This is a truly sobering passage of Scripture. Paul’s summary assessment of humanity without Christ is this: all are under sin. Listen again to what Paul has to say:
10 “There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.
13 “Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Notice what Paul is not doing here: he’s not simply quoting one passage of Scripture and then offering his interpretation of it. No: he has purposely strung together a catena of passages that all make the same point about the sinfulness of man. There is no escaping the force of what Paul is saying: every one of us is guilty before God. No one is righteous. None of us seek after God. We have all turned aside from God. None of us do good. There is no fear of God before our eyes.
Paul isn’t just aiming his flamethrower at the Jews or Gentiles of the first century or at the Jews or at the Gentiles: he’s spinning around, doing a 360, and torching all of us!
What more is there to say? In hearing this, we ought to remember our natural condition. We ought to meditate on it for a while and let the awful, hideous truth of it settle in so that we can feel its weight for a moment. Pause and understand each of these phrases:
“I am not righteous.”
“I do not seek God.”
“I have turned aside from God.”
“I do not do good.”
“There is no fear of God before my eyes.”
These are like anti-affirmations to my soul. They are the Word of the Lord, the Oracles of God entrusted to us. And they pierce my heart, discerning the thoughts and intents of my heart so that my joints and marrow, my soul and spirit are divided. And I am undone. Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips! The heart of this people is dull, their ears are heavy, and their eyes are shut.
Lord, how long?
Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without man, and the land is utterly desolate? Until You have removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land?
Even in my sin and unrighteousness, O Lord, Your righteousness is revealed and shines with glory. Through the lie of my life, Your Truth increases to Your glory.
But this is not the way Romans 3 can end for the believer, to those who live by faith.
When Isaiah said that he was undone and was a man of unclean lips who dwelt in the midst of a people of unclean lips, the next thing he says is, “For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” When we feel the weight of our sins, and when we know ourselves to be unclean people who live in the midst of unclean people, then is the day of salvation near to us. For it is the holy presence of God that makes us know our sins, and it is that holy presence that makes us know ourselves.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! More than fearful, it undoes us, for when we come into His presence, a part of us, the Old Man, dies, and that is a fearful and painful thing. But the fear and pain are not the end of our encounter with the living God but only the birth pangs. Our sense of shame and sin and worthlessness are only the natural consequences of coming into the presence of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, the train of whose robe fill the temple. There, we see the seraphim, each with six wings, two covering each of their faces, two covering the feet of each, and two causing each to fly, and we hear them cry to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” There, the posts of the door are shaken by the voice of him who cries out, and the house is filled with smoke.
The end of this encounter with the living God for those who have faith, however, is not death but life. Knowing ourselves to be sinners, accepting the righteous judgment of God, by faith we also receive the righteous Son of God. He is the One who became undone for us, and He is the one who bore our sins. He has shown us the way that God and man may be one – through Him. And so the end of our acute sense of sin in the holy presence of God is not death or separation from God but life and union with Him. It is not woe or sadness, but joy and gladness!
Prayer: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: I acknowledge and confess my manifold sins and wickedness, which I from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty. I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these my misdoings. Have mercy upon me, most merciful Father; For my Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive me all that is past; and grant that I may ever hereafter Serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, my heavenly Father, who of Your great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto You: Have mercy upon me; pardon and deliver me from all my sins; confirm and strengthen me in all goodness; and bring me to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation and Resolution: I resolve to confess all my sins today, that I might find favor in the sight of my Lord and union with Him.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day