Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#4 – Universal Sin and Guilt
(Romans 3:9-20)

Imagine Paul’s epistle to the Romans being read to the church of Rome for the first time.  In chapter one, Paul describes the wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness and the unrighteousness of man.  The Jewish Christians would have assumed he was speaking about the Gentiles.  Then, in chapter 2, he speaks to the Jews and says, “You Jews are no better than the Gentiles.  Even though you have an advantage, you have the oracles of God, the fact that you have the knowledge of the law has not made you any better.  You are all sinners.”

Then, in chapter 3, verses 9 to 20, he brings this whole matter to a conclusion.  It is important that we understand this, because what Paul is describing here in this first section of Romans is not just ancient history.  It is true of the world in which we are living.

Recently, a survey was made by a company called Frank Magid Associates concerning the attitudes [in the U.S.A.] towards religion and religious things.  This survey was made in three mega-cities in this country:  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Des Moines, Iowa; and Seattle, Washington.  I want you to listen to what their conclusion was.

In Seattle, only about a third are currently affiliated with a church.  Only one-third of the residents of Seattle feel a need for God.  Instead, most in Seattle believe “that humans can live good and proper lives without a formal religious structure.” (They need to read Romans 1, verse 18 to chapter 3.) These participants feel that, through proper human interaction and communication with nature, people can lead full and morally upright lives.  “We don’t need a God” — that’s our modern world, folks.  “We can live good, moral, upright lives.” Is that true? Let’s see what the Bible says.

This section of Romans 3:9-20 is extremely important, as I have already said.  What I am going to do is look at it in a general way first and then we are going to look at it in detail, because when we come to grips with this passage, then and then only, are we ready for the gospel.  It is no use coming to Christ as you are unless you learn what Paul is saying here:  that from head to foot there is nothing good in us; that salvation is entirely a gift from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Okay, let’s look at verse 9:

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better?

“Are we Jews” (which is what we discussed in chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3) “better than they?” (the Gentiles which we discussed in chapter 1, verse 18 to the end of the chapter).  And what is his answer?

Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.

Then, to defend this conclusion, he puts together a string of quotations from the old testament.  He does not quote them in detail; you need to look at what the Bible teaches regarding man, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.

Verses 10-12 are a quotation from Psalms 14:1-3 and Psalms 53:1-3 (which are virtually identical):

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.  God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Verse 12 ends with a quotation from Ecclesiastes 7:20:

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

The first half of verse 13 is a quotation from Psalms 5:9:

Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction.  Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.

The second half of verse 13 is taken from from Psalms 140:3:

They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.

Verse 14 is a quotation from Psalms 10:7:

His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.

Verses 15-17 are taken from two passages in the old testament.  First is Proverbs 1:16:

...For their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood.

The second is from Isaiah 59:7,8:

Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood.  Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.  The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths.  They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.

Finally, in verse 18, Paul concludes with Psalms 36:1:

An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:  There is no fear of God before his eyes.

All these quotations from the old testament are saying basically the same thing.  Verse 10 is saying, “There is none righteous, not even one.”  Verse 12, “There is none that does good, not even one.”  Then he concludes with those very crucial words in verses 19 and 20:

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.

Not a single human being will ever make it to heaven — whether you are a Gentile or a Jew — not a single human being will make it to heaven by his own good works.  No way.  Every human being will be in heaven because of Jesus Christ.  Verse 20:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Now, what is Paul telling us in this conclusion? Let’s look now at this passage in detail.  Romans 3:9:

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.

Are the Jews better than the Gentiles? Now, why does Paul make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles? Well, as we saw in the last two studies, the Gentiles had a knowledge of the law, but that knowledge was not in an explicit form.  They had it in their conscience.  Look at chapter 2, verses 14 and 15:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law [that is, in the written form], do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

In other words, God has implanted into the heart of every human being a knowledge of the law, in other words, a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

Now, I need to pause here and make a little distinction because if you take chapter 2 and verse 15 and then you go to chapter 8 of Hebrews, verse 10, you might be confused.  There it talking of the new covenant:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.

It sounds as if the two are the same and so I need to clarify the issue.

