SERMON: Man on Trial
TEXT: Romans 3:9-20 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week two of our series as we continue through the book of Romans. Last year we looked at the first two chapters and this year we’re looking at a few more and then we’ll pick it back up again in 2019.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible please turn with me to Romans chapter 3. We’ll be looking at verses 9 through 20 together today.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
As many of you know, 1945 marked the end of World War 2. The world was at war with Adolf Hitler and his allies. Hitler led the German army on a mission to conquer the world and to establish a “superior race.”
Starting as early as 1933 — long before the war began — Hitler and the Nazi’s began establishing prison camps to house political enemies, Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, and Russians. As the Nazi’s gained power, these camps became more numerous.
Then war broke out in 1939. Throughout the early years of the war, Hitler kept the German people’s approval and support. The war wasn’t in Germany, so they weren’t faced with the reality of what was going on.
But when the war was over, the press began to explore the concentration camps. And the German public — who had supported Hitler — were forced to come face-to-face with what they had supported and it shocked many of them.
They were guilty of supporting Hitler — guilty of ignoring the signs that millions of people were suffering and being murdered in their backyards. They were standing before the world — guilty — with no place to hide — the Germans were guilty of supporting something far more evil than they’d ever imagined.
Now our text in Romans tells a similar story. It’s going to show all of us that we’re guilty of something far more evil than we’d ever imagine. That we’re all living our lives either oblivious to — or in outright defiance of something true about us — that we’re guilty of something that’s wicked to its core. And that’s the verdict we find in our courtroom today — but the verdict is on us this time — in these verses we’re on trial and we’re all found guilty.
Paul begins — in verse 9 — with, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,” (Romans 3:9 ESV)
If you remember from last week, Paul emphasized that there were still some benefits of being a Jew — like being entrusted with the Word of God. So Paul asks, “Well since we have this benefit, are we better off than the Gentiles when it comes to our guilt?” And his answer is, “No, not at all.”
And he gives his reason when he says that “both Jews and Greeks” — that means everyone — all people — are under sin. So what does that mean — to be under sin?
It means that all people are under the power of sin — are a slave to sin — think of it as being trapped by sin. This doesn’t mean that we sin “every now and then” but that everything we do is stained by sin — is influenced by sin. And this isn’t a popular message in today’s culture — not even among church people — but it’s one of the most important messages we can share.
You see, we all know something’s wrong with the world — even that something’s wrong with us. But what you understand to be the problem dictates what you believe is the answer to our problem. For instance, some people believe that the main reason why the world is broken is an unequal distribution of wealth. So the solution to the problem — as they see it — is to control the economy so there are no poor or rich — a level economic playing field is the solution.
Others see our problem as the result of a lack of knowledge — “if people weren’t so ignorant then our world would be a better place.” So the solution is better education — better education will solve what’s wrong with us.
Gender inequality, religious oppression, abuse of power, racism...what do you see as our problem?
Well what Paul suggests — and really what the entire Bible suggests — is that our problem isn’t an unequal distribution of wealth or a lack of knowledge — or the many other things we suggest to be our problem — these things are all results of the real problem — which is sin. That we’re all addicted to sin. We’re all under sin — influenced by it — enslaved to it.
Now, we humans do a wonderful job of hiding our sin. We often think way too highly of ourselves — thinking we’re better than we actually are and not nearly as bad as we show ourselves to be. And something easy to do — is to give a guilty verdict — not toward ourselves — but toward the Bible. Where we say that the Bible is guilty of being overly harsh. It’s full of unrealistic standards and out of date moral codes for our modern age. Maybe there are some people as bad as the Bible describes, but surely not everyone is that bad — especially not me. So instead of letting Bible reveal to us our guilt, we try to pull the rug out from under the Bible and declare it to be guilty of being overly harsh and judgmental. Maybe that’s how you respond to the idea of sin being what’s wrong with us.
Others of us — however — may reject the idea that sin is our biggest problem for an entirely different reason — not because you reject religion, but because the Bible doesn’t line up with your religious beliefs. You believe in a religion that’s all about your desires and preferences being met. When religion is a benefit, you bring it out of the closet. When it holds you back, you stuff back in the closet and lock the door. And you do this because religion — to you — is about what makes you feel good. “Just enough religion in my life to make me feel good, but no more than that — thank you very much.”
Maybe you let religion out of the closet when it comes to things you’re good at and you stuff it back in the closet when it comes to things you’re not so great at. For instance, say you don’t struggle with lying — well — I’m sure — that “not lying” is part of your religion and you probably have a hard time with people who lie. Not lying is something you can obey — and that makes you feel good. But say you struggle with being generous — well — everyone knows that the church is out for your money, right — so you don’t have to actually be generous. And those generous people, well they’re just the religious radical folks — who wants to be like them? And what’s dangerous — here — is that you’ve created a religion where you’re king or queen because you always pass the religious test.
