Comprehensive Corruption

When it comes to man’s fallen nature, Scripture is clear about the depth and breadth of its defilement. The apostle Paul delivers a blunt assessment of man’s sinful corruption in his epistle to the Romans.

As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,” “the poison of asps is under their lips”; “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10–18)

It’s worth noting that none of the condemning statements in the above passage originated with Paul. With the words, “As it is written,” Paul indicates that he’s quoting extensively from the Old Testament—specifically from the Psalms and Isaiah. God’s Word has always been clear and consistent about the utter defilement of sinful mankind. In that sense, this statement is essential to our understanding of the chaos that surrounds us. Paul is showing us the pathology of sin and its comprehensive corruption of the sinner’s character, conversation, and conduct.

Regarding man’s character, Paul writes, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). From the perspective of heaven, all sinners stand equally guilty. No amount of good works can counterbalance the weight of our sin—that’s why the imputed righteousness of Christ is crucial for our salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Moreover, Paul says, “There is none who understands” (Romans 3:11). In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul describes the futility of the sinful mind—that it’s darkened, ignorant, and callous (Ephesians 4:17–19). Not only is the sinner incapable of righteousness, he’s incapable of understanding it.

Paul adds, “There is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside” (Romans 3:11–12). This is a damning commentary on the religions of the world. Paul is identifying them all as satanic counterfeits, sending men away from the truth about God. In the words of Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Man’s natural disposition is to flee from God, and he invents false religion to accommodate his rebellion. Paul concludes, “Together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Man’s sin has thoroughly corrupted his character, leaving him ignorant, rebellious, deviant, and useless.

There’s more. Not only is the sinner’s character corrupt—so is his conversation. Paul writes, “Their throat is an open grave” (v. 13). We all try to be conscientious about bad breath. But in a graphic metaphor, Paul says the speech of the wicked carries the stench of death—their mouths are like filthy, putrid, open graves. He adds, “With their tongues they keep deceiving” (v. 13). Like a baited fishhook, they deceive in order to catch and kill. Even their words are venomous and deadly—“the poison of asps is under their lips” (v. 13). In verse 14, the apostle abandons all subtleties—no disguised hooks, no sneaking poison—and says plainly that the sinner’s “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” It is little wonder that Scripture says, “The tongue is a fire,” and that “no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:68). As we see almost routinely today, the mouth of the unregenerate man is capable of great destruction.

Finally, Paul’s condemnation moves to the corruption of man’s conduct. He writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (vv. 15–17). Human history vividly illustrates the truth of those chilling words. In John 8:44, Jesus describes the devil as “a murderer from the beginning.” Satan is the archetypal murderer, and his followers are likewise “swift to shed blood.” Humans are dangerous. In terms of lives lost, the six years of World War II are some of the costliest the world has ever known. As many as 85 million people died—at least 50 million were civilians. Given the opportunity, sinful man will attempt to exterminate his enemies.

While we don’t see the same staggering death toll in wars today, man’s bloodlust still rages. Since 1973, the United States has committed its own holocaust, executing more than 60 million babies in what should be the safest place for them—their mother’s womb. If you make laws that allow people to kill, they will kill. If you allow them to riot, they’ll riot. If you allow them to break windows, loot businesses, burn police stations, and run roughshod over whole communities, they will. The unredeemed heart has no interest in peace—Paul says it is bent in the pursuit of bloodshed, destruction, and misery.

The apostle concludes his condemnation with the summary statement, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). That’s the driving reality behind the rebellion and wretchedness that surround us—this world does not fear God. Proverbs 16:6 says, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” Where there is no fear of God—no sense of eternal culpability, guilt, and punishment—the restraints have been removed and humanity is able to live out its corrupt, destructive desires. And that is exactly what we see playing out before our eyes today.

Used with permission from John MacArthur.

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