What Paul is saying in Romans 2:15 is very different from what he is mentioning in Hebrews 8:10.  When the Bible teaches that, in the new covenant, God writes the law in our hearts, it is very different than writing the law in the hearts of the unbeliever and the pagans.  You see, in the pagans, he has put in the conscience a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong, so that even in the most primitive societies they know, they have an idea of, what is right and what is wrong.  That’s writing the law in the conscience.

But in the new covenant, when He writes the law in the heart, He doesn’t tattoo those rules in your heart.  What He does is put the love of God in your heart, which makes the keeping of the law possible.

So, these are two different things.  In the new covenant, which is only affecting the believer, God puts His agape love in the heart.  As we shall discover when we come to Romans 13 onward, that love is the fulfilment of the law.  So please don’t confuse the new covenant law written on the heart which is the love of God poured into the heart of the believer and what Paul is talking about concerning the Gentiles in Romans 2:14,15.

Paul is saying that the Gentiles have a knowledge of the law, yet not explicit knowledge but in their conscience.  They know what is right and what is wrong.  But the Jew, over and above this, has an advantage.  God has given them an explicit knowledge of the law in a written form and this should have been an advantage to the Jews.

But did the Jews learn from their knowledge? The answer is no.  Instead of the law doing its job and, therefore, bringing to the Jews the blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ, they thought they knew everything about the law when they were totally ignorant about the law, as we saw in the last study.

We need to keep this in mind because we are in the same position because of the doctrine of dispensationalism which came to the Christian church about the 19th Century.  This doctrine has done away with the law and God, in His mercy, has restored the law to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  But the question is:  “Has the law done its job in our people, or are we in the same boat as the Jews? Have we become a very proud, self-righteous people and do we look down upon the other Christians as Philistines and as Babylonians, and we are the ones who have the truth?”

So we must pay attention to what Paul is saying here.  He is saying there is no distinction.  Yes, there is a distinction in that the Jew has the knowledge of the law in an explicit form, but, ultimately, there is no distinction, for both Jews and Gentiles are under sin.

That is the next point I would like to bring to your attention, for we have previously proved or charged that both Jews and Gentiles (or “Greeks”) are all under sin.  Now what does he mean by the phrase “under sin”? It’s not a phrase that we use in modern English.  It’s a phrase that was commonly used in the slave society.  A slave was always “under” his master.  The word “under” means to be ruled by or to be dominated by.  What Paul is saying here is that he has proved that mankind, whether Gentile or Jew, is ruled by sin.  As he brings out later in Romans 7:14, he says:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

We are, by nature, slaves to sin and Paul has proven that and now he is presenting that as a fact.  Then, to buttress his conclusion, he gives this long string of statements from the Old Testament that I mentioned above.

What is he doing here? He is doing what is commonly known as the “proof text method.”  He is putting a string of statements from the Old Testament into one passage and we called it the proof text method.  I get from this passage that it is not wrong to use the proof text method, but it does become wrong when we misuse a text.  Whenever we use the proof text method, folks, please be honest with the context; otherwise, you can make the Bible say anything you want.  So there is nothing wrong with the proof text method; what is wrong is when we misuse that method and I am afraid we are guilty too often of it.

So here, Paul, using the proof text method, proves that none is righteous, no not one.  There is none who understands true righteousness, not even one.  There is none who seeks after God, because man, by nature, is anti-God.

“The Gentiles, even though they had the knowledge of God through nature, refused to acknowledge God,” says Paul in chapter 1, verse 21.

The Jews have the knowledge of God, but they are doing precisely the same thing.  You look at the history of the Jews.  He revealed Himself in a most wonderful way, yet what did they do? They turned their backs to Yahweh and they went after false gods, after idol worship, and God had to do all kinds of things to correct them, including the Babylonian captivity.

There is in man a trend to go away from God and we are seeing the trend today.  We are seeing it everywhere.  Even in our church there are people who are feeling we do not need God any more.  But, folks, we need to come to a conclusion that apart from God there is no salvation.  Apart from Jesus Christ, man is incapable of saving himself and we need to face this issue.

Romans 3:12:

All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

In other words, they have become independent.  “They are living without me.  They think they can exist without me.  They have altogether become unprofitable.  There is none who does good, not even one.”  And he goes on and on describing the condition of man by nature.

Then in Romans 3, verse 19, he says:

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.

