************ Sermon on Romans 3:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 2, 2007
Who is Paul describing in our Bible reading? Who are these people who don't seek God, whose throats are open graves, whose tongues practice deceit, whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, whose feet are swift to shed blood, whose ways are marked with ruin and misery? Who are these people?
Doesn't it sound like Paul is describing pagan savages in the cultures and countries that surround Rome? Doesn't it sound like he is describing gang members of our culture? Doesn't it sound like he is describing Colombian drug lords, the Italian Mafia, the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe and China, the military dictatorship of Myanmar? Doesn't it sound like he is describing the biggest sinners, the bloodthirsty hoodlums, the low-lifes of every civilization who don't fear God or care about men?
Yes, Paul is describing these people. Yes, he is talking about the worst of sinners to be found in every culture. But, now, we need to listen carefully to what Paul asks in verse 9: "Are we any better?" Are you ready for the answer? Are you sure you are ready for the answer? "Are we any better? Not at all!"
Don't ever be fooled, congregation, by the veneer of cultural "goodness." Just because you haven't killed or raped or stolen or committed adultery or used drugs, don't think you are better than those who have. Do not make the mistake of thinking you are more righteous than all those sinners out there. You need to be willing to say with Paul, "I am the worst of sinners" (1 Tim 1:16). You need to be willing to say the words of our text: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Along this line, Rev Gordon MacDonald has this to say:
Topic: SinLikewise, I suspect it is easy to convince people in the Oval that they are sinners; I suspect it is much harder to convince the rest of the city.
Subtopic: Universality of
Title: All Have Sinned--That Means You
One of the interesting things about preaching to New Yorkers is you don't have to spend much time convincing them they're sinners. They know that they're wading waist deep in evil every day of the week. It's on every block. The city can bring out the worst from the depths of the soul. When I preach in New York City on Sunday morning, I spend only two minutes telling people they're sinners. When I'm in the suburbs, it takes about twenty minutes.
-- Gordon MacDonald, "Repentance," Preaching Today, Tape No. 121.
"I am the worst of sinners." "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That's what you need to say to yourself and about yourself as you prepare for the Lord's Supper this week.
I All Have Sinned
A "All have sinned," says the words of our text. Paul drives this home in our Bible reading with a series of universal negatives:
(Rom 3:10-12) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."Paul uses "no one" four different times. He uses "not even one" two different times. He uses "all" two times (one time implied). Except for Jesus, of all the people who live, of all the people who have ever lived, of all the people who will ever live, none are righteous. No one understands. No one seeks God. All have turned away. All have become worthless. No one does good. A one hundred percent failure rate – that is what Paul is talking about. Imagine a teacher who has to fail every student. Imagine a baseball team that loses every single game. Imagine every marriage ending up in divorce. What a condemnation: no one, not even one, all!
"All have sinned." This includes you and me. If you think it doesn't, then you have no business coming to the Lord's Supper next week because the Lord's Supper is for sinners.
Topic: SalvationThe mayor must have known and understood the words of our text: "All have sinned."
In preparation for a meeting in a large city, famed evangelist Billy Sunday wrote a letter to the mayor in which he asked for the name of individuals he knew who had a spiritual problem and needed help and prayer.
How surprised the evangelist was when he received from the mayor a phone book of the entire city.
B "All have sinned." In what way have we all sinned? Loosely quoting from the Old Testament, Paul lays it out for us in a radical and extensive list of human corruption. Listen to how Paul starts off: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom 3:10). Judged by the standard of God's law, no one is righteous. All are unrighteous. No one is holy and innocent and pure. We talk about sweet and innocent babies. We talk about being as pure as the driven snow. These are merely expressions and they are wrong. Babies are not innocent – they are full of original sin. I came across this quote: "There is no innocence in childhood, only less mature depravities" (Gerald Early in "The Hungry Mind Review" - Winter 1996-1997 Christianity Today, Vol. 42, no. 3). The driven snow is not pure – because snow flakes form around a speck of dust and pick up dust. No one is righteous. Which means no one deserves salvation and eternal life. No one deserves forgiveness. No one earns justification.
"All have sinned." How else have we sinned? Paul says, "There is no one who understands" (Rom 3:11). Understands what? There is no one who understand righteousness. They don't understand the righteousness God requires of us and they don't understand God's righteousness. God is righteous. That is the message of the Bible. This means God is holy. This means there is no moral blemish, no defect, no stain of wickedness within God. He is morally excellent and ethically perfect in His being and His actions. As the Holy One God hates all sin and evil:
(Job 34:10) "So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong."In the Hebrew, the root word means God is "straight." We use the same metaphor today. When a criminal reforms his life, we say he "goes straight." When a person lives an obedient life, we say he walks the "straight and narrow." Conversely, if someone is a thief or a liar we say he is "crooked." But God is straight. He is righteous. He is holy in what He does. God is holy and pure and He wants us to be holy and pure like Him. God does not sin and cannot sin and He wants us to be like Him. But no one understands this. They think and hope that God tolerates sin or winks at sin or overlooks sin.
(Hab 1:13) "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong."
"All have sinned." How else have we sinned? Paul says, "there is ... no one who seeks God" (Rom 3:11). I can't count the number of times I have been told someone is "searching" or "seeking." Paul says they aren't searching for God. They are searching for truth, peace of mind, eternal life, happiness, relief from guilt – but they are searching in the wrong place because they aren't looking for all of this in God. We know that only God can give peace of mind. We know that only God can give us happiness and forgiveness. We know that only God gives eternal life. Your search for any of these things is doomed to failure if you don't look to God. Amazing, isn't it – that people seek the benefits of God without seeking God Himself? God does not hide Himself from any of us; yet no one, on their own, seeks God. Rather, it is a case of God seeking us. C.S. Lewis describes God as the "Hound of Heaven" Who hunts down His children even as a hunting dog hunts down a fox or a raccoon.
