There Is None Righteous:
Denial Of Depravity Challenged By The Law
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 14b of 83

“… 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. …” (Romans 3:9-20).

[The apostle Paul has been building up a case for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. One of the key premises to this doctrine is that God is transcendently holy and therefore none who does not have righteousness acceptable to Him can have fellowship with him. Thus Paul has been showing that all have sinned. In our text, he seeks to demonstrate that this is the doctrine of Scripture, particularly of the Old Testament. We have seen, in the first instalment of this tranche of studies, his demonstration of how the plain reading of the Old Testament confirms this doctrine (v. 9-18). In this second instalment, we shall consider how those who still deny they are depraved are challenged by the law.]

2. Denial of Depravity
Challenged by the Law

a.   Paul hints at this challenge in verse 19 (above).

Why does every mouth need to be stopped? It is because every mouth is full of boasting. Every man boasts of his own righteousness. Every man is quick to excuse himself of sin. Every man is eager to let others know that he is not as depraved as others.

But the law of God leaves us without excuse. Paul has just given us at least 10 verses from the Law to show that we are all guilty sinners.

The trouble is that we are slow to admit we are guilty sinners. Those of us who may be said to be “under the law” (i.e. Jews and Christians) are especially slow to admit that we are guilty. Very few of us feel guilty. Even fewer would admit that we deserve God’s punishment. We all know that the Gentiles are guilty. We have no doubt about that! We know that God will judge them! But many of us think that we are more righteous than them.

But the law of God declares that we are guilty! When the law says “there is none righteous, no not one!” it is speaking to those under the law. Therefore, it is clear that none of us is righteous.

Man has no basis to challenge the verdict of God. We ought to shut our mouth and humble ourselves before Him.

b.  Now, if we admit this doctrine that all are guilty and that there is none righteous, then we will agree with Paul’s conclusion in verse 20—

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight…

Paul has just proven that we are all under sin and guilty before God. If we are all under sin and guilty before God, it must follow that we cannot make ourselves righteous in God’s sight merely by doing what the law requires.

Let me put it this way: the law says, “This do, and thou shalt live” (cf. Lk 10:28). God is saying to us through the precepts of the Law: If you would be right with me, live in this way. But sin in our hearts, makes it impossible for us to meet God’s standard. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), Paul would say later.

And moreover, the same law (i.e. the Old Testament) also declares that there is none righteous, no not one. How then can anyone be made righteous by doing the deeds of the law?

The law, then, is like an exam paper. The instruction at the top reads: “To pass this paper, you are required to score 100 marks.” But the instruction at the bottom reads: “No one has ever scored 100 marks.”

The Word of God is clear, isn’t it? No one can be saved by the deeds of the law or by “works of righteousness” (Tit 3:5).

c.   But the natural man hates this doctrine. He hates being powerless to help himself. We are too proud to admit that we are helpless.

For this reason, many objections against this doctrine of the total depravity of man have been raised. These objections are not just raised by the world. They are raised by those who may be said to be under the law. In particular, in the history of the Church, there were three groups of people professing to be Christians who objected to this doctrine. I think it is good for us to consider them briefly so that we may know exactly what the apostle Paul is teaching us.

First, there are the Pelagians of the late 4th Century. The Great Augustine of Hippo did battle with Pelagius and the Pelagians. Pelagians believe that man is not sinful by nature. Every man is able to choose to do good or bad from birth.

But the Word of God says, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight.” How do the Pelagians answer? Well, they say: the deeds of the law here refers only to external rites such as circumcision and sacrifices. They say that Paul is not denying that if we do works that are morally good we can be justified in God’s sight. They say that we will be deemed as righteous in God’s sight if we do a lot of good works in our lives like helping the poor or the afflicted.

But how can this be right, when the apostle Paul has declared all men to be sinners. How can we do any work that is truly good in God’s sight when we all fall short of His glory? How can we be said to be said to be doing moral good when all our righteousness are filthy rags?

Secondly, there are the Roman Catholics. The Romish doctrine is rather complicated. They distinguish between works done before and after baptism. Now, bear in mind that Rome believes that when a person is baptised, he is regenerate. They say that when you are regenerate, your works are acceptable to God to pay for some of your sins. If you don’t do good works to pay for them you will be punished for them in a place called purgatory, they say.

But the apostle Paul says: “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight.” That is to say, the deeds of the law can never make us just before God. Whether or not we are regenerate, our deeds are tainted with sin. How then can they ever pay for our sins? Imagine a child trying to wipe her face with her hand. But the problem is that her hand is stained with mud. Can she get her face clean? No, it just makes the matter worse.

Now, there is a third group known as the Arminians. Most evangelicals today are Arminians. Arminians agree that all men are sinners and therefore theoretically cannot be justified in God’s sight by the deeds of the law. But they also say that Christ died for everyone and so today God will accept the imperfect obedience of everyone.

To put it simply, the Arminians teach that Christ has done half the work. The other half must be done by the men who wish to be saved.

But this is not what Paul says. Paul says: “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight.” That is to say: “Nothing that I do can contribute to whether I am saved or not saved.”

If my salvation depends upon so much as a little word I have to say, I am done for. Spurgeon puts it very beautifully when he says: “If I have to contribute but one stitch to my garment of salvation, I am doomed.” For Paul says: “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight.”

This is what the apostle Paul is trying to impress upon us. Nothing that I do, so as long as it is done by me, can contribute to my salvation.

Whether you are a Christian or not, the deeds of the law do not make you just before God. You must be absolutely clear about this.

·    It is important for you to keep the Ten Commandments. But you do not obtain heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments.

·    You ought to do good to one another. But doing good does not give you a better standing before God.

·    It is important for you to worship the Lord. But you cannot earn eternal life by attending worship, whether you attend one or two worship services.

·    Christians should give of their substance to the Lord. But you cannot bribe God to let you go into heaven by giving your tithes and offering.

·    We must pray. But even your prayers are tainted with sin. We cannot win salvation by prayer.

·   We should all attend prayer meetings. But attendance at prayer meetings does not make your place in heaven more secure.

·    We must repent of our sin and believe in Christ. But remember that it is not our repentance and believing that gives us a right standing with God. Faith and repentance are but spiritual hands to put away sin and to receive God’s blessing. They do not make us righteous in God’s sight. They are God’s gift unto His people.

Think of a man who falls into a miry pit. Someone lowers a rope down to for him and pull him up. When he comes up, he kisses the rope and say: “Thank God for this rope.” One who thinks that his faith and repentance saves him is doing just that.

By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight” Says the apostle. Nothing whatsoever that we do at any time can make us just or righteous in God’s sight.

What then? If obedience to the requirements of the law does not make us right before God, what is the use of the law?

Paul teaches us that the law confronts our depravity…

… to be continued next issue

JJ Lim