Paul is saying that the whole world is under the law.  So there are two things that we are under.  Please notice that there are two places in this passage where Paul uses the word “under.”  In verse 9, we are “under sin.” In verse 19, we are “under the law.”  The Gentile is under the law, the Jew is under the law, because both have the knowledge of the law.

It’s true that the one has an implicit knowledge of the law through his conscience, the other one has a direct, explicit knowledge of the law through the revelation of God at Mount Sinai.  But when you come down to the bottom line, folks — to use an American expression, “where the rubber meets the road,” — has the Gentile obeyed his conscience in every detail?  The answer is no.  Has the Jew obeyed the law in every detail?  The answer is no.  Therefore, both Jew and Gentile, who are under the law whether you have it in an explicit form or an implicit form, both Jew and Gentile are all guilty before God and that includes you and that includes me.

I want to ask you a question.  Has the law silenced your mouth? That’s the work of the law:  has it silenced your mouth? The self-righteous man, whether he is a believer or unbeliever, stands up and says, “Well, there is something good in me.  All I need is a proper interaction with human beings.  All I need is to educate the people.”

Or as the Marxist philosophy says, “All we need is to teach people to share through socialism, by compulsion, and then they will automatically share.”

Has the law silenced you, folks, because I’ll tell you, you cannot go to verse 21 where Paul introduces the gospel unless, first of all, the law has silenced your mouth.

Paul is very clear that the gospel is not for good people. The gospel is not for people who are half-good or who are doing their best.  The gospel is for people who realize their total depravity, that they cannot produce one iota of genuine righteousness which has not been motivated by self.  Impossible, folks.  Has the law silenced you? That is the question I want to ask this morning.  If it hasn’t, then we are wasting our time next study going to verse 21.

Paul is very forthright:  the law must stop our talking.  The Jew who stood up and said, “I thank God I am not like that publican,” will never accept the gospel.  The gospel is a stumbling stone to him because his prayer is, “Thank God I am a good man.  I pay my tithe and I come to church.”

I don’t care whether you are coming to church, the question is:  what about you?  What are your thoughts about?  You young men, if you are thinking about your girlfriend, you are breaking the Sabbath whether you are in church or not.  And you old men, if you are thinking about business tomorrow, how much you will sell your car for on Sunday, you are breaking the Sabbath.  Folks, have we kept the law?  NOBODY thus far has kept the law.  Therefore, in view of this, Paul says that by the deeds of the law no one can make it to heaven.  Not even one.

Now I want to pause here and ask the question:  why did God give the Jews the law? I mean, over and above the consciences they had, why did God take time to sidetrack from His trip to Israel?  If you look at a map of the Middle East, you wonder if God knows His geography because He took the wrong route.  He did not go straight from Egypt to the promised land.  He took them southeast towards Mount Sinai, there in those barren mountains.

I’m talking from experience.  Have you ever been to Mount Sinai? The brethren in Egypt took me there as a treat when I had a seminar with them.  I said that I wished they could take me to Mount Zion, but they couldn’t because Zion is in Israel and Egypt belongs to the Arab world, so they could only take me to Mount Sinai.  All I saw was rocks and boulders and I had to climb it.  I’m only thankful for the monk who spent thirty years carving out steps on that mountain so it would be easy for me to climb it and easy for him, he thought, to go to heaven, because he was working his way to heaven and all he did was reach the top of the mountain.  The law does not produce righteousness; it gives you the knowledge of sin.

Why Did God Give the Law?

So, why did God give the law? It’s a question we must answer, because God has restored the law in this church.  Why? And I would like to give you three answers.

  1. The first answer is negative.  God never gave the law as a means of salvation.  Never.  Nowhere will you find in scripture that God gave the law as a means of salvation.  He gave the law so that we may have the knowledge of sin.  Romans 3:20:

    Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

    God never gave the law as a means of salvation.  This is the false teaching of dispensationalism.  You see, the dispensationalists teach that God tried the law from Moses to Christ and, because it failed, He introduced grace.  These are the people who divide the bible into sections or dispensations.  They fail to realize that the bible is a unit and that there is only one way that man is saved, from Adam to the last person.  It is through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  There are not one, two, or three ways of salvation.  There is only one way that genuinely saves man:  it is through the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  That is what we must be clear on; the law was never given to save us.  If you want to add another text, look at Galatians 2:16, where Paul says the same thing as Romans 3:20:

    ...Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

    I would like to add to that #1 something that too often too many Adventists are guilty of:  neither was the law given to Christians to maintain their salvation in Christ.  God doesn’t come to the believer and say, “Now I have forgiven you, but you must keep the law, otherwise you have had it.”  Nowhere in the bible will you find this teaching.

    So, number one, God never gave the law as a means of salvation and God never gave the law to retain our salvation in Christ.  Then why did He give the law, or, to ask the question that Paul does in Galatians 3:17-25, why did God give the law 430 years after he promised salvation to Abraham and his seed, as a gift?  Why?  It was never for salvation and never to maintain salvation.  Then, why?  Now we go to the positive answer.

  2. The law was given that we may have the knowledge of sin. You see, sin is a deceiver.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that:

    The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?

    The heart is deceitful, so God has to expose sin.  He has to reveal what sin is.  He has to tell the self-righteous man that, if you want to know the true definition of righteousness and of sin, look at my law.

    Paul knows this from his own experience.  You see, Paul was raised up as a Jew with the idea that you can save yourself by keeping the law.  He had not fully understood the meaning of the law even though he had the knowledge of the written law.  And then in chapter 7, verse 9 of Romans, Paul says:

    Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.

    He’s saying, “When the law came to me, when I really understood the meaning of the law, sin revived and I died and the law which I was told and taught to be the means of salvation became the means of my death.”

    In other words, “I realized that when I have fully understood the law, it tells me that I am a sinner.”

    Let me put it this way.  If you talk to pagans, to people who have never known the law of God, they will define sin only in terms of an act.  The Jews made the same mistake.  As long as you do not perform the act, you are not a sinner.  The Jews took the law of God and they reduced it to rules that human beings could keep and they kept those rules and thought they were keeping the law of God.  But Paul says [in Romans 7:7],

    ...Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known was coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

    And coveting has nothing to do with an act.  It is a cherished desire.  Paul realized that, the moment he cherished a sinful desire, he had already sinned.  This is what Jesus clearly taught in Matthew 5; we covered that in the last study.

    But this is so important to Paul that he repeats this in Romans several times.  Let me give you some examples.  In Romans 5, he comes back to it in verse 20.  Why did the Lord enter into the promise? Why did God give the law? And the answer is:

    The law was added so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more....

    God never gave the law to solve the sin problem, but that sin may abound.  And then, in chapter 7, verses 7-9 he said the same thing.  So, #2, God gave the law that we may have the knowledge of what sin is in God’s eyes.  It’s more than an act.  If you hate somebody without a cause, you are a murderer.  If you look at a woman to lust, even if you don’t commit the act, you have already committed adultery in God’s eyes and, in that case, there is no hope.

    The whole world is guilty.  In others words, do you realize what Paul is saying in Romans 3:17:  that every one of us, without exception, belongs to death row.  That’s where we belong by nature and the only way we can escape is — not by pleading to the Supreme Court, that won’t help — the only way we can escape is by Jesus Christ.

  3. Now we come to the third reason, which is to me a very important reason and that is really explained in Romans 7:13 and 14.  But let me give you the third purpose of the law:  God gave the law to bring sin out of its hiding place.

    You see, right deep inside you is sin.  I have friends of about nine years in England.  In England, people do not have showers every day because water is expensive there.  It’s an overcrowded island and they have what we call “spit baths” and maybe a tub bath once a week; they don’t like showers.  I came to America and water is very freely obtainable here and they have showers every day.  So, in America, they don’t have to use too much perfume.  In Europe, the ladies use much stronger perfume than here because they have to camouflage.

    But, folks, all you are doing is covering up outwardly the inside rottenness of man.  What the law does is open up the eyes and shows you what you are like inside.  The Jews were very particular about washing their hands before their meals and Jesus says, you may have no idea that the outside may be clean but the inside is full of rotten bones, putrefying souls and all kinds of things.  Please turn to Romans 7.  Look at verses 13 and 14.

    Did that which is good, then, become death to me?  [Is the law responsible for my death?] By no means!  But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that, through the commandment, sin might become utterly sinful.

