Romans 3:9-18 deals with the total depravity (corruption) of man. Paul has gone to great lengths to show the self-righteous unbelieving Jews that they are not righteous before God. He continued by showing them that all men are condemned at birth because of the imputation of Adam’s original sin and the sin nature, both doctrines that he later developed in detail. In these few verses, Paul was stating a fact and backing it up with scriptural references from the Old Testament.
Total depravity means both condemnation and spiritual death for the entire human race. Later on it will be seen in this chapter that the same justice of God which condemns sinful mankind also provides blessing for spiritually dead mankind (the salvation work of Jesus Christ on his behalf).
What then? is used as a conjunction to denote what is introduced at this point as the result of inference from the previous paragraph. It is a Greek idiom and it can be better translated, “Therefore how are we to understand the situation?”
Are we better than they? is the Greek word “proecho” for better, which means to excel, to be first or to hold something before one’s eyes for protection. In other words, “Do we possess anything which might shield us from the justice of God?” Paul is using debater’s technique by identifying himself with self-righteous Jews. He is identifying himself with the self-righteous types who think they are not sinners.
Not at all is the Greek word “pantos,” which means by all means, but with the negative it means by no means.
As long as any person thinks that there is any system of human righteousness, talent, ability, planning or system of works which can satisfy the justice of God and clings to his system of self-righteousness, whatever it is, he has no chance of ever having a relationship with God. No human factor, including Jewish self-righteousness, can provide or add anything to salvation adjustment to the justice of God. The first issue we face in the human race is salvation and there is nothing that we can add to what the justice of God has already provided. No Jewish rationalism, of being better than the Gentiles, will provide salvation or spirituality.
For we have already charged is the Greek word “proaitiaomai” for charged, which means to accuse beforehand or to already have proven.
That both Jews and Greeks are all under sin means all are guilty of sin. The Greek word for sin is “hamartia” and is a reference to the sin nature. We acquire the sin nature at birth. Sin in the singular refers to the old sin nature. Both Jews and Gentiles are born with sin natures, therefore both Jews and Gentiles are born spiritually dead.
Paul chose these particular passages from the Old Testament because he was refuting the legalism that the self-righteous arrogant unbelieving Jews were trying to force on the predominantly Gentile church in Rome.
The Old Testament documentation regarding spiritual death is found in verses 10-18. Spiritual death is related to Adam’s sin. No one has the integrity of God at birth and no one acquires the integrity of God by any system of works, self-righteousness, a system of emotional activity, asceticism or “tabooism.” Therefore, man cannot approach God on the basis of his own merits or his own integrity. Consequently, adjusting to the justice of God is a matter of grace. God provides the means for such adjustment by the imputation of His righteousness at the point of salvation. At salvation you receive the righteousness of God but at spiritual maturity you receive the blessings from the justice of God.
As it stands written, there is not a righteous one, not even one. The justice of God has correctly placed the entire human race under the indictment and condemnation of spiritual death. Spiritual death means total inability to have a relationship with God. Human essence is classified, therefore, as totally depraved on the basis of the fact of failure to meet the standards of divine integrity. Spiritual death is not only the status of unbelieving mankind, but it describes man’s inability to do anything about it. Man must rely entirely upon the integrity of God. When you believe in Jesus Christ is the first time you rely on the integrity of God. The integrity of God has provided the means of adjusting to the justice of God. The means is the judgment of Christ on the Cross, bearing our sins, taking our place in the condemnation of the justice of God.
Now we know that whatever the Law says. The Mosaic Law produces the action by its communication as a part of the Word of God. Since the Law has been written, people have studied it, people have examined it, people have heard it taught and they have come to one of two conclusions: 1) they are condemned by the Law and need to turn to the grace of God for help 2) they use the Law as a system of self-righteousness and seek to gain the approbation of God in this manner. This is the difference between religion and Christianity.
