Romans 3:9-20 — But I’m not that bad

One thing that many people can’t seem to understand is how God could reject a person just because they don’t believe in Christ.

“After all, there are a lot of good people in this world who don’t believe in Jesus.  I can understand sending murderers and rapists to hell.  But what about people like Ghandi?  He was a pretty good guy.  You can’t tell me God would send him to hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus.”

The problem with that way of thinking is that we have a warped view of what “good” is.  “Good” is what God is.  “Good” is not a thing we can define on our own.  “Good” is God in all his essence.  So in order to see what is truly good, we need to look at God.  And we need to look at how he says he created life to be lived.  That’s what the law was for.  It was to show us what God is like, and how he designed us to be.

So if we are going to measure our goodness, we can’t measure ourselves on a sliding scale of how good we are compared to other people.  Nor can we measure ourselves based on a standard that we have set up or even our own cultures have set up.  We need to measure our goodness by what God says is good.

And by that standard, no one measures up.  Paul puts it this way.

We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  (9-13)

What is Paul saying?  He’s saying that there is no one whom God considers righteous on their own merits.  Why not?  Because they don’t even understand what’s right.  And the reason they don’t understand what’s right is that they don’t seek God; rather they have turned their backs on him.

And that is the ultimate evil.  Not murder, not rape, nor anything else.  Rather, the ultimate evil is turning your back on God.  Why?  Because as I said, God is good.  And what is evil but turning your back on what’s the ultimate Good.  What happens when you turn your back on the source of all that’s good?  It starts to creep out in your words, and in your actions.

How often have you lied?  Or slandered someone?  Or cursed someone?  How often have bitter things come out of your mouth?  Do those kinds of things come out of a good heart?

How often have you messed up your life by your decisions?  How often have you hurt others because of your actions?

How often have you said, “I know this is what God has said, but I’m going to do things my way anyway?”

If you’re completely honest with yourself, you have to plead guilty on all charges.  And that’s what Paul tells us here.

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.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  (19-20)

When Ghandi stands before God, there’s not a word he will be able to say when God judges him.  Because God will lay out all his sins before him, things that Ghandi knows were wrong.  And he will be without excuse.  Because even when he didn’t know the Bible, his own conscience smote him.  And when he came to a knowledge of the Bible, he became even more responsible, because it showed him his sin, just as a mirror shows us the dirt on our face.

And you’ll be in the same position if you face God, having rejected Christ.

So let’s not kid ourselves by trying to convince ourselves we’re not so bad.  All of us are sinners in need of grace.  It’s better to realize and admit that now than to do so when we stand before God on judgment day.

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About bkshiroma

I'm from Hawaii, but have been in Japan as a missionary/English teacher since 1995. I'm currently going to a church called Crossroad Nishinomiya, an international church in Nishinomiya, a city right between Kobe and Osaka. Check out their website: crossroad-web.com 私がハワイから来ましたけど1995年に宣教師と英会話の教師として日本に引っ越しました。 今西宮にあるクロスロード西宮という国際の教会に行っています。どうぞ、そのホムページを見てください: crossroad-web.com
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5 Responses to Romans 3:9-20 — But I’m not that bad

  1. mzzhang says:

    I’m reading through the New Testament right now, and I think the first three gospels present a very different theology from what you’re describing. I had a blog post discussing this (https://religioustexts.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/synoptic-gospels-the-birth-teachings-and-death-of-jesus/, under “Jesus’ teachings: Eternal life”), but to summarize:

    A rich man specifically asks Jesus how he can get eternal life, and he responds with “you know the commandments”; he then lists a few commandments. If the rich man really wanted treasure in heaven, Jesus says, he should sell everything, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that people who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, etc. will get eternal life; those who neglect the least fortunate people will get eternal punishment. Nowhere in the synoptic gospels does Jesus claim that eternal life rests on believing he is the Christ; nobody in the synoptic gospels even calls him God.

    I know that John presents a very different theology, as does Paul in his letters. I’d love to hear your opinion on these differences. Why is the path to eternal life presented by the synoptic gospels less valid?