    Has the law opened up the lid of your own respectability and has the law shown you that you are exceedingly sinful so that you can say with Paul what he says in verse 14 of Romans 7:

    We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

    Or in Romans 7, verse 18:

    I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

    Not anything good dwells in me.  Has the law exposed your exceeding sinfulness? If it hasn’t, you will still be saying:  “I’m bad, but I’m not that bad.”  No, folks, you are that bad and so am I.  Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

I want to say two things in concluding.  According to this passage of Romans 3, we are:

  1. under sin (verse 9), and
  2. under law (verse 19).

When you put those two together, it is fatal, folks.  There is nothing wrong with being under the law as long as you have a sinless nature.  There was no problem with Adam being under the law.  There is no problem with the unfallen angels being under the law because their nature, that is the nature of love, is in harmony with the law they are under. But to put sinful man under the law is fatal.  I’ll tell you why.  I’ll give you the text:  I Corinthians 15:56:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

In other words, the law gives sin the authority to kill.  So, if you are under the law and a sinner at the same time, then you are under the curse and the condemnation of the law and that is a problem.

I want to give you some good news.  We won’t cover it today, but, in chapter 6, Paul tells us how and why we were delivered from under sin.  And, in chapter 7, he tells us how and why we are delivered from under law.  We need deliverance from both.  We are delivered from under sin, verse 22 of chapter 6, that we may live holy lives:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Without that deliverance we cannot live holy lives.  Romans chapter 7, verse 6:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Or to put it in simple English:  that we may serve God out of love and not fear.  Because anyone who is living under the law is living under fear and I will give you the best evidence.

I don’t know about you, but every time I travel and I pass a police car, I put on the brakes automatically.  I’ll tell you why:  because I live under fear of the law of America because I love those green papers that I get every month.  How about you? When you see a policeman, do you automatically slow down? Why? Because we are living under fear.  One day Steve Rote, my associate, introduced me to a policeman in Walla Walla [Washington, U.S.A.] who is a friend of his, and I said to him, “Are you going to be lenient with me?” and he said, “No, I’m going to get you.”

I hope he was joking.

To live under the law means to live under fear.  To live under grace means to live with joy and love and appreciation.

But now I want to conclude.

  1. Paul introduces his epistle to the Romans in chapter one, verse 16 and I want to remind you of that verse.  He says:

    I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

    In other words, the gospel is all inclusive, it includes the whole human race.

  2. Why?  Because Paul says:  “All are under sin and all are guilty under the law.”  Every human being needs the gospel and the gospel is there, available for every human being.  Jew and Gentile, there is no exception — All are under sin.

  3. The law simply proves the point.  The law simply exposes us to the fact that we are sinners from head to foot.  So, in other words, verses 19 and 20 are crucial, a prerequisite to our accepting the gospel.

  4. Man is a slave to sin.  Even though he knows the law, he cannot save himself.

The question I am going to ask you in concluding is:  has the law done its job in your life? I know it gets done in mine.  Because I’ll tell you, folks, I am the chief of sinners.  You may think I’m a saint, but you don’t know me; ask my wife or my kids.  I thank God for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is only when the law has silenced your mouth that I can turn to verse 21 and say, “But now I have good news for you.”

But as long as you have some confidence in yourself, you can never rejoice in Jesus Christ and it is my prayer that the law will do its job in your life and in mine.  Not only now, but all through your life, the law is there to remind you that you and I, in and of ourselves, are 100 percent sinners, saved by grace; and I thank God for the law.  The moment you do away with the law, you don’t need a gospel.  Am I correct? We need the law.  Every city needs the law, not as a means of salvation but to show them that inside there is nothing good in them and that they need a saviour.

So, let us preach the law in its right setting.  Let us preach the law as a prerequisite to lead us to Christ, because that is what Paul spoke about in Galatians 3.  The law is our schoolmaster; it puts us in prison with no escape until it brings us to Christ and then it releases us.  That was the message that God brought to the church 100 years ago, and we are still groping in the darkness.

It is my prayer that every mouth in this church will be stopped and every member will be guilty before God and will say, “What shall I do now?”  And in the next study, I will tell you that the righteousness of God is available to you now.

May God bless you, that you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.


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