Others of us — though — may feel that every bad thing that’s happened in your life is because you’re being punished by God. And though disobedience may be the reason for your circumstances — it’s important to remember that living in a broken world means we experience the consequences of other people’s sin too.
And finally — and I hope this is you — others of us read about us being “under sin” and you rejoice. Why — because this doesn’t seem like a very joyful news does it? Here’s why you may be rejoicing. You know that you were “under” the power of sin — that you were a slave to it — sin was your master — and you’ve been set free from its power. And you know you did nothing to earn your freedom — you did nothing to get out from under the power of sin — but you’re free nonetheless — so you rejoice.
Four very different ways to respond to the news that we’re all under sin. How are you responding?
SUMMARY OF POINT 1
One pastor has said that this message — that we’re all under sin — is about as popular as hearing the words “your tumor is malignant.” But — he says — our message is vastly more hopeful. “Your tumor is malignant” may or may not be hopeful news, because the doctor may or may not have a cure for your cancer. But the news of “you’re under the power of sin” always has a cure — there’s freedom from the power of sin.
And if you desire freedom — well — keep listening because we’re going to discover how to be free from sin’s power. But before we find freedom, we must understand how bad our enslavement to sin actually is.
So it’s going to get pretty dark here — you’re going to feel the weight of a guilty verdict upon your shoulders — you’re going to want to kick and scream and rebel against this news — but the whole time I want you to keep thinking: “This is good for me to hear — it’s good for me to face my reality — and the reality of every single person alive on this planet — for without knowing the truth about our enslavement to sin — we won’t rejoice in the freedom that’s offered to us.”
Let’s begin in verse 9 again. “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: (and here Paul is going to quote the Bible — the Old Testament — to show us that this verdict — that we’re guilty of being enslaved to sin — isn’t something he’s coming up with — it’s not something I’m coming up with — this is something the Bible makes clear.
So you’re view of the Bible is going to be very important here — especially if you say you’re a follower of Jesus. Are you going to let the Bible reveal to you who you are and what our biggest problem is — or are you going to reject what the Bible has to say?
And Paul’s going to quote from the psalms — and some other Old Testament books — as he reveals our problem. Paul begins by saying how many people are righteous? He says that...) "None is righteous, no, not one; (to be righteous is to be right with God — so anyone who is under sin is not in a right relationship with God. They’re not living the right way — God can’t find a single person living a life free from sin’s power. He says that...) 11 no one understands; (And how many people — under sin — seek for God?...) no one seeks for God. 12 (And how many have turned aside?...) All have turned aside; together they (the “they” is the “all” people just mentioned. So all people — everyone together...) have become worthless; (who does good?...) no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."” (Romans 3:9-18 ESV)
Another Bible translation says, “They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, [they] litter the land with heartbreak and ruin, [they] don’t know the first thing about living with others, they never give God the time of day.” (The Message)
It’s kind of like — slow down Paul — why so cheery?
To show us how enslaved we are to sin — Paul mentions four things. Our being. Our words. Our actions. And the cause.
Our being. Our words. Our actions. And the cause.
But he starts by making sure we know what shapes his worldview — the Bible. In verse 10 he writes, “as it is written:” (Romans 3:10a ESV)
Paul allows the Bible to shape his understanding of the world — and what our real problem is — and what the problem is for people who don’t believe in Jesus. But what about you?
- What shapes your worldview?
- What shapes your view of what’s wrong with us?
- What influences your view of people who don’t believe in Jesus?
- The question being asked is, “What’s your authority?”
- What do you turn to in order to understand why things are the way they are?
- Paul turned to the Bible. What do you turn to?
Fox News? Twitter? Facebook? The GOP or DNC? You’re favorite podcast or preacher online? What do you turn to as your authority?
In turning to his authority — the Bible — Paul begins with our being.
He writes, “"None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."” (Romans 3:10b-12 ESV)
By “being” — I mean — our core — “what’s wrong with us at our core?” And what Paul says — what the whole Bible says — about our core — isn’t great news. In fact, it’s not only alarming but it’s in your face offensive.
- None of us are right with God. Bam!
- None of us understand God. Bam!
- No one seeks God — I should explain this one.
It’s pretty common to think that there are people — who don’t believe in Jesus — that are seeking God. Seeking Him through other religions or spiritual experiences or some kind of path to enlightenment. But Paul would disagree.
- They may be seeking some kind of religious experience, but that’s different than seeking God.
