Romans, Part 9: The Grand Finale and the Great Turn (Romans 3:9-26)

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

March 13, 2022

Today is an exciting day! We have been talking about the wrath of God for about nine weeks now. And it’s been HEAVY! And so today, as we follow our outline through the book of Romans, remember that the overall theme is established in Romans 1:16-17, especially verse 17

In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. That’s the whole book.

So today, we move from focusing on the WRATH of God to talking about the GRACE of God. Finally! We are going to talk about what makes the good news the actual, really and truly good news. But before we get to it, Paul is going to summarize what makes the bad news so bad. And by the time he’s done, you are going to feel the need for the gospel so deeply in your bones that it’s going to make you cry out like they did on the day of Pentecost, “Brothers, what must we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37)

How many of you have ever seen a fireworks show? Of course you have. Pretty much everyone has seen a fireworks show at some point in their life. Now, what happens at the end of a fireworks show? That’s right. The Grand Finale. No matter how long the whole show is, or how elaborate, there comes a point in the last few minute of the show when they just pull out all the stops. Whatever is left over at the end of the show, it’s like they light them all at once, and at the end, it is just a constant barrage of explosions. At when it’s all over, as the last explosions are echoing, and there’s nothing but smoke hanging in the air, and you look around at the people you’re with, and you’re like—That. Was. AWESOME!

And they’re like, “What? Where’s a possum?” Because your ears are still ringing from all the bombs that just got dropped.

Well, that’s kind of what is happening in Romans 3:9-18. Only it’s not awesome. It’s awful. See, from ever since Romans 1:18, Paul’s been setting off these truth bombs, all with the intent of establishing that we are all guilty, we’ve all turned away from the truth, we all stand condemned before God. Whether Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not, every single one of us is under the wrath of God.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

We get a brief reprieve in at the beginning of Chapter 3, when Paul pauses to talk about how the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. But it’s really not a reprieve at all. There’s a reason Paul pauses to talk about the Old Testament being the very words of God, because he’s gearing up for his grand finale—where he will prove, once and for all,—FROM God’s Word, FROM the Old Testament, EVERYTHING he’s been saying up to this point.

It’s like that scene in Gladiator, where General Maximus looks at his archers lined up against the barbarians, every one of them with a flaming arrow nocked and drawn back, and he says, “Unleash hell.”

See, I can say that because we started kids worship this morning!

Look at Romans 3, starting at verse 9 with me:

What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off?[b] No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “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.”


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.”

This is Paul, lighting every firework he has left. I want you to notice a couple of things. First, every one of these truth bombs comes straight from the word of God. Do you notice all the quotation marks? That’s the translators telling you that every one of these verses is a quotation from the Old Testament. So Paul quotes from

  • Psalm 14:1,
  • Psalm 14:2-3.
  • Psalm 5:9.
  • Psalm 140:3
  • Psalm 10:7
  • Isaiah 59:7-8

Paul is spitting Scripture faster than Lafayette in Hamilton. And he’s doing it all from memory. He didn’t have the Bible app on his phone! You really get an insight here into just how much the Jews revered the word of God, and why Paul, as a Jew,

paused at the beginning of Chapter 3 to remind the Jews that they had been entrusted with the oracles of God.

They revered God’s Word. They treasured God’s Word. They just didn’t apply what God’s Word said about them. But here it is. If Paul was a lawyer, then this is his 14  count indictment against the defendant.

But second, not only is it straight from God’s Word, but it’s also all encompassing. It’s universal. There isn’t one human being that is righteous. None is righteous. No one. No one understands. No one seeks God.

And there’s not an aspect of human life that isn’t tainted by sin. Look closely.

Paul says first that we are corrupt in our character. Verses 10-12: We aren’t righteous. We don’t understand. We don’t seek God.

Second, we’re corrupt in our conversation. Verses 13-14: Our throats are open graves. We use our tongues to deceive. When Paul says “the venom of asps is under their lips,” that’s actually a really accurate description of how a snake releases its poison. There’s a poison sac inside the mouth of a snake. When it strikes, its fangs pierce the sac, and poison flows through the hollow fangs and into the wound of the snakebite.

And that’s how the apostle Paul describes human beings. Our mouths drip poison. They are full of curses and bitterness.

Third, we are corrupt in our conduct. We are quick to shed blood. We spread fear and misery. We don’t know how to live in peace. We have no fear of God before our eyes.

Now, this is the point where we are tempted to say, “Come on, Paul! You’re being too harsh. I know lots of good, nice, moral people. They may not know Jesus, but they do some great things. You don’t have to know Jesus to do good in the world.

Listen—Paul is not saying that every person is as sinful as every other person. There are indeed a lot of “good” kind, moral people. People who give to charity and volunteer at the food bank and help old ladies across the street.

And, yes, people who have grown up in church. They may even be regular attenders.

Paul isn’t saying every person is equally sinful. He is saying that every person is equally lost.

Let’s say three people decided they were going to swim from California to Hawaii. The first person doesn’t know how to swim. As soon as she gets over her head, she drowns.

The second person is a weak swimmer. He goes for maybe sixty yards, and then he drowns.

The third one is an Ironman triathlete. He’s conditioned to be able to swim a mile, maybe even two or three miles. But Hawaii is over two thousand miles from California. Ironman may make it ten, fifteen, even twenty miles. But eventually, he sinks. He drowns.