"All have sinned." How else have we sinned? Paul says, "all have turned away" (Rom 3:12). Turned away from what? Turned away from Him Who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). Turned away from the perfections and loveliness of God. Turned away from Him Who is our all-in-all. Turned away from the knowledge of God. Turned away from the paths of righteousness. We are so blinded by sin, so deafened by evil, so maimed by wickedness, that we turn away from whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
"All have sinned." How else have we sinned? Paul says, "they have together become worthless" (Rom 3:12). How useful is a wagonload of sweet corn that you can't get to market? How worthwhile is a house at the coast or in the mountains if you never get there? What is the value of a tree full of peaches if you do not pick the fruit? Because of sin, we all are useless, we all are worthless, in the sight of God. We don't live up to our created purpose. We are like a peach that is not eaten.
"All have sinned." How else have we sinned? Paul says, "there is no one who does good, not even one" (Rom 3:12). No one is loving and kind and compassionate. No one helps their neighbor. No one honors God. No one. Bruce Thielemann writes:
Topic: SinPoor, misguided, little Norman. He needs to hear the truth about himself: "there is no one who does good, not even one" (Rom 3:12).
Subtopic: Universality of
Title: We're Not Normans
I came across a collection of letters that children wrote to Santa Claus. Some of them were pretty good. My favorite went like this: "Dear Santa, there are three little boys who live at our house. There is Jeffrey; he is 2. There is David; he is 4. And there is Norman; he is 7. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman."
-- Bruce Thielemann, "Glory to God in the Lowest," Preaching Today, Tape No. 75.
"All have sinned." What an indictment of mankind. We all stand condemned before God. We all are worthy of judgment and death because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Think of this as you prepare for the Lord's Supper this week.
II All Fall Short of the Glory of God
A "All fall short of the glory of God," says the words of our text. Again, notice how universal it is. "All." Not "some." Not "a few." Not "many." But "all."
"All fall short of the glory of God." Paul drives home this point in our Bible reading by gathering quotations from the Old Testament that illustrate how the organs of the human body that God designed for righteousness have now become tools of wickedness. The throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, and eyes that God gave for good purposes are used by sinners for evil. Listen to what Paul says:
(Rom 3:13-18) "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." (14) "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (15) "Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) ruin and misery mark their ways, (17) and the way of peace they do not know." (18) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."All of us misuse the parts of our body. Instead of being used for God's glory they are used for wickedness and evil and sin.
B "All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says, "Their throats are open graves" (Rom 3:13). In the ancient world graves were tightly sealed because an open grave pollutes the environment. It also causes a stench that only those with the strongest of stomachs could handle.
Speaking of graves, do you remember what Jesus called the Pharisees? He said they were "whitewashed tombs" (Mt 23:27). On the outside they looked tranquil, pure, and clean but on the inside they were decaying and smelly. The Pharisees tried to cover their sin, but Jesus describes their depravity with the shocking metaphor of an open grave.
Our throats are open graves – they pollute and cause a stench – when they are used for evil rather than good, when they advance the cause of Satan rather than the glory of God. When our throats are used for gluttony or drugs or alcohol, then we create an odious stench. If we are hypocritical like the Pharisees – looking good on the outside but being rotten on the inside – then we are also open graves.
"All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says, "their tongues practice deceit" (Rom 3:13). We should speak the truth and speak the truth in love. But instead we used our tongues to practice deceit – to give false impressions, to lead people astray, to distract them. Politicians do this all the time. They assure one group that they are personally opposed to abortion. At the same time they assure another group that it is a woman's right to choose. We all know real-estate agents do this. When a property is described as a handyman's special that usually means it is falling apart. Paul says we are all guilty of being deceitful.
"All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says, "The poison of vipers in on their lips" (Rom 3:13). The bite of the viper causes the most severe pain. Its poison causes almost instant death. Concealed in the lips, says Paul, is a poison as deadly as the venom of vipers. This strong metaphor illustrates that, through careless words, we humans have power to inflict unbelievable pain and devastating wounds on other people.
"All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says, "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness" (Rom 3:14). In our culture, cursing is often perceived as a sign of strength, of maturity, of manhood. But biblically a cursing, bitter mouth is a sign of depravity. God created the mouth for His worship and praise and to show kindness and love to our fellow man. Remember what James says about the tongue?
(James 3:9-11) With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. (10) Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. (11) Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
"All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says,
(Rom 3:15-17) "Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) ruin and misery mark their ways, (17) and the way of peace they do not know."The prophet Isaiah talks about beautiful feet, the feet of those who proclaim good news (Is 52:7). But here are ugly feet, the feet of those who race after an opponent to run him down, to kill him, to ensnare or enslave him.
"All fall short of the glory of God." In what way do we fall short? Paul says, "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom 3:18). There is no reverence shown for God. Instead of being humble before the presence of the holy and almighty God, they are brazen and bold. Instead of being in awe, they treat Him like something common and they talk about Him as a buddy or friend.
"All fall short of the glory of God." The throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, and eyes that God gave for His glory are used by sinners for evil. Think of this as you prepare for the Lord's Supper this week.
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That's what our text says on this Preparatory Sunday. But we can't leave it there because the Bible doesn't leave it there.
Let me read the very next verse: "and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom 3:24).
The Bible condemns all of us in our sin. But the Bible also tells us about salvation in Christ. In other words, sin does not have the last word if you are in Christ. Rather, in Christ, your throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, and eyes are used for the glory of God. This, of course, is the real focus of the Lord's Supper – that sinners are set free by the blood of Christ!
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