“The Total Depravity of All Men!”
02/02/14 AM, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[See Herman Hoeksema, Sermon #16, “All Under Sin”]
Let me ask you a question: “Do you think this passage describes you?”
I won’t ask for a show of hands, but think about it. Does this passage describe you?
Second question: “Do you believe that you’re totally depraved?”
Third and final question (Paul asks it in I Corinthians 6:9): “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Anybody want to change their answers to the first two questions?
Obviously, we need to have a proper understanding of Romans 3 and how it applies to us. It must apply to us somehow, even if we’re believers, because Paul even includes himself when he says, in v. 9, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.”
This description has to apply to all of us in some way, but at the same time, we have to realize that this passage cannot and must not apply to us in the same way as it applies to unbelievers, since the Scriptures are clear that no
such totally depraved sinners will inherit the kingdom of God!
So first, let’s look at the previous context. Paul is talking about those who accused him of teaching, “let us do evil that good may result.” And Paul’s response to such people was, “Their condemnation is deserved.”
Even though it’s true that man’s sinfulness highlights the holiness and righteousness of God by contrast, that’s still no reason to look at our sin as being, somehow, good. Remember, you don’t cause your sin to bring glory to God. God causes your sin to bring glory to God.
But then, before we start pointing fingers at these mockers of God and His righteousness, Paul says, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better?”
Now our immediate inclination would be to respond, “Of course we’re better! We’d never dream of saying, ‘Let us do evil that good may result!’ Of course we’re better than that! Christians, after all, should be better than the wicked. The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God!”
Why, then, does Paul answer his own question, “Are we any better?” by saying, “Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin”?
Is Paul really saying that Christians are no better than the wicked? Is this section that follows really supposed to be an accurate picture of a Christian?
I certainly hope that Paul’s description here doesn’t accurately describe any
Christian’s current lifestyle!
The difficulty can be resolved here if we understand that Paul is describing, not what we Christians currently are, as regenerated and sanctified believers in Christ. He’s describing what we all are, however, by nature, in ourselves, apart from the working of Christ in us.
Paul makes a similar point in Ephesians 2:3, but there he makes it very clear that he’s referring to what we are by nature, not to what we are as
renewed and regenerated Christians. He says, “All of us also lived among them [that is, among those who were totally depraved] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
That’s Paul’s point in Romans 3:9. When he asks, “Are we any better?” he means to ask, “By nature, are we any better?” Fellow Christians, do you think that God looked upon us, perhaps, as somewhat better than all the other depraved persons? Did God decide to send His saving love to redeem us because He saw that we were “special” compared to the rest of humanity that’s lost? Do you think that we, perhaps, deserved God’s salvation more than those others? “Not at all!” says Paul. All of us are just as depraved and just as wicked, by nature, as this text describes.
So our first point is this:
Romans 3:10-18 is not a description of regenerate and sanctified Christians, but rather, it’s a description of every man, woman and child, as we are, by nature, apart from salvation through Jesus Christ – No exceptions!
So it’s a mistake to apply Romans 3:10-18 to Christians after they’ve been redeemed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. These verses describe what we all were, by nature, apart from Christ, not what we are, by grace, in Christ.
Once a person is in Christ, he’s a new creature. The old is passed away. All
things have become new. In Christ, a Christian is given a new nature. That means we’re no longer totally depraved, once we become a Christian.
There’s a danger here when people misunderstand this text to be speaking of Christians in their current state. Some people actually do teach that Christians are still totally depraved. They say that Romans 3:10-18 describes all men, including Christians. They stress that righteousness is not necessary, therefore. “If we’re not saved by works,” they say, “then works aren’t necessary at all.” They say that a person can be just like what Romans 3 describes and still be saved by grace.
