What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good not even one.” (verses 9-12)
The people of Israel had a huge advantage in that they had been given the incredible privilege of receiving God’s revelation. They were recipients of the Law, in which they took great pride.
But Paul is at pains to communicate that when it comes right down to it, Jew and Gentile alike, apart from grace, stand condemned in God’s courtroom.
Reading the Old Testament scriptures, the Jews might easily have assumed that these statements of condemnation attached only to those who were enemies of God, those outside the nation of Israel. But Paul very deliberately takes these very scriptures, stringing them together from the Psalms and Prophets, and applies them to every single person inclusively, regardless of ethnic background. His repeated repetition of the phrase “no one,” hammers home the point. “No one … not even one … no one … no one … no one … not even one.”
We might find ourselves rebelling at the severity. Surely this is extreme! Don’t we regularly experience goodness from those around us? Even among those who don’t know Christ we often see spiritual interest, a seeking for truth and divine insight. Don’t we?
But Paul marshals all these negative statements to scrub clean any false hopes we might have for ourselves or the world around us. Over the lot he places the introductory declaration, “There is no one righteous,” deliberately using a word he’s used often in these introductory chapters of Romans. It evokes images of God’s courtroom, making clear that no one, however “good” they may appear to us, can stand guilt-free before God. Every spiritual inclination, every insight about things divine, every human act of compassion and goodness and sacrifice, ultimately falls short of the mark, all of it tainted by sin. Indeed, Paul will drive it home in the very next section: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
There is no hope, none at all, as long as we rely on our own devices. But already we have received a sighting that gives hope beyond hopelessness: “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed” (Romans 1:17). The full impact is about to burst upon us in the next section – stay tuned!
But in the meantime, understand that the human condition is dire. All stand condemned. No one, not even the best, manages on their own. Each of us desperately needs a Saviour.
Thank God, he meets our need.
Dear Lord, this scripture makes clear that my need is great. I stand condemned apart from your grace. I confess my need. I acknowledge my sin. On my own, my back has been turned, my heart has been hard, my best intentions have been tainted and corrupt.
But thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! In Jesus your grace is received! Thank you for “a righteousness from God” that is by faith. Praise your name.
Reflect: Pride is one of the greatest sins afflicting the human heart. At what points have you been standing in your own sense of goodness, rather than that of the Lord? Confess. Repent. Return to his grace.