Our culture is not as interested in truth when it becomes confrontational, uncomfortable, intolerant, or exclusive. In fact, the attitude seems to be, “You have your truth, I have mine, yours works for you, mine works for me, so you stay on your side of the line, buddy.” But Paul never saw a manmade line he didn’t want to cross. Well, maybe that’s overstating it, but you get the point: when it came to the truths of the gospel, Paul was less concerned about the feelings of his readers than the truth.
In Romans 3:9 Paul makes a startling claim: everyone is under sin. “Under sin” denotes being captive under a power, a force. We are prisoners of sin, slaves to it (Rom 6:16). Sin says “jump,” and I jump. Sin says “look,” and I look. Sin says “touch,” and I touch. It’s not just fun and games, either. Some games are deadly, especially this one. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
In Romans 3:10-18, Paul lists at least 6 Old Testament quotes and/or allusions that prove his proposition. How do we know that “no one is righteous”? Well, look around, he says. No one seeks God–instead, they make their own gods (Rom 1:22-23 taught us that). No one does what is good (instead, people practice sin like it’s going out of style; not only that, sinful people approve of each others’ sinfulness; see Rom 1:32). Listen to people’s speech, for crying out loud. Their throats stink like an open grave, and their tongues spread deceit. It’s like their mouths drip with snake venom–even small doses will render harm. Driven by envy and jealousy, people are malicious toward one another. They are quick to kill, swift to harm. Their footprints leave destruction and misery behind. They don’t know peace, and they certainly don’t fear God. Perhaps that last point is the main point, too: they do not fear God. Isn’t that what sin is rooted in? Doesn’t Proverbs 1:7 teach that real wisdom begins with fearing God?
You might be thinking, “What a description of scoundrels and fiends. Glad I couldn’t see myself in that list.” But don’t count yourself out of Rom 3:9-18 too quickly. In Romans 3:9 Paul says, “Jews and Gentiles” are “all” under sin. Paul just sent a scathing word of condemnation against all mankind. Despite all of our differences (race, social status, occupation, parenting styles, favorite colors, religions), Paul just gave the common denominator: without Christ, we are under the power of sin.
Isn’t that a shocking passage of Scripture to the ears of Americans? We may have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but we all stand–with the whole world–condemned for sin and in need of grace. Grace is the only hope. In the very least, Romans 3:9-18 makes me very grateful for mercy found in trusting Christ. Romans 3:9-18 should cause us to know and feel the horror of our sinful condition. Romans 3:9-18 should empty us of any grounds for boasting and self-righteousness. Romans 3:9-18 should drive us to our knees, clinging to the cross. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”