The most extensive description is found in Romans 3:9-18.
It teaches that all men are sinners and all are under God’s condemnation. Every son and daughter of Adam is corrupt before God. There are no exceptions. This is emphasized by the repetition of the words “all” (Ro. 3:9, 12), “together” (Ro. 3:12), “none” (Ro. 3:10, 11, 12), “not one” (Ro. 3:10, 12). The expression “no, not one,” which is repeated twice (Ro. 3:10, 12), is the strongest type of emphasis. It is saying that there is not even one, not so much as one, who is righteous and who is good.
This is a description of man’s complete moral corruption before God.
“they are all under sin” (Ro. 3:9). “Under the guilt of sin: under it as under a sentence; under it as under a bond, by which they are bound over to eternal ruin and damnation; under it as under a burden (Ps. 38:4) that will sink them to the lowest hell. Under the government and dominion of sin: under it as under a tyrant and cruel taskmaster, enslaved to it; under it as under a yoke; under the power of it” (Matthew Henry).
“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Ro. 3:10). When measured by God’s righteousness, which man was created to reflect, none measure up. Note the emphasis: “none ... no, not one.” Not even one! Man’s apparent righteousness is so corrupted by selfish motives, so impure from the deceit and wickedness of his heart (Jer. 17:9), that it is “as filthy rags” before the thrice holy God (Isa. 64:6). Every man knows “the plague of his own heart” (1 Ki. 8:38).
“There is none that understandeth” (Ro. 3:11). No man in his natural state understands God and the things of God. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co. 2:14). Men do not naturally know the truth. They do not have spiritual wisdom. Man cannot “follow his heart” to the truth, because it does not know truth, it does not understand. It is God who enlightens sinners by His Spirit, which He sent into the world at Pentecost for this purpose. Christ “lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Joh. 1:9) and has commanded that the gospel be preached to every creature (Mr. 16:15).
“There is none that seeketh after God” (Ro. 3:11). No man in his natural state seeks God. This is a present participle, indicating continuous action. Man is made to seek God with all his being, but no man does that. Sinners are not naturally seeking God, but God is seeking sinners and convicting them, enlightening them, and drawing them by His Spirit (Joh. 12:32; 16:7-11). Adam and Eve did not seek God after their sin, but God sought them and confronted them with their sin and saved them by clothing them in the coats of skins, signifying justification through a substitutionary sacrifice (Ge. 3).
“They are all gone out of the way” (Ro. 3:12). The entire human race has gone out of the way of God and truth and righteousness, gone out of the way that God intended for man when He made him, gone out of the way of God’s blessing.
“They are together become unprofitable” (Ro. 3:12). Man has become unprofitable to God. He created man in His image to exist for His purposes and glory. All things are of him, through him, and to him (Ro. 11:36). All things are for His pleasure (Re. 4:11). But man rebelled and corrupted himself and became unprofitable for his created purpose.
“There is none that doeth good” (Ro. 3:12). This is another present participle, indicating continuous action. While sinners do good deeds (from man’s perspective and based on man’s definition of good), they do not do good in a continual, truly righteous way as defined by God’s law. Even when they do something that appears to be good, their hearts are filled with evil (“the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” Jer. 17:9). Man’s standard and man’s way of thinking says, “He’s a good man; she’s a good woman.” But God says, “There is none that doeth good,” because He is judging on the basis of His standard of absolute goodness, which is the standard by which men will be judged.
“Their throat is an open sepulchre” (Ro. 3:13). Man’s speech is full of “corrupt communication ... filthiness, foolish talking, jesting” (Eph. 4:29; 5:4). “Their throat is an open sepulchre” is an accurate description of the modern pop culture and entertainment industry, of rock and blues and country western and rap and standup comedy and Saturday Night Live and nightclub performances and R- and M-rated movies, even a great many G-rated ones, and a vast percentage of social media. “Their throat is an open sepulchre” describes conversations in public schools and college and university campuses, in the marketplace, in the halls of government, in the homes.
“with their tongues they have used deceit” (Ro. 3:13). Man’s speech is full of lying. It is an expression of a heart that is “deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). Lying is natural to fallen man and begins at the earliest age. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). Even the saints Abraham and David dissimulated (Ge. 12:11-13; 1 Sa. 21:12-13; 2 Sa. 11). This is a world of lies.
“the poison of asps is under their lips, Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Ro. 3:13-14). Man’s speech is poisonous, harmful, full of slander, railing, talebearing, cursing God and man, anger, wrath, malice, vengeance. Jesus warned that men will give account for every word they speak. “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Mt. 12:36-37).
