What We Hate to Hear: Sin Part 1
‘What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.’ (Romans 3:9-20).
At various times over the years, I have heard some people say that Paul’s goal in writing his letter to the Romans was to produce a theological work. Well, Romans certainly has a lot of theology in it, but Paul wasn’t one to simply write theology for the sake of theology. Furthermore, Paul never wrote in a vacuum. What I mean is, there were situations and reason that provoked the writing of his letters. Specifically, for Romans, you had a situation of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians having difficulty co-existing together as one church body.
So, in Romans, he is writing to show why, in the plan of God, they are to be united as one people in Christ. He not only shows them their commonality in Christ, but also their commonality in sin. Paul says, remember that before you came to Christ, all of you were in the same predicament—you were all captive under sin. Notice from the passage above, Paul says, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.” What Paul is saying in these verses is actually the climax to what Paul has been saying from all the way back in chapter 1.
So far, he has been laying out the spiritual history of the Jewish people as well as all mankind. And the conclusion he comes to is this: everyone is a sinner. Of course, God had a special people, didn’t he? The Jewish people were prone to believe that they had an in with God because they had received God’s covenant promises. They were God’s covenant people, with God’s law. God had revealed himself to them and they believed that gave them an advantage. But notice what Paul says, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all” (3:9). Certainly, as Paul actually shows in verses 1-8, there is a sense in which the Jews did have an advantage because they were the recipients of God’s gracious covenant. But, when it comes to sin itself, Paul says the Jews do not have an advantage. They are still responsible for their sin just as the pagan Gentile is, who has never heard of the one, true God. And so, again he can say: “both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:9b-10).
Even today, Paul says to us by the Spirit: whether you’re religious, or spiritual, you’re not any better off when them when it comes to your sin. You’re still responsible for who you are and how you live and those things are inherently offensive to a holy God. We come into this world sinners like everyone else, and need to that have sin dealt with in some or else we will face God’s wrath against sin (Rom 1:18).
Of course, the larger question that hangs above all of this is, ‘Why is this true?’ Why is it true all that all people everywhere are sinners? Paul actually explains it two chapters over in Romans 5. There he says, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12,15-19). When we look at Genesis 1 and see the creation of all things by the word of God, we see that all things were good. And if we were to read through Genesis 3 we would see that God’s own image-bearers—the first two people, Adam and Eve—rebelled against God’s command. Failing to trust him and his word, they sinned against God, bringing sin into the world, and therefore God’s curse upon sin.
And Paul says, in God’s mind, we were there. We were all there. Just as Adam was the first man to sin, he was also the first man—we are all descendents of Adam. And spiritual, he stood as the representative of all humanity before God. We are united to him. And because he sinned, therefore we have all been counted guilty as sinners. I find it interesting when you’re watching a football game and a player makes a touchdown, he jumps and dances, and gladly receives the hero worship given to him by the crowd. But if you ever watch the other kind of football—what we call soccer—you see something else. If you see a player make a goal, there is excitement and dancing, but invariably, the best players grab at the team patch on their jersey and hold it up. An American reporter asked David Beckham about this one time, and his response was basically to say, he may have kicked the ball in, but it was a team effort getting it there. Therefore, the whole team deserved credit for it.
In a sad reversal of such a notion, when Adam sinned, we were also there—spiritually united with him—so that we all now share in the condemnation under God for sin. When he fell, we all fell. Because he sinned, we’ve all sinned. Not just in guilt before God, but now we are born sinners with sinful hearts and actually commit sins of our own. There is an actual corruption that takes place in our lives. We aren’t just counted sinners in Adam, we commit our own sins as well. We come into this world, spiritually dead, under God’s wrath with sinful hearts. All of this is made evident to us as, even at the earliest ages, as we take every opportunity given to sin by sinning. All of us repeat Adam’s first sin by rebelling against our parents, not believing what they tell us about right and wrong, seeking to make our own way in the world, whether in our terrible two’s or as even more terrible teenagers.
Thus, Paul is clear in conveying the truth that we, as sinners, hate to hear: we are not good, but sinful. No matter how hard you look, you will always find that humanity—every single on of us—has a sinful nature, and thus, under the curse of sin.