Romans 3:12


Monday, 4 March 2013

They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” Romans 3:12

This verse, taken from Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1, is to be taken in a general sense. The gentile has turned away from the natural revelation given by God which is written in our hearts and consciences. The Jew has turned away from the special revelation he has been given by God and toward apostasy. Paul has shown this in the chapters and verses leading up to this conclusion. Because the Jew has the natural revelation and also the special revelation and yet they still turn from God, it shows the truly depraved nature of man.

And so, both Jew and gentile have “together become unprofitable.” The Greek of this word is echreothesan. It has been variously translated as worthless, useless, completely useless, unprofitable, rejected, rotten to the core, corrupt, etc. The word from which it stems in the Hebrew has the idea of something offensive or putrid. The corresponding word in Arabic is used to describe sour milk. In man, it is the state of moral impurity which is vile and degraded.

Because of these things, the result is that “there is none who does good, no, not one.” As noted in the previous verse, care needs to be exercised here. The portion of the psalm being quoted is specifically speaking of the atheist – “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” It would be contradictory to Scripture, even Paul’s writings, and yes even the book of Romans and the very thoughts which he is presenting, to apply this to all people in an absolute sense. For example in Romans 2:14, 15 Paul shows that there are gentiles who “by nature do the things in the law.” He then explains this and other notable traits throughout the rest of chapter 2. This must, by definition, be considered as “good.”

So Paul is clearly not saying, as Calvinism claims, that man is entirely incapable of doing good or seeking after God. Rather, this is the general, not absolute, tendency of man. Having said this, when Paul writes, “there is none who does good, no, not one” it isn’t at all contradictory. The sin in man – both inherited from Adam and committed personally, places a barrier between God and man. It is impossible for man to please God unless the sin is dealt with first. And so truly, “there is none who does good, no, not one.”

Making the leap from not being good to not being capable of doing good is a category mistake. There may be nothing good in us, but this does not mean we cannot see the good in God (or in His revelation of Himself – either natural or special) and pursue it. We see the good in Him and either choose or reject that. Is it the confused soul who says that man has free will to commit evil, but denies the free will to pursue what is good, even if erringly.

Life application: Ideas, concepts, biblical truths, evaluations of man’s relationship with God, etc. all have individual categories which must be kept separate and distinct. When we take one concept from the Bible and inappropriately apply it to, or over, another our thinking on what is biblically correct becomes skewed. Keep the boxes straight and fix your eyes on Jesus.

Heavenly Father, You have shown us what is good, both internally in our hearts and in a specific way in the Bible. And then You have allowed us the choice of pursuing it or going our own way. Help us to choose what will be pleasing in Your sight and by following Jesus who guides the path. In His name we pray. Amen.

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