By Dr. Mark Scott
Someone said, “When you are young you make faces in the mirror. When you are old, the mirror gets back at you.” A mirror does not lie about physical appearance. But a mirror is a reflection of our reality; it is not the reality itself. Our reality goes deeper than the skin. Sin distorts our ability to see ourselves accurately. We need a sanity check on sin because, “Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer,” said Dr. Barry Black, United States Senate Chaplain.
Paul was concluding his first major movement of his letter to the Romans (Romans 1:18–3:20). He had confronted head-on the Gentile sin problem (1:18-32; 2:12-16) and the Jewish sin problem (2:1-11; 2:17–3:8). Now he wiped out any chance of human self-justification. All people, no matter what ethnicity, struggle under sin’s power. All people have to own their depravity factor.
Minister Bryan Chapell said that every Scripture text addresses some aspect of our human dilemma. He calls it the FCF—Fallen Condition Focus. Our lesson text is the poster child for the FCF. The text begins with a question, What shall we conclude then? Paul was following up on the question raised in Romans 3:1: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” Actually Paul answered his own question—twice. Does a Jew have any advantage? Yes, the Jews have the Scriptures. But no, the Jews have not kept the Scriptures.
Paul charged (accused) both Jews and Gentiles of being under the power of sin. The phrase power of does not occur in the Greek text. It says, “To be under sin.” That is it. People have an amazing ability to dupe themselves and others because they are under sin.
Paul located sin in people with metaphors and from the Scriptures. There is some comfort in saying, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” But God does not locate sin abstractly. He locates it in people who sin. Listen to Bob Russell’s sermon entitled, “I Have a Dark Side I Must Understand.” The sin is in the sinner.
Paul strung together a series of Old Testament texts (variously called a catena or catalog). Verses 10-12 draw primarily upon Psalms 14 and 53. The verses have some small patterns in them. The heading seems to be, There is no one righteous (living by God’s standard and the desire to set the world right). The phrase, not even one appears at the beginning and ending of this brief section. Verses 11 and 12 show strong parallelism—no one understands and no one seeks; all have turned away and no one does good. The end result is being worthless (which means “useless” in Greek and “sour” in Hebrew).
Paul strung together another series of Old Testament texts to draw upon Psalms 5, 140, 10, 36, and Isaiah 59. Once again Paul was adopting phrases from those Old Testament passages. While there is value in noting the individual contexts from which they come, the force of Paul’s argument comes in the cluster. The difference in verses 13-18 is in the high use of metaphor. Throats, tongues, lips, mouths all help emphasize deception, harm, and corruption. We know from the New Testament that the mouth only speaks what is in the heart (Matthew 12:34-37). Paul also used the metaphor of feet. Feet do not technically shed blood, but they take people places where they will shed blood (Proverbs 1:11). Sin is labeled as having lost the way of peace and having lost fear (reverent respect) for God.
Romans 3:19, 20
These verses frame up Paul’s big conclusion from this first major section in Romans. Since he was still speaking of the Jewish person, Paul wrote these two verses from the standpoint of the law. As good as the law was (Romans 7:12), it basically shut people up. They had no defense. The law could not fix the problem. It could only show the problem. Kenny Boles, former Ozark Christian College professor, likened this to using a flashlight on a night when the car breaks down—the flashlight can show the problem, but it cannot fix the problem. Every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. No one can be declared righteous (justified—put right in God’s sight) by the law. The law simply helps us become conscious (know intimately) of our sin.
William Shakespeare’s plays give evidence that he understood the depravity of the human condition. Shakespeare knew the power of sin. Do you?
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.