None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
-- Romans 3:11-18, ESV
To err is human, to forgive, divine.
-- Alexander Pope
Pope, a true-to-his-name Catholic, and Paul, inspiration to Protestants everywhere, are agreed on this truth. All humans err, make mistakes, break the law, miss the mark, sin. Sin against an infinitely holy God is soberingly serious business, for it summons the unbearable wrath of God. A pardon, complete forgiveness, is available, but unless we humans come to grips with the error of our ways, we cannot experience the divine grace of forgiveness.
We are totally depraved. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Lost human beings are spiritually dead; therefore, they lack the spiritual ability to obtain the righteousness of God by faith, to obey the word of God with faithfulness, to even search for or seek out God (He is not lost, humans are). On our own, we are unable to repent and believe the good news.
We sin in attitude, often giving it away with our speech. Thoughts are speeches to God. He hears everything and every thought. What He hears, and others as well, is often full of deceit, pride, racism, hatred, and many other sins. Depravity taints our attitudes, and depravity touches our actions.
We sin in actions, against others, taking from them for our own selfish gain. We don't always shed blood, but we often cause ruin and misery. A gang banger takes a life for a few dollars. A trusted friend takes a spouse from another and shatters a family. A minister misuses his office for money or sex. A politician takes a bribe. The scenarios of sinfulness are too numerous to name, but as you can see, sin is simply the exaltation of self above others and God.
We sin against God. Lost people are literally at war with Him, only the saved are shown the pavement of the way of peace. Lost people have no fear of God, either, no reverence, no obedience, no worship. Many of them have decent attitudes. Most would not hurt a fly. But the worst sin of all is to not what one does, it is what one fails to do. Lost people do not fall down at the feet of God and love, worship, and serve Him with all of their mind, heart, and soul.
Such is the human condition. We are all sinners, this is true. Sin is serious business with God, the righteous judge of all the world. He has laid down the law. Now the whole world is accountable to Him.
We cannot work our way to God, no human being can do it. No Jew or Gentile has found the way. No good nor religious person has been able to pull this off. There has to be another way of salvation.
The purpose of God's word, the law, beyond bringing God's perfect and righteous standards to earth, is not to give us a ladder to climb to Heaven, but rather to give us the knowledge of sin. We need to know what sin is. We need to know we are sinners. We need to know this is serious business with God. And, we need to know how to be saved, to be justified in His sight.
By making the room sufficiently dark in Romans 1:8-3:20, Paul is about to turn on the lights in 3:21 and following. To err is human, indeed. To forgive, divine, Amen. God's grace of forgiveness flows through justification, sanctification, and glorification, which will be explained beautifully by Paul throughout the rest of the book of Romans.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].