Here Paul continues his discussion of God’s faithfulness to those who belong to Him by pointing out, in no uncertain terms, that everyone is on equal footing before Him. But not in the manner in which his listeners would expect. He begins by asking a simple question:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? (Romans 3:9a ESV)
Paul is addressing the immediate thought the Roman Jews would have been contemplating. If God is faithful to those who belong to Him, and there are some who are not His ChosenPeople™ who are in reality chosen by Him, then what does that say about being a Jew? Are we really any better off than a Gentile? Paul’s answer is emphatic and painful.
No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9b-18)
The reason that the Jew is no better than the Gentile is not because God makes His salvific decisions willy-nilly. He makes His decisions because everyone, regardless of their race, creed, religion, country of origin, legal status, political affiliation, or stance on controversial political issues like abortion and The Affordable Care Act is under the condemnation of sin. Every single man and woman.
Now this plays out in different ways for each individual, and Paul makes that clear by drawing some statements from the Old Testament. All do not seek God, but some deliberately reject Him. Some speak words of poison and death. Some speak curses and shed blood and spread destruction and pain. They are warmongers. Ultimately, none truly fear God. And I think Paul chooses this last one to use it in a double manner.
Not only do they not fear God as in give God His due respect, but they are also not afraid of what He can do to them. These people would have heard Jesus’ clear teachings on sin and would have known that Jesus said to remove your sin or that which leads you to sin because it would be better to lack something now than to suffer later under God’s wrath, which is a scary notion. Humanity is not only disrespectful of their rightful king, but are also not scared of His sovereign decisions regarding eternity.
Later theologians termed this idea Total Depravity. People are not good in any way shape or form, but everything they do is tainted with sin. Everything we do is tainted with sin.
Paul then speaks directly to the Jews who are listening to his message.
Now 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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
Before the Jews can reply to his tirade about sinfulness and say that they have the law so they know what God wants, Paul makes it clear that having the law is not enough. In fact, it puts them in an even more precarious situation. The presence of the law among the Jews, in reality, actually makes them doubly accountable before God for their inherent sinfulness. Not only are they living under the guidance of their sinful nature, but they are knowingly ignoring and disobeying God’s express commands.
Instead of the Law being an immediate ticket to God’s acceptance, it is actually an immediate ticket to receiving God’s wrath.
But isn’t that offensive? Yes. But taken in context, they make perfect sense. Paul is not making some anti-Jewish anti-Law statement here. He is speaking directly, instead, to their handling of the Law. It is not the Law itself that is the problem. The problem is that the Jews had taken the Law and were using it as their means to God’s acceptance. But obedience to the Law was not God’s intention. God wanted them obedient to Him. Because, rather than the Law being a means of humankind’s justification, it is actually through the Law that one sees just how truly and totally sinful they really are.