Monday, September 19, 2022

2022.09.19 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 3:9–18

Read Romans 3:9–18

Questions from the Scripture text: What does Romans 3:9 ask about those with right doctrine, by comparison to the self-righteous and antinomians whom Romans 3:5-8 have been referencing? What is the answer? Why? Where else has this been seen (Romans 3:10)? How many righteous are there (cf. Psalm 14:1)? How many are there who understand (Romans 3:11, cf. Psalm 14:2)? Who seek God? How many have done what two things in Romans 3:12 (cf. Psalm 14:3)? How many have done what third thing? What three parts of them offer no remedy (Romans 3:13 (cf. Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3)? What else can’t help; with what is it full (Romans 3:14, cf. Psalm 10:7)? What can’t make up for this (Romans 3:15, cf. Isaiah 59:7)? Where do they end up when they try (Romans 3:16)? What can’t they know/find (Romans 3:17, cf. Isaiah 59:8)? What can’t/won’t they even see (Romans 3:18, cf. Psalm 36:1)?

What should the believer be willing to admit about himself, apart from Christ? Romans 3:9–18 looks forward to the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that even those who do not make the errors represented in Romans 3:5-8 are, in themselves, so pervasively sinful that there can be no remedy for their sin in anything they think, say, or do.

There are “Christian” radio stations that like to bill their music as “positive and encouraging,” and certainly a Jew who didn’t pay close enough attention might have thought that the Psalter was that way toward him. But the one who “teaches himself” (cf. Romans 2:21) from the Scripture ought not indulge in such delusions. 

Coming out of Romans 3:5–8, our remaining fleshliness might tempt us to think that we are better than those who argue against the fairness of God to judge unbelievers in the church, or those who argue that the gospel of grace is a good excuse to sin. But the idea of our superiority would also be a delusion. The apostle stops us in our tracks with one question and answer: “Are we better than they? Not at all!” (Romans 3:9). Instead, he quotes extensively from at least six of God’s songs to remind us that what comes from us is all wicked and unprofitable; the good that can remedy our sin can come only from Christ, not from ourselves.

Better theology or intentions cannot remedy our sinRomans 3:11-12. Quoting from the opening section of Psalm 14, the apostle reminds us that if there is any good/better theology in us, it certainly wasn’t from us that it came. We are wicked in Adam (Romans 3:10b, cf. Romans 5:12–21), and this affects both our understanding (Romans 3:11a) and our intentions (Romans 3:12b). From/in ourselves, we can’t even rightly say that we “mean well”!

In fact, we are so opposite our original/holy nature (Romans 3:12a) that all the benefit that we could all produce, taken together, adds up to zero (verse 12b)! This is because there isn’t a single one of us that has a single thought, intention, or deed on the “good” side of the ledger (verse 12c). If our hope was to get our doctrine good enough, or our resolve sincere enough, that we could make a beginning of remedying our sin and guilt, then we have no hope at all.

Better speech or worship cannot remedy our sinRomans 3:13-14. Now, the apostle quotes from Psalm 5, 140, and 10. If we thought that perhaps there was some form of good speech—prayers, apologies, worship, etc.—that could remedy our sin, we would be greatly mistaken. Life cannot come from us; opening our throat is opening a place of death (Romans 3:13a). The best words that can be on our tongue simply expose how opposite our nature they actually are (verse 13b). That which comes from our lips is so far from being able to heal that it only causes further harm and death (verse 13c). Our mouths produce not blessing but cursing, not health but bitterness (Romans 3:14).

So, just as there was no remedy for our sin in our thoughts or wills, there certainly is not any remedy from our speech. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (cf. Matthew 12:34), which in light of Romans 3:10-12 is why the tongue is untamable and full of deadly poison (cf. James 3:8). Any attempt to bless God with the tongue is belied by our use of it at other times (cf. James 3:9–12). No, if any genuinely good speech comes out of us, it will not come from us in order to remedy our sin. Rather, the Lord must remedy our sin if any true good will ever be spoken by us.

Better deeds cannot remedy our sinRomans 3:15-18. If we are not able to muster proper thoughts or words, what about deeds? Surely there must be some penance, some restitution, some atoning service we can perform? Now, the apostle shifts to applying Isaiah 59:7–8.

Alas, our feet are no better off than the rest of us; they are “swift to shed blood” (Romans 3:15). Our “ways” (Romans 3:16-17) are no better than our words. Why? Because it is not the reverential fear of God that drives our actions (Romans 3:18). Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23), but there are none who fear God (cf. Psalm 36:1).

By the time we finish Romans 3:18, we may have forgotten where we began in Romans 3:9. Are “we” any better than they? The apostle, and those who are with him in avoiding the errors of others, are in the same position with respect to atonement and righteousness. If by God’s grace, we are with the apostle, it is still true of us: nothing we think, nothing we say, and nothing we do can remedy our sin or be our righteousness. We need a remedy and atonement that comes from outside us. And that is exactly what the apostle is proclaiming in the gospel: the righteousness of God that is for us by faith from start to finish!

Whom are you tempted to consider yourself better than? When you have a sense of your sin, what does your flesh tempt you to think that you can do to fix it, or make it up to God? From where, then, can there be any forgiveness for you? From where can there be help for you?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we thank You for Your marvelous patience with such sinners as we are. Forgive us for the folly of thinking that we are deserving of such patience or have some good in us by which we can remedy our own condition. Grant that Your Spirit would bless Your Word to us, so that we would see and accept the totality of our depravity. And grant that Your Spirit would bless Your Word to us, so that we would see Your righteousness for us in Yourself, in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, forgive us and help us, for we ask it in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace” 

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