- They may be seeking truth, or peace, or eternal life, or happiness, or even relief from a guilty conscience — but seeking these things isn’t the same as seeking God — and it’s easy to confuse the two. Only God can give them these things — but just because someone is searching for things only God can give — well that doesn’t mean they’re seeking Him.
- Have you ever had someone seek you out, but they weren’t really looking for you — but were looking to get something from you? That’s what Paul’s meaning here.
- As a dad — I rarely get this — but my wife experiences this all the time. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” Do you know what happens when they find her? Never once have I heard our kids say, “My most magnificent Mother. I just wanted you.” It’s always, “Mom, what can I have to eat? Mom, can I go play basketball? Mom, when’s dinner? Mom, what are we doing today?” You’d think our kids were looking for their Mom, but they’re actually looking for something else.
- And sin causes people to seek things from God — while not seeking Him at all.
And what we find — throughout the Bible — is that God is the One who seeks us out. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44, ESV)
“Well — Hanson — what about all of those places in the Bible where we’re told to ‘seek the Lord’?”
Two quick things — cause someone’s texting this question in as I speak. Almost always, the command to ‘seek the Lord’ is given to God’s people. Meaning, the command’s are given to people who God has already begun a relationship with. Whether that be the Jewish people in the Old Testament or Christians in the New.
But there are places in the Bible where all people are commanded to “seek the Lord.” “Now surely God wouldn’t give us a command that we couldn’t obey on our own, right — that wouldn’t be fair” — that’s the objection — “God wouldn’t say ‘seek the Lord’ if people couldn’t actually ‘seek the Lord.’”
OK. Then “be perfect” because that’s a command in the Bible too — no excuses — be — perfect. Hmmm...seems like there are commands in the Bible that we have to caveat with “without God’s help the command can’t be obeyed.” And all Paul’s saying is that “seek the Lord” is in the category of “to obey this command you’ll need God’s help.”
And if this isn’t offensive enough — Paul goes on to say — “no one does good.” Now — we looked at this a few weeks ago — doing good things is much different than the motive behind what you do. And Paul’s talking about our motivations — the reason why you do the things you do.
“Once in a kingdom long ago, a gardener grew a huge carrot. He decided to give it to his prince because he [was devoted to] and loved his [ruler]. When he gave it, the prince discerned his love and devotion, and the fact that he expected nothing in return. So as the gardener turned to leave, he said: “Here, my son, I want to give you some of my land so that you can produce an even greater crop. It is yours.” The gardener went home rejoicing. A nobleman heard of this incident and thought: “If that’s what the prince gives in response to the gift of a carrot, what would he give me if I gave him a fine horse?” So the nobleman came and presented the prince with a fine [horse] as a gift. But the prince discerned his heart and said: “You expect me to give to you as I did to the gardener. I will not. You are very different. The gardener gave me the carrot. But you were giving yourself the horse.” (Charles Spurgeon used this illustration frequently.)
To this a pastor said, “It is who we are serving in our hearts that matters, not how we are serving with our hands. Without faith in Christ, good deeds are not truly done for God, but for ourselves — and thus are not truly good.” (Tim Keller)
Who we are — the core of our being — our motivations — are enslaved to sin — and this affects our words.
Paul says, “"Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."” (Romans 3:13-14 ESV)
Our words are enslaved to sin. Jesus said, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) — which is a quote from the Old Testament — meaning who we are affects what we say. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve said something — something hurtful — something racist — something demeaning to someone else — and — maybe not right away — but later on — we think, “What in the world was that?” And then we’ll excuse ourselves by saying that we were tired or I was born with a temper or something else is to blame — not that these venomous words reveal something that’s wrong with us.
The younger brother of Jesus warns, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. 7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:2-10 NLT)
What an indictment on our words. With them we praise God and with them we curse people made in God’s image. And with our words we say, “I’m not guilty of being enslaved to sin” and we believe the lie as it comes out of our mouth. And our words influence our actions.
Paul writes, “"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known."” (Romans 3:15-17 ESV)
We live in a violent world. Who we are — our being — influences what we say — our words — which lead us to do some really wicked things — our actions. We live in a world where the golden rule is said to be, “Do unto others before they can do unto you!” (Grant Osbourne)
Will Durant wrote a book in 1968 titled Lessons From History. In it he said, “In the last [3,500] years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.” And I think that’s a pretty generous assessment. I did some checking and couldn’t find a single year — since 1968 — without a war going on in the world.
We love violence. From violent sports to horror movies — and I know — it’s all in good fun, right? Just for entertainment. Like violent video games which are the most popular video games in our country. (Source)
We love violence. Did you know that during World War 2, it’s estimated that it cost $225,000 to kill one enemy soldier? What do you think the cost of our love for violence is today? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the US nearly six trillion dollars by some estimates. (Source) If you add up sports, video games, and movies — we spend billions and billions of dollars on violence.
