Is there a particular pattern of behaviour that you feel stuck in? Do you ever feel sick of yourself or trapped in a negative way of relating to a particular person?
No one is righteous
9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:
‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is 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.’
13 ‘Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practise 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.’
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
When I was young, I went to an Anglican church. The service would begin with a prayer of confession. The congregation would stand and say together words such as these: ‘Most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.’*
In today’s reading, Paul comes to the crux of his argument, and reminds us that we are all, equally, helplessly, enslaved to sin (vs 10–12). Sometimes we can put on a good show, or create a convincing facade. But ultimately it’s important to remember that we are all in need of God’s help. The social consequences of this bondage to sin are significant. Read verses 13 to 15 again.
In this sense, nobody can claim any superiority to anyone else. This was particularly important in Paul’s divided church context, where the differences between Jewish and Gentile believers had led to severe judgement. The reminder that we are all ‘in the same boat’ and have all been given the gift of God’s grace is very important for the way we view ourselves and others.
Pray for God’s Spirit to shape you and those you love into the people he wants you to be.
Deeper Bible study
Take time today to confess your sins and to receive grace to help you in time of need.1
It is clear that human beings are a threat to the creation. Modern indicators of this are the human impact upon climate change and on other species. We have even been described as a ‘plague’ upon the earth. Such language should surely be used with caution lest we fall into self-hatred. Yet the destructiveness of human behaviour, whether intended or not, is still an issue with which to wrestle. Paul asserts here ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips’ (v 13).
Paul states the seriousness of the situation: we have all yielded to the power of sin. We have turned from the source of life (vs 12,18) and vandalised our own lives and the peace of creation (vs 15–17) by turning from what is good. In the process we have spread abroad ruin and misery (v 16). Before rejecting these words as an exaggeration, we should reflect. Researchers indicate that between 60 and 100 billion human souls have so far lived and died on this planet. How many of these people have led the kind of righteous, worthy lives that God intends (v 12)? Sin is universal, corporate, individual and destructive. By now we may conclude that Paul has made his point. Whether we think of the Law given to Israel or the law that is given in our consciences,2 we are all accountable to God (v 19); and we all fail (v 20).
The word ‘law’ is difficult to interpret in Paul’s writings because he uses it in different ways at different points. On this occasion, and others, the law has a negative function: it exposes us. It itemises the ways in which we fail to do right. Yet it fails to empower us to become righteous. It offers no remedy – but another remedy does lie to hand.
‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way’.3
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Leviticus 23,24; Acts 12
Pray for Scripture Union
Pray for the Project Team working on the new Supporter Care system which records our contacts, customer orders, volunteers, subscriptions and financial supporters, and is linked to our websites and finance systems. Work started in January but will not be complete until September. Pray that the team will have enough time to concentrate on this important task amongst the pressures of existing commitments.