Well I would contend that that’s a perversion of the Gospel – a perversion that Paul will deal with later in the book of Romans. For now, however, let me simply finish that statement of Paul, in I Corinthians 6:9, that I
began a little while ago. Paul asked, “Do you not know that the
wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom
of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
In other words, “Christian, you were, by nature, just as bad as all those evil perverts, but you’re not like that any more! You were saved, by the grace of God, and cleansed from that lifestyle!”
So let’s not use Romans 3 as an excuse to live an immoral life, or as a means of gaining a false assurance, thinking that those who are still wicked and totally depraved can go to heaven. When God grants salvation to someone, He not only grants faith and belief in Jesus Christ, He grants repentance from sin and a new heart as well, a heart of love and obedience.
Christians will never be perfect in this new obedience in this life, of course. But someone who’s been regenerated by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ will be different from the person he was before, as he’s described in Romans 3.
Our second point is this:
Romans 3:10-18 is a description, not of just the worst people outside of Jesus Christ, but of every person outside of Jesus Christ.
Paul isn’t talking here only about the pagans or the heathen or the Gentiles. He’s not just describing the worst possible human beings, the dregs of society.
No, Paul is describing all of us, as we are, by nature, outside of Christ. There are no exceptions. Every person outside of Christ is “under sin” by nature, says Paul. That’s the doctrine of total depravity. Vv. 10-12 teach the doctrine of total depravity so clearly that it’s a wonder that anyone even questions that doctrine. But millions of Arminians do question that doctrine.
They object strenuously to saying that man is totally depraved. They say that fallen mankind still retains the ability to choose between right and wrong.
They say that he still retains the ability to choose to believe in God or to choose not to believe in Him. And the reason, therefore, that some men are saved and some are lost, according to the Arminain, is that some men choose, of their own free will, to believe. They say that some people have a spark of goodness in them that enablers them to choose to believe in Jesus Christ by their own free will.
But Paul says, here in v. 9, that both “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.”
He doesn’t just say, “All are sinful.” No, he says, “All are under sin.” That’s an entirely different matter. If you leave man under the impression that he can serve sin as long as he wants to, but that he also has the power to break with sin whenever he wants to, then he won’t get so offended at you. But that’s not what the apostle preaches here. The apostle says that all are
under sin. That means that sin has man in its power.
Sin is a power. It’s a spiritual, moral, and ethical power. And one characteristic of that power is that it causes man to miss the mark. Sin is that power over him that causes him to miss the mark.
Of course, that means that the unregenerate sinner does not will, and cannot
will to do anything good, of his own free will. He can only will to do evil, because sin has power over his will. He’s under sin.
What this means is he can’t do anything that’s spiritually good. He can’t do anything that’s pleasing to God. He can only do that which is spiritually evil, because he’s under the power of sin.
That’s the part that’s offensive to man. As long as you leave a man thinking
that he has the power to correct himself – as long as you leave him thinking
he’s free to choose good – then this teaching of man’s total depravity doesn’t
seem so bad. But say this to him, “You are under sin. You’re a slave to it. Sin is your master. Sin holds you in its power,” then men will despise your teaching.
But that’s what Paul is saying. Listen to his description of those people who are under sin, in vv. 10-12, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The reason no one seeks God is that all are under sin. Every man, by nature, is under the dominion and power of sin and he cannot set himself free. That’s what we’re all like, apart from Christ.
I want you to take careful note of that. There is no one who truly “seeks God.” There are lots of men who will claim that they’re seeking God, and claim that they’re seeking the truth, but unless they’re first regenerated by the Holy Spirit – unless they’re made alive by God – they can’t seek Him and they won’t seek Him!
Paul goes on to say that both their words and their works are evil through and through.
Vv. 13-14 describe their words, “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.”
Now you might say, “I know unbelievers who don’t talk like that. I know unbelievers who swear less than some Christians I know.”
But some people merely mask their evil better than others. Every unbeliever has hatred in his heart for God. Every unbeliever is bitter against God in his heart of hearts.