Is Ironman any less dead than the person who can’t swim at all? No. And that’s what Paul is saying in his grand finale. Whether we are a good, moral, upstanding person, or whether we are Vladimir Putin, we are all. Equally. Sunk. That’s why Paul starts with verse 9:

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.

But you might still be saying, Well, hold up, Paul. How can you say,  ‘No one seeks God?’ Lots of people aren’t Christians, but they pray, and they study, and they are searching for the truth. What about all those people in other religions? You don’t think they are seeking God? After all, I was a seeker once, and I found God.”

Here’s the truth: Apart from God seeking us, no one is going to seek God because of their own decision making and acting in their own ability. If you are truly seeking God, it’s because God’s spirit has begun a work in you. You didn’t get there because of your own intellectual ability or your own seeking heart.

So, boom. Truth bomb, mic drop. We’re all guilty. There is none righteous.

And for most people, the human response is, “Well, I don’t want to hear that. This is why I stopped going to church after I moved out on my own and my parents couldn’t make me go anymore. I was tired of feeling guilty.

Our culture works overtime to keep people from feeling guilty. A 2008 article in Psychology Today calls Guilt a wasted emotion that only results in self-stigmatization[1]

Here’s what it says:

So, why is guilt a wasted emotion? Same old song and dance – if you are guilty, it is because you are attached to judgment, and that judgment is coming from outside of you. You are going outside of yourself to define who you are and, by association, how you behave, rather than relying on your internal mechanisms of decision making and self-regulation.

What this author doesn’t realize is that he is basically quoting the serpent tempting Eve in the Garden. The serpent said, you don’t need God to define right and wrong for you. Eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and you’ll develop your own internal mechanism of decision making and self regulation!

Can I pause for just a minute and point out that the psychologist who wrote this article is named Michael Formica? That is just too good not to talk about. Formica is fake granite. This is not a real foundation to build your life on.

I spent a little time this week Googling the phrase “How to Stop Feeling Guilty.” I found several sites and lots of articles about how to stop feeling guilty. Here’s some of the advice I read:

  • Change your perspective—maybe you just think you did something wrong. You may need to physically change your surroundings. Take a trip. Rearrange your house. Move.
  • Reflect on lessons that you learned
  • Do something good for someone else
  • Do something for yourself that makes you feel good inside.
  • Self Medicate: Numb the guilty feelings with prescription drugs or alcohol.

What’s missing from the list? Repent!

People feel guilty because they are guilty.

Changing your perspective will not change the fact that your sin separates you from Holy God. God’s wrath against sin is settled. For crying out loud, we’ve spent two months talking about it so far!

The indictment has been read. The verdict is in. The judge has spoken. We are guilty on all counts.

Which brings us to the Great Turn.

The next two words of the Bible are arguably the two most important words in the Bible.

BUT NOW

Look at verse 21:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 

And we’re like, let’s camp out there. Did we really have to spend the last two months on the wrath of God before we get to this?

And the answer is, yes.

You see, until that truth that all of us are guilty and condemned before God settles into our soul, verse 21 isn’t going to resonate with us for the wonder that it is.

I had a friend that was the area director for Young Life camps, and he told me that when they did camp, the first night they ended with this truth. You are guilty. You are a sinner, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now go to bed.

And there was just this feeling of shell shock going through the camp. Kids were afraid to go to sleep that night—what if I don’t wake up? They’re still dealing with the reality the next morning when they come in to worship. Only this time, the sun is up and its streaming through the windows of the worship center. And the speaker gets up, and says the first two words of Romans 3:21: 

BUT NOW…

There is none righteous, no, not one… BUT NOW…

No one seeks God… BUT NOW

Together they have become worthless… BUT NOW

Verse 19: “the whole world may be accountable to God…” BUT NOW

Verse 20: By works no human being will be justified in his sight…” BUT NOW

Here’s the whole thought:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 

Notice what Paul says here. The righteousness of God has been manifested. What does that mean? Well, to manifest something means to make something clear or evident to the eyes.

So, CLUE NUMBER ONE:  Paul says the righteousness of God has become clear or evident to the eyes. How has the righteousness of God become evident to the eyes?

CLUE NUMBER TWO: Paul says that this has happened—the righteousness of God has been manifested—apart from the Law. This means that it’s become clear or evident to the eyes, but not by keeping the Old Testament Law.

CLUE NUMBER THREE: “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” So, even though this manifested righteousness is apart from the Law, it is testified to by the law and the Prophets.

Put it all together:

What did God make evident to the eyes… that couldn’t have been revealed through the Old Testament law or prophets… and yet is borne witness to by the law and the prophets. 

The answer? Look at verse 22:

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

We are going to stop here this week, because there is absolutely no way we can get to these huge doctrines of justification, redemption, and propitiation in the time we have left.

But I need you to understand that our righteousness isn’t going to come from within. Our guilt isn’t going to go away by any internal mechanisms and self-regulations.

You can clean house, plan a vacation, and self-medicate all you want, but none of that will remove your guilt before God.

The righteousness of God comes to us in one way and one way only. By grace, Through faith in Jesus Christ.

And if you are trying to get there in any other way, you are sunk.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/200807/guilt-is-wasted-emotion

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: