(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 10/28/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 3. I'll be reading verses 19 and 20:
Romans 3: (19) But we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those within the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God. (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin.
Last week, we went over the doctrine of Total Depravity as Paul put it forth in verses 9 through 18. We are seeing Paul's argument coming to a head. In verse 9, he says that both Jews and Greeks are under sin. They are both totally depraved by nature. By Jews and Greeks, Paul is including the whole world. By "Greeks," Paul is including all non-Jews. One is either a Jew, or he is a Gentile. Thus, the WHOLE WORLD by nature -- every single individual without exception by nature -- is totally depraved. They are void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law, and they are unable to do anything good or pleasing to God. They are even unable to seek and come to the true and living God.
Now verse 19 is a difficult one to interpret -- not the principle of the sentence, but who Paul is talking about in each part of the sentence. We have three groups of people that Paul talks about: those within the Law, every mouth, and all the world. Looking through the commentaries, there are two main interpretations. Some say that Paul is talking about the Jews alone in this sentence, and others say that Paul is talking about both the Jews and Gentiles in this sentence, and others say that he is talking about the Jews and then the combination of Jews and Gentiles in sequence.
Let's go over the first part of the sentence: "But we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those within the Law." Now there is a similar phrase in chapter 2, verse 12 when Paul talks of the Jews as those who are "within Law" as compared to the Gentiles who are "without Law." The Gentiles were never characterized as being "within Law." However, in chapter 2 verses 14 through 16, Paul shows that the Gentiles, who are without the Law that was written by God to the Jews, are a law unto themselves and their consciences accuse or excuse based on the law that is written on their hearts. Also, in chapter 1, verses 19 through 21, Paul shows that the Gentiles had the light of nature. And this sentence (verse 19) and the sentence that follows are the culmination of what Paul has been saying thus far, which is that by nature, every single human being without exception is guilty. So although my first inclination was to interpret this as meaning just the Jews, it doesn't fit the context, even the context of the verse itself. But if you differ, that's alright as long as you come to the same conclusion, which is that by nature, every single person without exception is guilty before God and has no righteousness.
So if the first part of the sentence is talking about everyone without exception by nature, the rest of the sentence and the following sentence are talking about everyone without exception by nature. The second part of the sentence is a very powerful one: "so that every mouth may be stopped." This concept comes from the legal system. When someone is accused of a crime, he is given an opportunity to say something in his own defense. If the evidence against him is incontrovertible, then he has nothing to say in his own defense. His mouth has been stopped. When brought before the bar of God's law and justice, the only way to be acquitted is to be perfectly righteous, totally without sin. Even one little sin is enough evidence to damn that person. But there isn't anyone who just commits one sin. Instead, there is an overflowing MULTITUDE of sins, in thought, word, and deed, that are rolled out as evidence. And for the one who does not have a perfect righteousness, each one of those sins is followed with the judgment GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY! The evidence is overwhelming. The Gentiles, who knew God in His eternal power and Godhead, changed the glory of God into idols, and God handed them over to all kinds of putrid immorality. GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY! The Jews, who had the oracles and ordinances of God, used them to devise a system of salvation conditioned on their law-keeping and ordinance-keeping. They boasted in the Law, but they were just as much law-breakers as the heathen. GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY! God's law says that all who do not perfectly continue in all things written in the Law to do them are CURSED. They have no defense. The prosecution has an air-tight case. All by nature are guilty.