It speaks to those who are under the Law. The Mosaic Law communicates to those under the jurisdiction of the Law (the nation of Israel). (Exodus 19:3; Leviticus 26:46; Romans 9:4) The Jews were benefited by having the Law (spiritually, nationally and personally), since it was the means of relating both the person and the nation to the integrity of God. The person was related to the integrity of God by discovering that sin was a sign of his spiritual death and that he had to go outside of himself for salvation. This is where the wonderful principles of Codex #2 (spiritual code of the Mosaic Law) portrayed the Lord Jesus Christ in the various articles of furniture in the tabernacle, the rituals performed by the members of the Levitical priesthood, the animal sacrifices, the holy days, etc. All of these things are designed for blessing. Codex #3 (civil code of the Mosaic Law) was the basis for national blessing since the Laws of Divine Establishment are clearly delineated in that portion of the Mosaic Law. The law is a part of doctrine, it reveals Christ. The Law was the greatest instrument of evangelism in the ancient world and still is a great instrument of evangelism because it continues to show mankind their need for a Savior.
That every mouth may be closed refers to anyone who goes to the Law and extracts from it a system of self-righteousness or goes to the Law and uses its rituals to seek to gain the approbation of God. The Greek word for closed is “prasso,” which means to fence in, to block up, to shut up, to close up or to stop. “That every mouth may be closed” doesn’t mean simply to keep people from trying to claim they can be saved by keeping the Law, it means to cut off any system of thought that adds human works to the work of Christ in eternal salvation. So shutting the mouth is really not the issue, it is cutting off the blasphemous thoughts. Any time that a person says he can be saved by keeping a ritual, by keeping the law, by his good deeds or the function of his emotion, he has blasphemed the integrity of God.
Israel, under the Law, stands as the representative of the human race. God not only used Israel in special ways for the priest nation function but He used Israel as an illustration of the entire human race. The fact that Israel failed under the Law demonstrates the universal condemnation and guilt of the human race before God. Any person who fails in one point of the Law is guilty of violating the entire Law. (James 2:10) Therefore, the Law demonstrated to the entire world both Jews and Gentiles were guilty as far as the justice and righteousness of God were concerned. His righteousness rejects sinfulness; His justice pronounces the penalty: spiritual death. Codex #1 (moral code of the Mosaic Law) logically comes first, all of those commandments that expose mankind’s sinfulness. The possession of the sin nature is the basis and the source of personal sins because we are spiritually dead. We do not become spiritually dead by committing personal sins. At the moment of physical birth we receive the imputation of Adam’s sin, which is the basis of spiritual death.
And all the world may become accountable to God is the Greek word “hupodikos” for guilty, which means to be brought to trial under judgment. God’s penalties from His justice are not vindictive, they are vindicating. Therefore, God provided the Mosaic Law to condemn us and to reveal Jesus Christ as the Messiah (Savior). The Law revealed the integrity of God in three ways: Codex #1, the commandments revealed condemnation; Codex #2, the rituals revealed salvation; Codex #3, the Laws of Divine Establishment revealed national freedom.
Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in his sight. There is no justification, no vindication from the integrity of God by trying to keep the Law. The works of the Law represent arrogant self-righteousness, which was a distortion of the Law. The Law was incapable of making man righteous before God. The Law demanded a capability, a perfection and an absolute beyond man’s abilities. The Law could not produce a righteousness in man which was equivalent to God’s righteousness. The Law could only condemn man’s righteousness, along with man’s sinfulness, as being totally inadequate. The Law was an instrument of condemnation.
For through the Law is the knowledge of sin. The purpose of the Law was to demonstrate mankind’s sinfulness and point them to Christ. The distortion of the Mosaic Law produces a self-righteousness which is in conflict with the righteousness of God. This self-righteousness cannot be compared with God’s perfect righteousness which is imputed to us at the moment we believe in Jesus Christ. Many Jews lost the advantage of having the Law by attempting to use it as an instrument of salvation. (Romans 9:30-33)