Vv. 15-17 go on to describe the works of these totally depraved individuals: “Their feet are swift to shed blood’ ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”
Again, not every unbeliever goes out and murders people. But Paul is describing the evil bent of their unbelieving hearts. Hearts that are not regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit are hearts filled with evil intent and hatred toward God and men. Very often this hatred may be masked and veiled by a veneer of goodness, but inside they’re seething with evil.
And then v. 18 sums up the reason why such people are totally depraved and rotten to the core: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Remember the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, in chapter 12:13? “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear
God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every man.”
But we see, here in Romans 3, that there is no man who, by nature, fears God. Not even one. All have turned away from Him to go their own way in disobedience to the law of God.
In v. 19 Paul again stresses that there are no exceptions to this rule. Both those who have the law of God through special revelation in the Bible, and those who have the law of God only through the general manifestation of that law in creation – both are guilty before God. Paul says in v. 19, “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.”
In the Greek, the word used is actually, “in the law,” not “under the law.” Under is used in Romans 6:14, where Paul says, “You [Christians] are not
under law but under grace.”
But here, the idea is that everyone is in the sphere of the law, so therefore,
everyone is accountable to God. If you’re in the sphere of the law of God, then you’ll be guilty of condemnation for breaking that law. Paul says here that, “The whole world [Jews and Gentiles, will be] held accountable to God.”
He explains in v. 20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Since all men are totally depraved and under sin, even though they all live in the sphere of the law of God, none of them are able or willing to obey that law. Therefore, none of them can ever be declared righteous by observing that law. On the contrary, the law only makes them more conscious of their sin and of their failure to keep it.
That brings us to our third point:
Because every man, woman and child is, by nature, totally depraved,
without exception, no one is good enough, by themselves, to avoid the wrath and condemnation of God.
No one will be able to stand before God at the Judgment Day, bringing his own attempts at righteousness. For God will say, “You broke the law of God.
You turned away from God. You are not righteous. You are worthless and depraved. Depart from Me. I never knew you!”
How, then, can we be declared righteous? How can any of those who are totally depraved, by nature, be declared perfectly righteous in order that they might be saved?
To put it simply: Is anyone “good enough” to be saved?
“Not at all,” says Paul. “All are under sin.” At the Judgment Day, no one will have anything to say to God in defense of himself. Paul says, “Every
mouth will be silenced and the whole world will be held accountable to God. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. No one!”
But look at the next word of Paul in v. 21: “But…” As someone once put it, “Folks, this is one of the biggest buts in the entire Bible!”
What they meant, of course, is that this is one of the most significant turning points in all of God’s revelation. Right here, the book of Romans reaches a key turning point. Paul goes from describing the total depravity and wretchedness of mankind, by nature, and then he turns full circle to discuss the glorious righteousness of the Gospel that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ. He essentially says that man, by nature, is a low-down, good-for-nothing sinner. But then, here’s what he says next, in Romans 3:21-22, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
If any of you who have listened to most of these sermons on the book of
Romans leaves here thinking that you can be saved by being “good enough” to get to heaven, then I’ve failed to communicate what this book is teaching. Don’t think for one minute that God will look at your life on the Judgment Day and say, “Hey, you’re not perfect, but at least you’re good enough to
get into heaven.”
No! No! A thousand times No! The only way anyone will be able to enter into heaven is if they have the 100% perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And the only way you can get that righteousness is through faith in Jesus Christ.
You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t attain it by your own good works. No, the only way to get the righteousness of Jesus Christ is to put your trust, put your faith, put your hope in Jesus Christ alone to save you.
Because when you believe in Him, His perfect life is imputed to you – transferred into your account. Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation.
And without Him and His righteousness, we’re all hopelessly lost in our sin, and we’re all justly condemned to Hell.
May God grant faith to each one of us to believe and trust in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to live for Him. May God regenerate every heart in this
room by the power of His Holy Spirit, through the preaching of His Word, and
may He, by His abundant grace, grant eternal life to one and all within the
sound of my voice today!