Romans 3:9-20

Romans 3:9-20 (ESV)

 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:

“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.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law 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.

Sin.  It is a difficult subject.  Was ignorance bliss?  In the Genesis account of humanity’s fall, the fruit of original sin came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So perhaps ignorance was innocence after all.  All.  It is an easy subject.  Does all include the follower of Christ or another god?  It is not a trick question.

Pick a law or moral code.  Make it the code of Hammurabi or law of YHWH.  Read from the Declaration of the Rights of Man or from my genome.  I will break it.  Me.  And apparently everyone else too.  The quotations from the center of the passage are from the Hebrew wisdom scriptures – – mainly Psalms.  Again, Romans, and the Christian faith cannot be understood without proper pronouns.  Paul directs criticism at the chosen of God and at himself.  He sees himself in this boat.  Remember Romans 1? Remember how foolish it is to reduce it to a diatribe against gay people?  I could not, would not do that because it wasn’t faithful to what I knew was coming.  It simply wasn’t an honest interpretation of the text as it stood either.

Jew, Gentile, my:  humanity, nation, tribe, family, self – – all.  This is, of course, building to Romans 3:23-24 – – a cornerstone of Christian theology.  Everyone breaks any law by the standard that Christ set, where lust is adultery and anger murder.  Here lies a great tension.  Why would God given instructions knowing that I can’t or won’t follow them?  Why offer normative content without redemptive promise?  Here also lies the premonition of a great tragedy.  If following these laws is not the answer, then perhaps I should ignore them. If no one follows these laws well, then perhaps I can assert my superiority by comparing myself to you.

Let me pause here.  How many who read and write here have been put down and discounted?  Was it a result of an attitude that we all need help, or perhaps of comparative superiority?  When I took pride in comparison, did I suffer the dissonance that the approach deserves?  I’m ashamed to say – – only recently.  I needed forgiveness and I needed to turn.




  1. I’m not sure how I feel about sin, but I absolutely believe in failure. I might actually be the poster child. My most recent post talks a lot about my own failures—would I have confessed all of this in my church? No—never—out of fear of comparative superiority. I may encounter some of that on my blog, but so far I have found it to be a safe place. This is a safe place too. Your humility (although perhaps recently developed over the last couple of years) keeps me and others returning here often as we look for answers, even when you post from a book we have mostly rejected.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You know my story and have encouraged me to share it. Humility is not a merit badge for me – – it came from humiliation. In so many ways what you are going through reminds me of my strife and why, if I had to choose, I’d do it again.

      The church can seem, can be – – monolithic. But the church is made of JJ’s, Pascals, and yes — CC’s. There are some in the church, even a few here, who will stay with you no matter what. I wish it was more than some. But, rather than wish – – we’ll work for it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey Pascal,

    I think it’s healthy to be a realist and have humility about ourselves. None of us are perfect. That’s the case whether it’s about our memories, our knowledge, or our actions. Some however say that conservative/moderate branches of Christianity take this too far and create unhealthy self-images which actually ends up back firing in a sense by causing more harmful actions. I think this lines up with the observations of psychotherapists. This article seems to be a good balanced approach and it is written by a Christian. The whole article is good to get a more overall picture, but this stands out to me as relevant to this topic:

    It also must be said that religion — and here I mean in particular my own religion of Christianity — has often been guilty of exacerbating the problem of shame, rather than helping people break free of it. I say this as a confession, as an admission, as one on the inside attempting to humbly and honestly face what we as the church have done that has hurt people. The fact is, the promoting of shame in the name of religion is demonstrably not good and healthy. As shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown explains, “Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, suicide, violence, and bullying.” Yet shame — not the idea that we do dumb things, but the idea that we as people are bad and unworthy — is often championed as going hand in hand with defending the faith. How many of us grew up singing the line of Issac Watt’s famous hymn “… for such a worm as I” or reciting prayers echoing those of Charles Spurgeon when he exclaims, “I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin, apart from His almighty love?”

    I’ve seen some conservative Christians portray this as “evil” pop psychology, but I’m afraid they are going up against the experts when they claim this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t want to go up against experts. It’s one of the main reasons that I love writing with and listening to other intelligent and learned people. It challenges, often changes my viewpoint. I appreciate the article above. As an aside, I read Jim Wallace’s “God’s Politics” about ten years ago and it changed so much of the way I think about civic engagement (Wallace hosts the blog on which this article was posted).

      So you’re right – – this is a dangerous teaching that can have potent and corrosive consequences. I can and have felt like a lump of unworthiness. Yet ,you and I know that we have not yet reached the fulcrum of Romans and certainly not the conclusion.

      I’ll reply with the spoiler alert for my own benefit, not yours. I am never apart from his almighty love. I think that these verses are a reminder and a warning – – where did I come from? If I came from there, then how can I be so blithe about judging others? If I stayed with a focus on sin and failing, then yes – – corrosive, destructive, bad results. But I don’t. I’m so thankful every day that I can find joy in thought, action, and people.

      What value does your comment have? Much. There is much bad theology – – not even a straw man – – bad theology. And you’re describing a common, yet wrong response to our fallenness. That is what I’d like to answer with my personal interpretations. Because – – if we stay dwelling on our sad inadequacies, then the consequences you describe are natural.

      So much more to say! Little P needs to go to track practice. More later? Thanks for sharpening me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Pascal,

        I can appreciate a more balanced and healthy religious worldview which you seem to express here. I think this is why I’ve never been able to call myself an anti-theist. Anti-theism itself is complex so I don’t want to misrepresent it, but for me I can’t see a reason to be against all religions. That would go against my observation that there are currently 7 billion different worldviews on earth, and that some “religious” people are even naturalists with an additional belief in some kind of nebulous higher power which may have created everything (and there are all sorts of different theisms in between that and an extremist believer). I prefer to be anti-harm instead of anti-theist.

        Surely you and I will run into a tiff at some point. 🙂 Seriously though, if anything I ever write pisses you off shoot me an e-mail. Have a great day Pascal! I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that your children have inherited your pseudonym. 😀

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Welcome, Julie!

      Make yourself at home. 🙂

      Let us know if you have any questions or want to hear our respectful thoughts (or those of our community) regarding faith, or the lack thereof.

      Gentleness and respect,



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