Now we can think of people whose mouths outwardly keep on going, can't we? The Arminians are constantly boasting in their own works every time they say that God loves everyone and Jesus died for everyone. They don't see their guilt, so they keep jabbering away about making God happy by choosing to believe in Christ. They boast in themselves, thinking that their own faith is what makes the difference between salvation and damnation. How can it be said that their mouths are stopped? There are two ways in which their mouths are stopped. We've seen the first one already. The Jews were especially proud of their righteousness, and outwardly, their mouths proclaimed their own righteousness. Think of the Pharisees. Their physical mouths were not stopped. But this is talking about stopping one's mouth in a LEGAL sense. So the Arminians, each of whom walk with stretched out necks and wanton eyes, making their self-righteous tinkling and wearing their jewelry of self-righteousness, have no legitimate cloak for their sin. Oh, they'll rattle on about their supposed cloak, but it is all a sham. They have no real answer. Instead of their self-righteous perfume, sashes, and well-set-hair, there is an odor of decay, ropes, and baldness. And the second way in which their mouths are stopped is at judgment day, when all things come to light. On that day, they will come pleading their own faith or their repentance or their perseverance as what entitles them to heaven. Some of them who come in the name of Calvinism will come pleading their stewardship on earth as their basis for everlasting habitations. Oh, they'll say, "Lord, Lord," alright. They'll thank God for enabling them to meet the conditions. But Jesus will say that He never knew them. Their mouths will be stopped. Just think of the Arminians coming to plead their cases at judgment day. What will they say? They will say that they trust in Jesus alone for their salvation. They will say that it is the cross of Christ that is their ground of salvation. But it will all be revealed as a sham. They will come to Jesus believing that He died for every human being without exception. So it will be revealed that they DO NOT believe that they trust in Jesus alone for their salvation or believe that the cross of Christ is their ground of salvation. If it WERE their ground of salvation, then it would be what makes the only difference between salvation and damnation. But now their self-righteousness is exposed. They DO NOT believe that the cross of Christ makes the difference between salvation and damnation, because they believe that the cross of Christ was for EVERYONE in the WORLD! So they would dare to come to Christ believing that His cross, His work, His blood was INEFFECTUAL for BILLIONS of people. And what will Christ do? What will Christ do with those who would trample underfoot His blood and treat it as a common thing? He will stop their mouths. Their refuge of lies will be exposed. And the overwhelming flood of God's wrath will come upon them as they scream in the torments of hell forever and ever.
The last part of the sentence goes into this consequence of guilt. It says, "and all the world be under judgment to God." Sin incurs guilt, and guilt incurs judgment. God cannot show anything but His holy wrath toward those who are guilty. He cannot show love, mercy, or grace toward those who do not have perfect righteousness. The reason God MUST be wrathful toward the wicked is that He is a JUST God. He does everything according to His infinite JUSTICE. To let even a single sin go unpunished would dethrone God. And, conversely, to punish anyone who has perfect righteousness would dethrone God.
Let's look at the next sentence:
Romans 3: (20) Because by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him, for through Law [is] full knowledge of sin.
Here is the conclusion of the matter of one's own works and righteousness. This sums up what Paul has been saying about the Jews and the Gentiles. It is one of the key sentences of the entire Bible. If one does not believe this, he is not a regenerate person. By the works of law, NO ONE, NOT EVEN ONE SINGLE PERSON, will be declared righteous before God. Do you understand what that means? Do you REALLY understand what that means? God will not declare ANYONE to be righteous based on that person's WORKS. It doesn't matter if one is trying his very very best to obey every single jot and tittle of the law. It doesn't matter if one has never committed any outward immorality. It doesn't matter if a person is the nicest, kindest, most moral, religious, sincere, dedicated person in the whole world. God will NOT declare him righteous, and He will NOT save him, and He will NOT have fellowship with him, and He will NOT bring him to heaven based on what that person does. There's no gray here, folks. It is BLACK AND WHITE. There are no percentages here. God will not accept 50% or 10% or 1% or .0001% of anyone's works as the ground of justification.
But didn't Paul say in Romans 2:13 that the DOERS of the Law shall be justified? He sure did. And then he went on to prove that there are NO doers of the Law, not even one. He was putting forth an impossibility to prove the point that God only accepts PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. And there are NONE who are righteous, NOT EVEN ONE! We saw last week that those who are in the flesh are UNABLE to be subject to God's law. A DOER of the Law is a PERFECT doer of the Law. It isn't just someone who tries his best to do the Law. God doesn't accept the best people have to offer. In fact, He REJECTS the best people have to offer as the ground of justification.
Now there have been many heretics over the years who have tried to water this down so human beings can have at least some part to play in their justification. After all, how popular will a religion be if it's a religion that says you can't do anything to help yourself? That kind of a religion would not appeal to the flesh in any way, so there goes the church growth program right out the window. Many forms of justification by works have arisen. One form is that God only accepts perfect righteousness to the Law, but God has reduced His demands in the Law to the point that a person can achieve perfect righteousness. In this heresy, the Law is not made up of all the precepts put forth in Scripture that demand both outward and inward compliance. Instead, it is made up of a general command to love God and love your neighbor. Now isn't this what Jesus said? He sure did. He said that love toward God and neighbor is the summary of the Law. So if one keeps the Law perfectly, he has loved God perfectly and loved his neighbor perfectly. So yes, if one loves God and neighbor perfectly, one would be a perfect DOER of the Law. But HOW does one love God and neighbor perfectly? The TRUTH is that, since love to God and neighbor is the summary of the Law, one loves God and neighbor perfectly by KEEPING THE LAW PERFECTLY!! That means keeping the entire body of God's commands, both outwardly and inwardly. But the heretics see love to God and neighbor differently. They say that it is a reduction of the Law's demands. So love to God means worshiping and showing devotion to God, and love to neighbor means doing good things for the people around you. And, according to them, if you do these things, you have kept God's Law.
