There Is None Righteous:
Depravity Confronted 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 14c of 83

“… 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (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 two instalment of this tranche of studies, Paul demonstration of how the plain reading of the Old Testament confirms this doctrine (v. 9-18), and how it challenges those who deny they are depraved (v. 19). In this final instalment, we shall consider how depravity is confronted by the law.]

3. Depravity Confronted 
by the Law

a.   Paul says:

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20).

The law is not to give us righteousness before God. The law has a number of uses. But giving us righteousness before God is not one of its uses. One of the most important use of the law, is rather, that it gives us the knowledge of sin.

The Law, in other words, is like a mirror. James the Lord’s brother, in particular, likens the law to a mirror. This morning when you stood before the mirror as you washed your face or comb your hair, what were you looking for? Surely you were looking to see if you were presentable enough. You were looking to see if you have any toothpaste left on your lips, and if any strand of hair is sticking out of your head. You were, in other words, looking to see if you fit the mental image of what you want to look like.

Now, the law of God is like that. It is a mirror for you to look at yourself. But it is not for you to compare yourself with what you think you should be. No, it is for you to compare yourself against the glory of God.

The law shows us the “righteousness of God” (v. 21) and forces us to compare ourselves against it.

b.  In doing so, it does 3 things?

First, it shows us that we are sinners and leaves us without excuse. It warns us of God’s judgement. And at the same time it shuts our mouths. It removes our objections against God for declaring us guilty and worthy of condemnation.

Secondly, it shows us how we ought not to live and how we ought to live. In showing us our sin against the righteousness that is acceptable God, it shows us the right way to live.

But in the Third place, the law in showing us our sin, shuts us up to Christ. Paul says in Galatians 3—

“Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

The law shows me the absolute demands of God. It makes me see just how depraved I am. It makes me realise how utterly impossible it is for me to please God. Therefore I am driven to despair of myself, and shut up to Christ as my only hope for salvation.

I know that only Christ can free me from the burden and power of sin.  I know that forgiveness can be found in Christ alone. I know that He alone can enable me to live for God.

No one can be saved by keeping the law, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” But the law is important, for it confronts our depravity, it drives us to Christ, and teaches us how to please Him: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (v. 20).

c.   What is that to you, dear reader? The Christian life must be lived in a balance. Throughout the history of the Christian church, men and women have erred in their Christian life because they failed to understand the use of the law.

So there are those who erred by way of legalistic self-righteousness. They imagine themselves to be more deserving of heaven because they do more of the deeds of the law. But they forget that there is none righteous no not one, and by the deeds of the law, no flesh is justified in God’s sight.

On the other hand, there are others who error by way of antinomian lawlessness. These imagine that the law has little use for Christians. If by the deeds of the law, no flesh is justified in God’s sight, “why do we need to keep the law?” they ask. But they forget that by the law is the knowledge of sin. Without the law, we will not know our need of Christ! Without the law, we would not know that we are sinners. We would think that we are righteous.

But Christ said:

“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mk 2:17)

The law cannot save us. But we need the law because the law confronts our sin and drives us to Christ! Without the law, salvation is meaningless.

The true believer must live a balanced Christian life. He does not keep the law to gain favour with God. He keeps the law out of love and gratitude to God. He keeps the law because lawlessness is sin, and sin displeases God. And as he seeks to keep the law, he is driven to Christ because he sees his sin and helplessness.


We must conclude. We considered three things in our exposition of Romans 3:9-20: First, we saw our depravity confirmed by the Law; secondly, we saw how the doctrine of total depravity is often denied, but that denial is challenged by the law; and thirdly, we saw how the law confronts our depravity.

What should we do with these things? Well, let me leave you with just three simple thoughts:

First, if you know that you are totally depraved than you must no longer live as if you are holier or better than anyone else. Think of a person you despise; and remember that you are no better than him or her. You are both depraved sinners deserving condemnation.

Secondly, if you know that you are totally depraved than you must cease to challenge God’s wisdom. You must submit yourselves to God’s Word and live according to it and not according to your own wisdom.

Thirdly, if you know that you are totally deprave, then look away from yourselves and your own good works. Look to Christ for He alone can save you. Children, you must remember this. You are totally depraved. You sin because you are born sinners. You did not become sinners because you sin. You are a sinner deserving damnation. You cannot save yourself from hell. You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must go to Him and ask Him to wash away your sin. Amen.

JJ Lim