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Romans 3:1-12 by Robert Dean
"There is none righteous, no, not one." We have all heard of total depravity, but what does that really mean? Romans 3 is perhaps one of the most debated chapters in the Bible with regard to the beliefs associated with Calvinism. Many arguments come out of what Paul says about faith. In this lesson, we are introduced to how truth, faithfulness, and righteousness are connected, and how closely related faithfulness is to truth. The ten rhetorical questions Paul poses in the first ten verses of this chapter merit a lot of consideration and investigation.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 43 secs

God's Righteousness Condemns All
Romans 3:1–12
Romans Lesson #030
August 18, 2011

This is one of the most important chapters in relation to understanding the nature of man and why the human race is under condemnation from God. Theologically the term that is used to describe this is “total depravity,” but this is a term that is often misunderstood by many people. Total depravity doesn’t mean that everybody is as bad as they could be. The term “total” means that every aspect of our being has been affected by the corruption of sin so that there is nothing that we can do that merits the approval of God, the judicial blessing of God. It does not mean what it is often presented to mean—especially within Calvinist or Reformed circles—total inability. Under the definition of total inability what Reformed theology man is completely incapable, not just of doing anything to please God, which we would agree with, but man does not even have an inclination toward God; he can’t even exercise positive volition toward God; because in a strict Calvinist system volition itself is meritorious. And in that system faith is meritorious. That is why in Reformed theology faith is taken to be a gift.

In Romans 3:1-18 Paul is brining to a conclusion what he has been arguing for and building his case for since Romans 1:18. That introduced the concept of the wrath of God. In 1 Thessalonians wrath is still future, still within history but is speaks of the Tribulation. But in Romans the term “wrath of God” is not a future event in terms of the Tribulation, but it is the judgment of God within human history. It can be individual or in terms of a group, a nation; but the wrath of God is the outworking of God’s judgment. And it can be either active or passive. By active means that God brings active, specific discipline and judgment on a group or a nation or on an individual. For example, when God brought the neo-Babylonian empire of Nebuchadnezzar to the kingdom of Judah that was God’s active judgment, the wrath of God on Judah. But when we look at what was going on within the kingdom of Judah during the two or three hundred years prior to that as they went into spiritual decline and degeneration they experienced a host of problems, and all of that was a natural consequence of sinful decisions. That is God’s passive wrath. A lot of the discipline that God brings into people’s lives is simply allowing the natural consequences of their sinful decisions to work itself out so that they experience the bad consequences from bad decisions. So in Romans 1:18 Paul begins to lay down this concept that the wrath of God is revealed ongoing through history from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. He is not revealing it against those who aren’t suppressing the truth. Those who are believers and are growing are not considered truth suppressers, but those who are rejecting God’s revelation are truth suppressers. Then in the rest of Romans chapter one and the first part of Romans chapter two he shows that the wrath of God works itself out on those who are licentious, those who are immoral, and then on those who are moral—both fail to live up to His righteous standard. Then starting in 2:17 he shows that God’s righteousness also condemns the Jews because even though they were given great privilege and revelation, nevertheless they still violated the Torah.

As we come to 3:1 he introduces this with a series of rhetorical questions designed to get his audience to think about the implications of what he has said. Having dealt with the issue of circumcision Paul then begins with the rhetorical question: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” These are the first two of ten rhetorical questions that are stated in this section.

Romans 3:5 NASB “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)” This lays down another objection and it is related to the idea that if our sin reveals the righteousness of God well let us go sin some more; the more we sin the more His righteousness will be revealed. This apparently was a common charge against Paul. (This is often a charge among people who teach grace) Then he raises the next question which develops the argument even more: Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? The implication of the first statement would be that God would then be unjust by bringing any form of discipline or judgment upon the disobedient believer. The protasis is a first class condition, which means it is assumed to be true. So he is stating a true principle and that is that our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God. When we sin God’s righteousness is brought to the forefront. His righteousness is His absolute standard and because God is righteous He must condemn unrighteousness. When mankind is unrighteous God’s righteousness comes into effect and His justice has to bring judgment, so our unrighteousness does display the righteousness of God. But it is an invalid conclusion to go on to say we must just continue to sin so that His righteousness is made evermore present. Paul phrases these questions in a way that indicates the answer. Man’s unrighteousness shows God’s righteous character and that demonstrates God’s own right to be the judge. This is talking about judgment in time, in history.