Another heresy is that God DOES NOT demand perfect righteousness; instead, He demands that one tries his best to obey the law, and God justifies him based on his best efforts. In this heresy, the Law IS made up of all of God's precepts, with both outward and inward applications, but the Law does NOT say that all are cursed who do not perfectly keep the Law. God relaxes the strictness of the Law. So in this heresy, the moral, dedicated, kind religionist does his best to keep the Law, knowing that he's not perfect, but believing that God will accept his less-than-perfect law-keeping as long as he tries his best and repents when he sins.
As you can see, both of these heresies boil down to salvation conditioned on the sinner. One is justification based on perfect conformity to a watered-down Law, and the other is justification based on less-than perfect conformity to a complete Law. But God says, "BY WORKS OF LAW NOT ONE OF ALL FLESH SHALL BE JUSTIFIED BEFORE HIM." This puts the sinner in the dust where he belongs. What one DOES or ABSTAINS FROM DOING forms ABSOLUTELY NO PART of the ground of what God accepts for righteousness.
What then is the purpose of the Law? The second part of the sentence tells us. The purpose of the Law is to bring in the full knowledge of sin. Now this concept blows some people away. "God gave us all the do's and don't's of the Law to show us that we CAN'T OBEY all the do's and don'ts of the Law?" That is correct. It leaves people without excuse. It puts forth the holiness that God requires and shows us that we cannot meet up to the holiness that God requires. In Romans 4:15, Paul said, "For the law works out wrath; for where no law is, neither is transgression." He said in Romans 7:9, "And I was alive apart from the law once, but the commandment came, and sin came alive, and I died." Through the law is the knowledge of sin. No law, no knowledge of sin. No knowledge of sin, no knowledge of punishment. And when people see God's holiness in the Law and see that they cannot meet up to the standard of the Law that God requires, it does one of two things: It either drives a person to despair, or it drives a person to Christ. For the first kind of person, he sees the Law and its massive requirements, and he sees his inability to keep the Law. He sees that God will damn everyone who does not have perfect righteousness. This leads to either saying, "What's the use?" or to keep searching for an answer for how to be reconciled with God. People who do this are in an unregenerate state. Now there are some who will tell you that this is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. They'll tell you that this is so-called "Holy Spirit conviction." But any spirit that shows a man his utter destitution with no answer is a false spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Now God may use this false spirit to providentially bring such a person under the preaching of the gospel, where he is then saved, but up until the time he is saved, he does NOT have the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit indwells a person, that person knows the answer.
The second kind of person sees the Law and its massive requirements, and he sees his inability to keep the Law. He sees that God will damn everyone who does not have perfect righteousness. But he goes past Romans 3:20 and sees the precious truth of verses 21 through 28. This is what we will be getting into in the coming weeks, the Lord willing. He sees that there IS HOPE! And this hope lies TOTALLY OUTSIDE of himself. If one cannot be justified -- declared righteous -- by his own law-keeping, then either everyone must go to hell or there is a way to be justified apart from one's own law-keeping. And we see in the following verses that there IS A WAY! Paul says in verse 21 that there is a righteousness of God that is revealed APART FROM LAW!! God justifies people who cannot justify themselves by the propitiation, redemption, and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ! Salvation is NOT conditioned on ourselves -- it is NOT conditioned on our law-keeping; it is conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, apart from the Law! Those who rest in the work of Christ alone as the only ground of salvation, as that which makes the only difference between saved and lost, as that which ensures their salvation, are those who are not condemned, because they have a righteousness that equals God's righteousness, which is the very imputed righteousness of Christ. But those who rest in their own works as forming any part of the ground of their salvation, as making the difference between salvation and damnation, are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Praise God for His glorious grace in giving His people the Law to show their guilt and in providing a righteousness apart from the Law for their salvation. Amen.