Now — I’m not trying to play judge and jury here — I see this as much in my life as in yours — I just want us to see how we love violence — can we admit that — yet we long for peace. But peace is always elusive, isn’t it? Peace between nations — peace within our souls — we can’t seem to find peace.
Do you know someone who’s always looking for that something or someone who will satisfy the longings of their heart? And they just keep going from this to that trying to find fulfillment. From this relationship to that one — this job to that one — this church to that one — something’s out there that will give them peace — if only they could find it. Maybe that’s you?
SUMMARY OF POINT 2
And what’s caused all of this? “"There is no fear of God before their eyes."” (Romans 3:18 ESV)
We don’t fear God because — if we did — we wouldn’t be so resistant — so defiant — when He tells us that our problem is that we’re enslaved to sin. And our enslavement to sin reveals itself in the words we speak. And the words we speak lead us to act in violent ways. If we feared God, we’d see that — unlike us — He’s pure and holy — completely free from sin — that His words are reliable and true — and that His actions are always for our good.
But Paul’s not finished yet. He wants to reiterate the importance of God’s Word in shaping our view of what’s wrong with us.
Verse 19. “Now we know that whatever the law says (and by “law” — Paul means — the Old Testament — so whatever the Old Testament says...) it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20 ESV)
Our once chatty mouths — spewing out evil things — like deception, curses, and bitterness — are silenced. In Paul’s day, if you were on trial and you had nothing more to say in your defense, you’d put your hand over your mouth to show that you were done. If you were too chatty, a court official would hit you in the mouth to let you know that you’re done. And what Paul’s saying is that all of us have no defense. We don’t have an argument that’ll render us a not guilty verdict. The whole world is accountable to God — God’s in the judge’s chair — and all of us are guilty — guilty of being enslaved to sin.
The evidence is in our being. The evidence is in our words. And the evidence is in our actions. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
This is Paul’s understanding of the human problem — of our problem — that the foundational problem with all of us is that we’re enslaved to sin. And this isn’t just Paul’s idea — this is what the entire Bible suggests is our problem — that our greatest problem — is sin. That we’re all addicted to it. We’re all under it. We’re all enslaved to it — sin is our master.
And if that’s our problem, what’s the solution? The solution is that God sent His Son to be our liberator — our redeemer — our rescuer. Jesus came to set captives free. When Paul says that none are righteous — that none are right with God — he’s not saying “there’s no way to be right with God” — what he means is that there’s no way for you to be free from sin without outside help. You can’t do what’s necessary in order to free yourself from sin’s power. But someone can — and did — what was necessary for you to be free.
God sent Jesus to live a life free from sin’s power, to pay the penalty of your sins on the cross, and raised Him from the grave — breaking the chains of our enslavement to sin so that you can be free to live for God.
And this isn’t just true for you, this is true for every person. The view of the Bible is that all people — the people you work with, your neighbors, the people you see in the grocery store, your family members — all people are enslaved to sin apart from Christ’s liberating work on the cross. And this view — this biblical view of all people — should motivate you to help them find freedom in Jesus — for He is the only answer to their greatest problem — their enslavement to sin. Only the gospel — the Good News of what Jesus has done in His life, death, and resurrection — can break the chains of sin that they’re enslaved to.
The only way to be justified — to be declared not guilty — to be free — is faith in Jesus.
We’ve been put on trial today. And though these words are hard to hear — they’re good for us. It’s good for us to face our reality and the reality of every single person alive. Because if we don’t face the truth — that our greatest problem is sin — we won’t rejoice in the freedom that’s offered to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is offering you freedom today. Freedom from the sin that’s enslaved you. Will you receive the freedom He’s offering you today? Without Jesus you’re verdict is guilty. But with Jesus — the verdict you receive is God’s eternal love. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing to us what our real problem is. These are shocking words to hear — in many ways — they’re hard to hear — they’re sobering. But — Father — they give us a reason to rejoice. For out of the darkness of our enslavement to sin came Your Son — Jesus — bringing us the light of freedom.
Help us to receive the freedom that Jesus is offering us. The freedom to have the core of who we are completely changed — set free — from sin’s power. The freedom to have our words be used to share Good News — instead of used to spread curses and bitterness. The freedom to have our actions be for the good of others and Your glory.
Spirit — for all of us who are free — remind us to rejoice. For those whom Jesus has set free from sin — are free indeed. And this is Good News — this is reason to overflow with great joy as we celebrate the freedom You’ve given us. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.