Romans 3:9-20

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, March 9, 2015 0 comments
by Katie Erickson 

“What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written:
'There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.'
'Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.'
'The poison of vipers is on their lips.'
'Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.'
'Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.'
'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
(Romans 3:9-20)

We’re a little ways into the 3rd chapter of Romans, and we finally see a conclusion! Paul has spent more than two chapters just preparing his argument and setting it up, and now we see the first conclusion that he makes: All Jews and Gentiles are under sin (verse 9), and because of that, no one is declared righteous by the law (verse 20). If you want to review all of Paul’s arguments that led to this conclusion, please go review my previous blog posts on earlier passages in Romans.

To back up his conclusions here, Paul gives a string of quotations from the Old Testament. This is actually the longest series of Old Testament quotes in the entire New Testament. Paul quotes from Psalms 14:1-3, Psalms 53:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalms 5:9, Psalms 140:3, Psalms 10:7, Isaiah 59:7-8, and Psalms 36:1. These references wouldn’t mean much to the Gentiles, since they likely hadn’t studied the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) very much. But this would have been highly significant to the Jews, since they would have likely known much of the Hebrew Scriptures by heart. This would bring it all together for them, and it would reinforce that what Paul is saying to them has authority.

You’ll notice in this passage, there is a repetition of the phrase “there is no one.” Paul does this for emphasis. If something is repeated, and repeated, and repeated, it is for emphasis so the writer makes sure the reader really gets it. Paul is really hammering the point home that it doesn't matter whether you’re a Jew or a Gentile or anything else about you, you cannot be saved by yourself. There is nothing you can do to save yourself, and no one else can either. Sin is universal, and we are all under its power.

This is emphasized again in verse 19, where Paul writes that “every mouth may be silenced.” If this were a courtroom scene, we would have to be silent. We realize that we are sinful, so we have nothing to say in our defense before the Judge. There is so much evidence against us, that nothing we can do or say will prove our innocence, so our mouths will be silenced. No argument we can make for our own righteousness will stand.

This then leads into Paul’s conclusion that no one is declared righteous by the law. The law is not able to save us. However, the law is still very useful to us, since it makes us aware of our sin as Paul says. Traditionally, the law has three main uses: a mirror, a curb, and a guide. The law is a mirror because it shows us our sin. When we see what is right and wrong, we see that we are sinful. The law is a curb because it keeps our sin in check through fear of punishment, just as a curb on a road keeps cars on the road. The law is a guide for believers because guides us on how to live. We know what we’re supposed to do to stay on God’s path, even if it is difficult for us to always follow that.

At the end of Romans 2, we saw that even though the Gentiles didn’t have the law of God in the same way the Jews did, they did still have God’s law written on their hearts in the form of their conscience. We all have God’s law in us in a general sense of right and wrong, but the law still cannot save us.

We are all under the influence of sin, and there is no one who can be declared righteous just by the law itself. Fortunately, if you know Jesus, then you know where Paul is eventually heading with this argument - that only Jesus can save us, through His grace and because of His death on the cross and resurrection. The picture may look bleak where Paul is leaving us right now, but the good news is coming!

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