Romans 3:6 NASB “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” Jewish theology made it very clear that there was a future judgment; God would judge the world. Isaiah 66:16; Joel 3:12; Psalm 94:2; Daniel 12:1-3. What Paul has done here in a very logical manner is point out that God can’t judge the world unless He is righteous. He explains that even further [7] “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?” This is a continuation of the thinking of the objector. [8] “And why not {say} (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just.” That is the essence of this argument. Paul crystallizes what this objection is: is nothing more than an end justifies the means argument, i.e. a right thing done in a wrong way is okay. Ethically a right thing can only be done is a right way. In this verse Paul shows the irrationality of this argument. Paul’s words have been twisted; his teaching on grace has been twisted into the idea that he is teaching licentiousness. He doesn’t even refute it, it is so obvious, so self-evident that the idea that we can do evil that good may come is wrong.

Then he moves into the conclusion. He raises two questions. Romans 3:9 NASB “What then?...” What conclusion are we to arrive at? What is the result of this string of thinking? “… Are we [Jews] better than they [Gentiles]? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” He says that Jewish people aren’t inherently any better than Gentiles; both are condemned. Jews had a privileged position but it wasn’t a position that brought them salvation. So Paul asks: What is the implication of this argument. The word translated “under” is the Greek word HUPO which has the sense of being under something but in a variety of contexts it has the idea of being under control or the dominion of something. That is the idea: all are under the control of sin. This is what Paul will develop further in Romans chapter six when he is talking about sanctification—prior to salvation we have no choice but to sin, we are in bondage to sin. Then he is going to strong together a series of verses from the Old Testament to substantiate that this isn’t just something that he has come up with but that this is the teaching found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Romans 3:10 NASB “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.’” The last line says there is none who does good, not even one. Most of what Paul says here comes from Psalm 14:1-3. But where in the Old Testament do we find the statement in verse 10 that there is none righteous, not even one. You will look in vain and you will not find it. But Paul says, “As it is written.” How can that be? Remember the four ways that writers of the New Testament quote the Old Testament. The first way is literal prophecy quoted as having been literally fulfilled—e.g., Micah 5:2 cf. Matthew 2.

Then Hosea 11:”Out of Egypt have I called my son” cf. Matthew 2 which was a different kind of usage. Hosea refers to the historical event of the Jews coming out of Egypt and is not prophetic at all. But it is taken and applied as a type, a picture of what will be fulfilled by the Messiah.

The third use is when there is a historical event that doesn’t quite match the fulfillment event but there is one element that is similar, and what the writer of the New Testament is saying is that this event is like that which happened before. E.g., when Jeremiah speaks of the mothers of Ramah weeping for their children. The original context of that statement was that the mothers of Ramah were weeping as they saw their sons being led off into captivity to Babylon. But the context of Matthew 2 is that the mothers in Bethlehem are weeping because their babies have been murdered by Herod. There are many details that don’t match up but the one thing that is similar is the weeping of the mothers. So it is an application.

The fourth use is when it says in Matthew 2 that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. That is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. But the people who lived in Judea had a rather low opinion of the intellectual capabilities of anyone up in Galilee, and Nazareth was in Galilee. Nazareth was just a backwater and nothing good could come out of it, and so anyone who came out of Nazareth just had a room temperature IQ. They didn’t have any respect from anyone in Judea, and so it was a sort of proverbial statement that somebody wasn’t really bright or that they were backward. It is a summary. The Old Testament taught that the Messiah would be rejected, despised, and His people would not accept Him. So this is summarized by Matthew into the idea that He would be called a Nazarene. This is what Paul has done in Romans 3:10. He has summarized the teaching of Psalm 14:1-3, and he summarizes it in the statement, “There is none righteous, no not one.” The first three verses of Psalm 14 are repeated verbatim in Psalm 53. Again and again in the Old Testament it is stressed that man does not do good. Isaiah 64:6. The teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures is that mankind does not do righteousness.