“Their feet are swift to shed blood” (Ro. 3:15). Violence and murder have been man’s way since Cain, Adam’s first son, killed his brother. Cain’s grandson Lamech boasted, “I have slain a man to my wounding” (Ge. 4:23). By the time of Noah, the earth was filled with violence (Ge. 6:13). After the flood swept away that generation and delivered the most terrible warning of God’s wrath, men soon returned to filling the earth with violence as kingdom fought against kingdom across Mesopotamia and Africa and Europe and the Americas and China and wherever men settled.
“Destruction and misery are in their ways” (Ro. 3:16). This enlarges the description of man’s way to encompass every type of destructive and miserable action, and what a perfect description of man’s history it is! Hateful and hating one another, war, mayhem, rape, beating, burning, torturing, pillaging, looting, robbing, kidnapping, abortion, infanticide, parricide, child abuse, mental abuse, stalking, slandering. Man has the capacity for endless cruelty, because he is the sinner God’s Word says he is.
“And the way of peace have they not known” (Ro. 3:17). The history of man is disharmony and war, not peace. Man is not at peace with God and he cannot be at peace for long with his neighbor, not even his closest loved ones. The way of peace is not known in the home, on the streets, at the workplace, in the government, between friends and neighbors, between nations. Peace is only barely maintained in this present world by the force of law and the presence of arms, but war is always near. Every peace plan has failed and will fail until the fundamental problem of man’s wicked heart is resolved. Only when man is at peace with God will he be at peace with himself and with his neighbor. Those who march for peace and sing for peace cannot live peaceably even with their neighbors, families, and friends. When John Lennon sang, “Give Peace a Chance” in 1969, he was on the verge of breaking up with his own band members and he and Yoko Ono were living together while hatefully estranged from their marriage partners. Every one of the “peace loving” Beatles went through “messy, acrimonious divorces,” even stealing one another’s wives. The Bible describes an end-time peace movement that will fail. The whole world will believe the peace promise of the Man of Sin, the covenant that he will make with apostate Israel, but it will end in destruction (Da. 9:27). “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Th. 5:3). There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace comes and rules this world. It will first come with a rod of iron during the Millennial kingdom. Complete peace will come in the New Heaven and New Earth when all of the citizens will be reconciled with God and “the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Re. 21:8).
“There is no fear of God before their eyes,” Ro. 3:18). This is man’s fundamental problem, and it has been since Adam. Had the first man and woman feared God, they would not have disobeyed His law. It is the fear of God that keeps men from sinning. “... by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (Pr. 16:6).
This passage presents the correct view of man’s nature. It is impossible to understand man properly apart from this. He is not good. Every philosophy that is based on the goodness of man is fundamentally flawed, and this includes every social studies program taught in the public education systems worldwide. As prophesied in Psalm 2, the “modern” world has aligned itself against God and against His Word. Some of the philosophies openly acclaim “the natural goodness of man” (e.g., Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the enlightenment). Others (e.g., John Dewey) hold that man is a blank slate upon which education and environment and culture can create good character. “The progressive movement, the romantic movement, Marxism, the pragmatic school, utilitarianism, transcendentalism, all presuppose that man is inherently good and only needs to be taught true things to go the right way. The schools disagree about how to act and what is right but they all rely on the inherent goodness of man. Psychology, which in my opinion is a school of philosophy, also makes the same presupposition” (Kelly Whiting, Harvard educated lawyer). “This, then, is God’s X-ray of the human race. It reveals universal unrighteousness (Ro. 3:10); ignorance and independence toward God (Ro. 3:11); waywardness, unprofitableness, and lack of any goodness (Ro. 3:12). Man’s throat is full of rottenness, his tongue is deceitful, his lips are venomous (Ro. 3:13); his mouth is full of swearing (Ro. 3:14); his feet are bent on murder (Ro. 3:15); he leaves behind trouble and destruction (Ro. 3:16); he doesn’t know how to make peace (Ro. 3:17); and he has no regard for God (Ro. 3:18). Here we see the total depravity of man, by which we mean that sin has affected all of mankind and that it has affected every part of his being. Obviously every man has not committed every sin, but he has a nature which is capable of committing them all” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
This description of man’s character is evident in human history. A more accurate summary of human history has never been penned: “Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known.” This is man whenever and wherever we see him, in every age, on every continent, in every tongue.
This description of man’s character explains human history. The fundamental problem with mankind is not a matter of education or economics or environment; the fundamental problem is man’s fallen nature, his corrupt heart, his wrong relationship with God. The world is corrupt because man is corrupt.
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