoever treads on them does not know peace.” So Paul pulls from this. In Romans 3:15 he draws from the first part of Isaiah 59:7, and in v. 16 he draws from the second part of Isaiah 59:7. Then in Romans 3:17 he draws from the first part of Isaiah 59:8. “They do not know the way of peace.” It destroys inner tranquility; it brings emotional turmoil. One of the reasons we have seen such an increase of emotional problems and so-called psychological problems in our culture over the last fifty or sixty years is not because we are more aware of it, it is because with the removal of moral absolutes and a concern for justice and a concern for truth, which brings with it the teaching, instruction and inculcation of self-discipline and self-control. When that is removed then because there is moral instability in our thinking there is a loss of absolutes and the result is that it brings emotional trauma into the soul. That can only be reversed by bringing those controls back into life the way it is. One of the results of a sinful path (Romans 3:17) is the destruction of personal peace. Peace in the Scripture, with only a couple of exceptions, speaks of the opposite of violence. Peace is the opposite of worry, anxiety, mental instability, fear.

Romans 3:18 NASB “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” This last quote comes from Psalm 36:1 NASB “Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; There is no fear of God before his eyes.” The last part is picked up by Paul in his string of Old Testament quotations. When we think about this phrase “fear of God” what we should think of is Proverbs. Again and again in Proverbs and in Psalms we have the statement that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, of knowledge. We can’t go anywhere in life in terms of wisdom and knowledge unless that is grounded on the proper acknowledgement of and respect for the authority of God. That is what the phrase “fear of God” relates to. It is not fear in the sense of waking up in the middle of the night and thinking somebody has invaded your home and now you are in a panic. It is fear in the sense of having a healthy respect for authority, a proper respect for authority and for the consequences that come when we violate that authority.

So the fool has no fear of God. This is characteristic of the fool in Romans chapter one who has rejected God, who has professed himself to be wise. He has become a fool. He has rejected the truth of God and the wisdom of God, and this is the standard orientation of the human heart as Paul said in Ephesians chapter two: we were born dead in our trespasses and sins. But Paul is not going to stop here because this just paints that negative picture. He is going to go on, starting with verse 21, dealing with the fact that even though we are hopeless and helpless in achieving the kind of righteousness that God demands, God has provided the solution. He has a way to give us righteousness. And it is a free gift, and the only way we can ever be right before God is to accept His free gift of righteousness which comes when we put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior.