Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The Depravity of Depravity-Rom. 3:10-18
This past week I read about a terrible disease that kills from the inside out. It is a widespread harmful condition that people are born with and some never realize they have until it is too late. While the disease is discreet at first, eventually side-effects include behavioral changes ranging from psychosis to anger, to lapses in judgment, in appropriate relationships, harming oneself or other people, and death. This disease is called sin and Paul in Romans 1-3 has done his part to diagnose the whole world with this condition. Though the obviously lost (1:18ff) are presumed to suffer with sin, the moral Gentile (2:1ff); and the religious Jew (2:17ff) are not immune. Everyone has been infected with this and the only antidote is Christ. However, before Paul can provide the antidote to the church in Rome, he must describe the symptoms/manifestations of sin so that people might understand just how grave their situation is. He accomplishes this in Romans 3:10-18 in which he delineates three manifestations of depravity that require radical treatment.
I. MANIFESTATION #1: Incapable of Living Righteously-3:10-12
Paul begins his description of the manifestations of sin by referring to the Psalms. In fact, this entire passage is quoted from various psalms that describe the acute wickedness of mankind. Paul is, in other words, not offering something totally new or original. Sin is not some new illness that has just surfaced with new symptoms. Instead, sin is an issue that has plagued mankind ever since Adam’s failure in the garden. Therefore, the reference to the psalms serves as sobering reminder that the problem that existed in the Old Testament, existed in Paul’s time. However, just as people are often tempted to take their physical health for granted, it is possible that people had forgotten how wicked they were without God. Paul seeks to remind them of what is often ignored here in Romans 3:10-18.
“There is none righteous, not even one” (3:10). This verse unequivocally proclaims that righteousness doesn’t exist in mankind, even in the least bit or in the smallest and loneliest of numbers. No one can claim immunity from the problem of sin. All are infected with the deadly virus and in desperate need. Verses like this illustrate the doctrine of universal depravity which simply asserts that all are sinners and fallen short of the glory of God.
However, instead of simply acknowledging the condition man faces, Paul moves on to describe several reasons why this is the case.
Just as there are several ways to catch a cold or a number of means of developing cancer, so too are people unrighteous for different reasons.
One reason behind this phenomenon of worldwide unrighteousness is a complete lack of understanding—“there is none who understands” (3:11a). No is righteous because no one understands God at all. They don’t understand Him, His Law, or His ways and therefore can’t understand His righteousness. How could someone live up to a standard that they do not understand?
Therefore, one reason mankind cannot live righteously is because, left to themselves, they do not understand God.
Another means of landing in unrighteousness is not seeking after God. Not only does the human race not understand God and, as a result find themselves in sin, but they don’t pursue God on their own. The verb used here describes a continuous and ongoing pursuit of something—lit. “there is none who is seeking for God.”
Years ago these hidden illusion picture books were really popular. However, I didn’t particularly like these pictures inasmuch as I could never find the hidden image. I could cross my eyes the right way or stare at my nose just so to see what was beneath the surface. Often, after trying for a few minutes, I’d give up and do something else. However, on occasion, when someone told me what the hidden image was, I was more likely to find it. This experience proved the old adage: it is hard to look for something if you do not know what you are looking for. The same seems to be true of those in Paul’s world and in our world. Because we do not naturally understand God, it proves difficult for us to seek after him. We might even ask: Why someone who doesn’t know about God, seek Him? Can we blame them? Would you seek out something you had absolutely no knowledge or understanding of?
As a result these two pathogens—nobody understands God and no one seeks after God-- Paul reveals that all men, knowingly or not, turn aside or away from God and therefore become useless. This is how the infection of sin presents itself. People prove they are infected with sin when they turn aside from God, His will, and His Word and pursue/worship other things in His place. Like an autoimmune disease that tricks the immune system into pursuing the body rather than infection, so too does sin in the life of an individual render him/her turned aside, manipulated, pursuing other things rather than God. The problem is, God alone is worthy of pursuing inasmuch as He is the only one who provide real life, hope, purpose, and joy. Money, if pursued in God’s place brings forth greed and all kinds of issues. Family, if worshipped instead of God will always prove insufficient unfulfilling. Success, if exalted over the Lord will leave one exhausted and alone.
In fact, not only will pursuing these things render an individual sick, frustrated, and anxious, these render an individual utterly useless. The word for “useless” here also means “perverse” or “worthless.” God cannot and will not use those who have turned aside from Him for in doing so, they become worthless.
Evidence of their worthlessness is witnessed in what they are capable, or better incapable of doing—“there is no one who does good, there is not even one”(3:12b). Paul in this point reveals that those who aren’t righteous, which is the whole world without Christ, is incapable of doing good. Why? They neither understand God nor seek God. As a result, they are worthless and incapable of lasting good.
II. MANIFESTATION #2: Incapable of Speaking Righteously-3:13-14
After describing how humanity apart from Christ is unrighteous as a whole, Paul moves on to describe how this unrighteousness is manifested in particular capacities. In Verses 13-14, Paul discusses how sin has affected mankind’s speech habits. He begins by saying “Their throat is an open grave…” (3:13a). Paul’s powerful language suggests that the throat of the unrighteous is a pit of death, “an open grave.” Putrid, disturbing, and vile, this metaphor is a compelling image that demonstrates the disgusting character of the fallen throat. The verb used here describes a continuous state of being opened. It never closes or shuts off from being a trap that leads to death. What was created to be a life-giving and encouraging instrument has become a smell receptacle for the dead.
While the throat proves to be an open grave, the tongue continuously deceives, lies, or slanders—“with their tongues they keep deceiving” (3:13b). The implication is that those with this kind of tongue cannot help but deceive and join I the ranks of the father of lies himself!
John 8:44-“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Not only that, but in identifying with the great deceiver these prove to endorse the kind of behavior that God hates.
Proverbs 6:16-19-“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
Proverbs 12:2a-“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,…”
Such lying and deception not only convicts the sinner, it proves poisonous to others—“the poison of asps is under their lips” (3:13c). The word for “poison” here also refers to “venom” (from a serpent) or “corrosion” (like rust). In other words, the lies that emerge from the tongue spread a corrosive and poisonous infection to anyone in close proximity.
However, this is not all an unrighteous tongue is capable of. Not only are destruction, deception, and death qualities of the fallen tongue, but so is cursing and bitterness—“whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” The mouth of those still in their fallen state is filled to the brim, nearly overflowing, with curses and bitterness. These come in a limitless supply of flavors including crude jokes, gossip, blasphemy, etc.
In verses 13-14, Paul describes one of the grossest symptoms of unrighteousness—a fallen tongue. It slithers in stinky grave known as the mouth, spewing poisonous lies and destructive speech to all who walk by, spreading its deadly infection.
III. MANIFESTATION #3: Incapable of Behaving Righteously-3:15-18
Another symptom/manifestation of unrighteousness is that people are incapable of behaving righteously. In fact, quite the contrary—people are given to egregious behaviors like murder. Not only are the lost Paul addresses here capable of committing hard crimes like murder, but it isn’t far from their repertoire of wickedness. Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of anything.
After all, in a moment of weakness, even David, a man after God’s own heart committed adultery and then didn’t blink when he sent Bathsheba’s husband to the front line of battle to be slaughtered. Moses before him, after losing his temper, killed an Egyptian slave driver. For Samson, God’s chosen judge, killing was a sport. Even Peter nearly killed a Roman soldier when Jesus was arrested. As close as these were to murderous acts, so too are the wicked that much closer to heinous and violent activities like murder.
To be sure, murder is not the only crime the unrighteous are capable of. However, in reflecting on the worst crime—taking another life that is made in the image of God—Paul is hoping to call to mind all crimes that fall within the scope of the unrighteous.
Inasmuch as the unrighteous are given over to all kinds of nefarious activities, Paul continues by saying “ Destruction and misery are in their paths…” (3:16).
Does everyone know how to get to Valley View Mall from here? One your way you know then that you will pass the Berglund Center and St. Andrews on your left if you take 220 North. The path you take (220 north) not only determines where you will end up, but what you will hit along the way. Just as the Berglund Center and the Catholic Church are along the path leading to valley View Mall, destruction and misery are the unrighteous take to their ultimate demise. Like advancing through the stages of a losing cancer battle, the unrighteous find destruction and misery as they progress toward death and destruction.
Because they are on this highway to a literal hell, they cannot experience the path of peace—“and the path of peace they have not known” (3:17). They don’t know it, can’t enjoy it, and will not find it so long as they follow the path to destruction and misery.
Likewise, because they are on the wrong path, they do not have God before their eyes. If they did, they would understand and know the right path and would be on it.
Andy Stanley coined a phrase that is especially poignant and appropriate to consider here—“Your direction, not your intention will determine your destination.” People—lost and saved alike—have all kinds of good intentions for themselves. However, if they do not point themselves in the right direction (have the right thing before them to guide them), they have no guarantee of accomplishing anything.
This last phrase almost acts as a summary for the type of behavior Paul has just finished discussing. Those who are depraved, the entire human race from they time they are born to the time in which they are born again have no fear of God. As such they fear other things and will perish.
Why does Paul go to great lengths to delineate the acuity of depravity? What application can we possible draw from this topic today as believers and as potential Christian leaders? Now that we’ve explored how man is incapable of being righteous in his depravity, incapable of speaking righteously and incapable of behaving righteously, I want us to all realize the incredible transformation that has taken place in our lives as believers. God saved us from that! Praise the Lord! Not only that, but because of this we aren’t on a path of deception, death, or destruction, but on a path of peace, joy, and righteousness. Oh how great a salvation we enjoy in Jesus!
However, I also believe that this passage serves as a reminder to us all of what we’re up against. The plague of sin is rampant and it is not pretty. Do not be fooled—sin not only hurts, it kills. Sin is gross and ought to be cast in its truest and most grotesque form so that we might be motivated to take the cure that is Christ to those who are afflicted. However, one cannot offer a cure for something with any credibility if they are suffering the same symptoms. Check yourself. Are you symptom free? Or do you too show the signs of your depravity?