“There is none that understands”—no in-depth spiritual understanding; “none who seeks God”—the Greek word indicates a more intense seeking; “all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” In Psalm 14:1 the introduction is the statement, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” If you say there is no God you are a fool. Unbelievers know internally, inherently, that God exists—Romans 1:21, “For even though they knew God… [22] professing to be wise, they became fools.” So Psalm 14:1 is stating the qualifications to be a fool. A fool rejects God’s revelation of Himself in His creation and in the Word. Psalm 14:1 states “They are corrupt.” Who are the “they”? Is that all mankind? No. It is the fool who has rejected God. So he is not talking about those who have exercised positive volition toward God and want to know more about God, he is talking about those who have exercised negative volition toward God and have rejected Him completely and don’t want to know anything about Him. When you reject God you have lost the basis for any kind of absolute system of morals or ethics, and the natural end result of that is pure moral relativism; you have no basis for other than some sort of pragmatism and an ethical system is yours only if it works for you. Whenever something else comes along you are tempted to go with another system because there is no external reference point, no external absolutes. What characterizes people who have rejected God? They are corrupt, they’ve done abominable works, there is none that does good.

Psalm 14:2 NASB “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God.” The conclusion is that there are none who understand and none who seek God. The text does not say there are none who can understand and none who can seek God. There is a big difference. But the way Reformed theology and Calvinist theology reads this is to say none who can understand and that there are none who can seek for God. There is a huge difference between the two. All this verse is saying is that the normal default position here is that they don’t understand and they don’t seek God. But we have to balance that with what Paul said earlier in Romans 1:20, 21: that the know God. There is understanding of God and a knowledge of God at one level, but at a profound level that affects the orientation of their soul there is not that knowledge/understanding of God.

Then we have to look at the word to “seek” God. The Calvinist will say no one seeks God and they point this to positive volition. The Calvinist will say the unbeliever can’t even exercise positive volition and he can only seek God if God gives them gives them the ability to do that. That is their argument, but that is not what the Scripture teaches.

Deuteronomy 4:29 NASB “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find {Him} if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” This is an expression of positive volition.

1 Chronicles 16:11 NASB “Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.” This is a command.

1 Chronicles 28:9 NASB “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” This is a universal principle here. The Lord searches all hearts—believer and unbeliever—to see if there is positive volition there.

2 Chronicles 15:2 NASB “and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, ‘Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.’” This is restating the same principle related to positive or negative volition.

Psalm 105:3, 4 NASB “Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually.” This is a command. You can’t have a command that is real unless the person who hears it can respond.

Isaiah 55:6, 7 NASB “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” If the wicked and the unrighteous couldn’t change, couldn’t exercise positive volition, then this would be meaningless. So even the unregenerate can exercise positive volition because it is non-meritorious. Because he wants to know God, God then will provide the solution; and it is God who is the one who grants repentance and gives the blessing of salvation. God is the one who regenerates us, we simply exercise non-meritorious faith in God’s promise of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Jeremiah 29:12, 13 NASB “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find {Me} when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Hosea 5:15 NASB “I will go away {and} return to My place Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”

Amos 5:4, 6 NASB “For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel, ‘Seek Me that you may live….Seek the LORD that you may live, Or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, And it will consume with none to quench {it} for Bethel.”

Seeking is not a universal negative. When Paul says there is none who seeks this is not saying the no one without exception can have positive volition. It comes out of the context of Psalm 14 where it is talking about the characteristic of the person who says there is no God.