“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;” (Romans 3:9)
If you ask most people whether or not they believe that they are going to Heaven, you will get an answer that somehow relates to them being good. “I am a good person”, they will often respond. A common misconception of how “Judgment Day” will be involves God standing before a giant set of balanced scales, placing the “good deeds” of an individual on one side and the “bad deeds” on the other. As long as the scale tips toward the good, then the person will enter into Heaven.
More than anything else, I think this line of thought stems from the idea that man is inherently good and, though we will sometimes make mistakes and hurt others, if we do more good in this world than bad, God will smile on us and let us into Heaven. I enjoy a lot of the Gospel music by the “Oak Ridge Boys”, but I heard one of their Country songs years ago that seemed to be a perfect reflection of this philosophy. “Come On In (You Did The Best That You Could Do)” has a verse that tells of a man who dreams that he is dying and is afraid because he knows that his life has not measured up very well:
“I dreamed I was dying in Texas
I closed my eyes and I sighed
Like a black and white movie I saw my days
Playing out before my eyes
I was crippled by a life of injustice
I was bent from walking into the wind
I plead guilty on the day of judgment
God just shook my hand and grinned
And He said, come on in,
You did the best that you could do
There’s a little bit of right in every wrong
There’s a little bit of me in you”*
Right up to the part about God “shaking his hand and grinning”, I think this might be a pretty good picture of how a lost sinner will actually feel on the Day of Judgment. But God is certainly never going to tell anyone: “Come on in, you did the best that you could do!” OK, I know this is just a song, but it reflects a very real way that many people think of God. They like to think of God as a kind “Grandfather” type Who loves everyone so much that He will never hold any sin against anyone. They are hoping that He will look the other way whenever they sin and that He will pat them on the head and give them an “E” for “effort” when they meet Him on the Day of Judgment. In short, most people feel that God sees them exactly as they see themselves: Not too bad; worse than some, but better than most people. They are hoping that God will “grade on the curve” and that they will find themselves on the upside of that curve.
A lot of other philosophies and religions go even further and teach that, not only is man “OK” with God, man is god! Or at least he has the potential for divinity. They see themselves as capable of becoming gods and that it is only ignorance and lack of knowledge which prohibits them. The Supreme Being (if there really even is One) sees man as a very beautiful and lovely creature which He has endowed with the capacity to become like Himself and that, if the individual so chooses, may join Him and become divine, as well. Many Eastern Philosophies and Western cults teach exactly this.
But what does the Bible teach about how God views man? We know that “God so loved the world…”, but does that mean that we are lovely? Does God love us because of what’s in our hearts, or because of what’s in His? As we come toward the end of Romans Chapter 3, we are given a completely blunt and honest assessment of how God views the heart of man. Nothing is sugar-coated or glossed over: we have the totally candid verdict of what God really thinks of the works and deeds of mankind. And it isn’t very encouraging! There is no talk of us “doing the best we can”, our “good deeds outweighing the bad”, or “the potential for us to reach enlightenment and divinity.” Instead, we are given a report that should come as a shock to all of us. The veil of self-righteousness is ripped away and the condition of our heart is laid bare for us to see. The depravity of man which has been alluded to heretofore and hinted at is clearly spelled out in no uncertain terms. We are left with absolutely no opportunity to misunderstand or misinterpret what God has said about us. These are the Apostle Paul’s closing statements about the human condition and, if any has missed his point thus far, it is impossible now. Most of the remainder of the Epistle to the Romans concerns itself exclusively with what God has done for man and what is available to everyone through Christ Jesus. But before this offer of Salvation is formally made and described, any possible hope of exclusion on which any may be resting will now be summarily destroyed. If any reader has missed the point that he, too, is a sinner, there can remain no controversy hereafter.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
“As it is written…” Everything in the verdict about to be read is recorded already in the Old Testament. These aren’t Paul’s words, these are the words of the Psalmists and prophets. We can find these first statements in Psalm 14:1-3 and the nearly identical Psalm 53:1-3. These words speak of man’s motivations and inclinations. From God’s perfect and holy perspective, no one is good, only God is truly good (i.e., Matt. 19:16-17). No one is seeking God and no one, apart from God’s empowering, is doing good. People might show occasional kindness and do the sporadic “good deed”, but no one can truly be considered good. Unless God has regenerated the heart of a man, his heart is unclean and his motives are selfish and impure. Of all the things that differentiate Christianity from other beliefs and religions, this is one of the primary distinctions. Most religions suppose that man is ultimately trying to connect with his Creator and is seeking to know God. The Word of God, however, teaches quite the opposite. It is not the good and noble creature who is desperately trying to find God, it is the merciful and gracious Creator Who is drawing the imperfect creature to Himself.
“Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:” (Romans 3:13-14)
We can find these references in Psalms 5:9, 10:7, and 140:3. This refers to the words and speech of man. Not only is man’s mind depraved, so are his lips. We are all people of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5); we may not all curse and use profanity, but apart from God we all are inclined to speak lies, deceptions, and hurtful words against others. As the Lord Jesus said, How can an evil person speak good things? Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh (Matt. 12:34). The heart separated from God is depraved and an evil heart can only result in an evil tongue.
“Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known:” (Romans 3:15-17)
This reference can be found in Isaiah 59:7-8 and speaks about the actions of man. Evil originates in the heart, proceeds to the lips, and is finally carried out in action.
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18)
This reference is found in Psalm 36:1. This is a reflection of the lost man’s view of God. This speaks of the attitude of man toward God. It is this attitude that paves the way for man’s motivation, words, and actions. Because he does not reverence and fear God, he feels completely free to behave as he pleases without consequence.
The words in this passage are very blunt and accusatory, but they are also quite accurate. Many people will never seek Salvation in Christ because they do not realize that there is any need for it. They do not believe that God will find any fault in them whatsoever (or at least not enough to condemn them). The Book of Romans is about to reveal the solution to man’s sin problem and show the Way that God has provided whereby man can be saved. But before the provision can be revealed, the need must be fully understood. The wrath of God remains on the unrepentant sinner (John 3:36), and Romans 3:10-18 demonstrates exactly why. Lest any should hope to justify themselves before God, the Bible makes it clear that this is simply not possible. We need a Savior.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
* Taken from the song “Come On In (You Did The Best That You Could Do)”, Lyrics are property of owners and under applicable copyright