The Bible tells us that humans love to proclaim their own goodness (Prov 20:6). We see this in our day when people say things like, “I may not be perfect but I’m really not that bad.” There is even a movement-like thing among some of the more outspoken atheists in our world where they demonstrate that they are “good without God.” The point of all of this is to show that mankind really isn’t all that bad. Sure we have our flaws, but these flaws aren’t serious enough to cause us to need God, Jesus or the Gospel.
Romans 3:10-18 has a lot to say about the idea about the goodness of mankind. Really it has a lot to day about the corruption of mankind. In these verses Paul uses several passages from the Old Testament to demonstrate that all people are thoroughly corrupt. We could put all that Paul says about the corruption of humanity in three categories.
We are corrupt in our nature.
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV)
Not one person in the world is righteous. The idea here seems to be that we are not sinless. Besides Jesus, no one has lived a life where they were sinless in thought, word or deed. I think it’s important for us to recognize here that what is being said here is not Paul’s opinion on the righteousness of man. Instead, this is how God sees humanity. In God’s eyes and according to His standards, none of us is righteous on our own. In fact, all people are naturally unrighteous.
There are none who understands. The word that is translated as “understands” literally means, “to put things together. It means to look at things and to intelligently discern and comprehend the truth.” One of the ways the corruption of man is shown is by our lack of understanding in relation to spiritual things. We don’t understand the depth of our sin. We don’t understand how holy God truly is. We don’t understand the consequences for sin. We don’t understand the horror of what Jesus endured on the cross. We don’t understand the love and grace that was displayed on the cross. We don’t understand that apathy about what Jesus did on the cross is the same as rejecting what Jesus did on the cross.
There is none who seeks after God. The word for “seeks” refers to careful diligent searching. This doesn’t seem to mean that people never look for something or someone to make their god. Rather, the idea here is that corrupt man never diligently searches for the true and living God. Corrupt man doesn’t seek after the true and living God of the Bible because He inspires awe and demands supreme love and devotion. While corrupt man may seek after a god, they want a god that is made of Play-Doh so they can mold him into whatever image gives them the most comfort.
All have turned aside. The word used here often referred to a soldier going the wrong way in battle. They were retreating when they should have been advancing. In this case, they are on a path going away from God instead of on a path that leads to God. The picture here is similar to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount about the broad and the narrow way (Matt 7:13-14). Corrupt man walks on the broad path that leads to destruction instead of on the narrow path that leads to eternal life. If you take what is said here and look at it in light of what is said about not understanding, then what you have are people walking on the path that leads to destruction without even realizing it. In fact, they may be walking on the path that leads to destruction while thinking they are on the path that leads to life.
All have become unprofitable and does not do good. The word used here for unprofitable was used of milk that had soured and meant something had become worthless. This seems to be the same sort of picture that is used in Isaiah.
“But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesss are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV)
I don’t think any passage more powerfully demonstrates how God sees our righteousness and good deeds apart from Jesus. There are a couple of different word pictures associated with the phrase filthy rags.
One is a cloth that had been used to wrap up a putrid, running sore, such as you might find on a leper. If you’ve ever read stories about leprosy, you know that a part of leprosy was having open running sores. It’s my understanding that the puss that ran out of these sores smelled terrible and could infect anyone who touched it with leprosy. Lepers would wrap these open, running sores up in a cloth. When the puss soaked through the cloth and began running through the cloth it was then burned. It was so foul and filthy that it couldn’t be made clean and wasn’t usable for anything ever again.
We can’t imagine touching a cloth like that. Much less proudly holding it up and saying, “Look what I did.” Yet, that is what it’s like to God when we point to our good deeds apart from Jesus and say, “Look at what I’ve done” in an effort to demonstrate how good we are. The good deeds of the corrupt man are as worthless in God’s eyes as a leprosy soaked rag would be in ours.
We are corrupt in our speech.
“Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” Romans 3:13-14 (NKJV)
Paul compares the mouth (throat) of mankind to an open tomb. This would be pretty obvious symbol of corruption. This would include everything from using profanity to telling obscene stories to telling racist jokes. This seems to be the overarching picture of corrupt speech that is illustrated in this passage.
The corrupt mouth is deceitful. The idea here is that this deceit is a continuous action. The corrupt person deceives and keeps on deceiving. For the corrupt person, lying, cheating, flattering and misleading are natural to their speech.
The corrupt lips are like the poison of an asp. The idea here is that the tongue of the corrupt person is filled with malice in order to hurt others. This could be through gossip, personal attacks, lashing out angrily or seeking to degrade someone with their words.
The corrupt mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness. Cursing as it’s used here doesn’t seem to refer to using profanity as much as it does with speaking harshly about another person. To curse someone is where you just talk about them like they are dogs. When your mouth is filled with cursing and bitterness you will run down other people, criticize them, call them names and maybe even talk about bad things you hope will happen to them. This is the mouth that is filled with cursing and bitterness.
We are corrupt in our conduct.
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:15-18 (NKJV)
Feet that are swift to shed blood. This seems to refer to people who are quick to become violent. Going off what it says about shedding blood, I would have to say it narrowly refers to physical violence and not angry words. A person who is quick to become physically violent is thoroughly corrupt.
Destruction and misery are in their ways. The corrupt person destroys lives, homes, families, churches, marriages and anything else that is good. The corrupt person causes misery in others everywhere he goes. We are told that the corrupt person does not know and has not known the way of peace. This is probably one reason why destruction and misery follow them everywhere they go. Since their own soul is filled with turmoil, they can’t help but bring that restless turmoil into the lives of all those they are around.
There is no fear of God before their eyes. The corrupt person lives as if there is no God to whom they will answer. They feel that they have little if any responsibility toward God. There is no concern about God’s justice. There is no concern about what God wants for their lives. There is no concern about what God has done through His Son. They may be hostile toward God or they may be apathetic toward God. God is not at all a factor in their lives.
It doesn’t take a Bible Scholar, solid understanding of Scripture or even an acceptance of the Bible as truth to see these traits of corruption in our world. How bad are we really? We are thoroughly corrupt and in desperate need of someone to fix our corruption. That is why we need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For further study read Ephesians 2:1-10.
How are all people described in verses 1-2?
What are all people naturally the object of according to verse 3?
What is the cure for these problems?
 The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – Romans,