    • bkshiroma says:

      Hi. A couple of things before I answer your question. First, I glanced through your blog, and I highly recommend you engage the Christian friend you’re reading with by asking these kinds of questions. Even if he doesn’t have the answer right away, it would be good for him to do some homework and get answers from his pastor, people at church, books, or from the internet. There are a lot of good resources out there, and I can recommend some if you both are interested. More importantly, your friend is someone who knows and cares about you, and this kind of conversation is almost always better in that kind of relationship.

      Second, as you’ve noticed, I’ve blogged my way all the way from Genesis to Romans, although at a much slower rate as you have. 🙂 One of the questions you asked above is addressed in one of my blogs (the story of the rich man), and another is addressed slightly in passing. You can do a search on my blog (I would suggest book and chapter) or use the menu, and scroll down the page you get until you find the right passage. I mention this only because by doing so, you may find some answers to other questions you may have.

      To your question: I don’t think there’s such a big difference as you seem to think. I think one reason for the misunderstanding is that Jesus doesn’t fully explain the gospel of grace in the synoptic gospels. Specifically, that we are saved by grace alone apart from keeping the law, through Christ’s death on the cross. Why not? He hadn’t died yet. It would have made little sense to his apostles had he tried. Heck, they couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that he had to die and rise again though he said so straight out three times.

      Even when he see his teachings in the book of John, time and again, you see people saying, “What are you talking about?”

      But after he died and rose and again, he did explain everything to his disciples and at that point, everything made sense to them. The only problem is, we don’t have his full discourse on all he told them. (See Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). Note, however, that Luke was also the author of Acts. And in Acts, we see more clearly what Jesus must have said to them. (Acts 2:1-40, Acts 3:11-26, Acts 4:11-12, Acts 8:26-34, Acts 10:34-43, Acts 13:16-41, Acts 16:30-31).

      All this is in accordance with what we see in the epistles.

      Now to the other points. Let’s start with Matthew 25. The context is the judgment of the nations after what we call the great tribulation, a time when all the Jews will be persecuted by Antichrist. See Matthew 24:9-30. You also see this in Revelation 6:10. Notice Jesus talking about his “brothers.” In this context, talking to a bunch of Jews, as a Jew, Jesus seems to be referring not to “brothers of humanity,” but his “Jewish brothers.”

      I think it would also be fair to say that during this time of persecution, that many people claiming to be Christians will be among those persecuting the Jews. Why? Because the Antichrist will be claiming to be the true Christ. He will be performing signs and wonders much as Christ did when he was on earth. And so people will persecute the Jews under Christ’s name. The only people who will help the Jews are those who are true Christians following the true Christ. And so when judgment day comes, one of the ways that Jesus will point out the true Christians from the false is how they treated the Jews. (Not to say that he doesn’t know their hearts already, but it’s what he will point to when people claim they are Christians but are not). John talks about this kind of thing in his own epistles, though in a more general context of Christian living. (I John 2:9-11, I John 2:10, 16-18).

      So in short, Jesus isn’t teaching all who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, etc, are all going to heaven. What he’s saying is that on judgment day, the way he’s going to separate those who truly are Christians from those who aren’t is how they treated the Jews during the time of persecution.

      Concerning the rich man, I’ve addressed that here: https://bkshiroma.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/matthew-1916-26-mark-1017-27-luke-1818-27-the-impossibility-of-salvation/

      The key point of that blog (and do please read it), is that Jesus was teaching that it’s impossible for people to earn salvation by their own efforts. Only through God’s grace can we ever be saved. The only reason Jesus points to the law is to show people why they need salvation. The reason? All have sinned. There can be no doubt about that when reading Mark 10:26-27 towards the end of the story of the rich man.

      Now some homework for you.

      On what basis does Jesus tell the man on the cross that he will go to heaven in Luke 23:40-43? On the man’s good works? On his selling everything giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, etc? Or is it something else?

      Take a look at Luke 22:19-20, and Matthew 26:28. Also read Isaiah 53 and Jeremiah 31:31-34. What kind of covenant was Jesus talking about? How was it different from the old one? What does Jesus mean, “This is my body given for you?” What does Jesus mean, “this is my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins?”

      I think that if you look at all these things, you will start to see that the gospel preached in the synoptics is not at all at odds with the gospel preached in John and the epistles.

      God bless you and may you find Christ in your readings of the scripture.

      • mzzhang says:

        Thank you for the detailed response! I do try to talk to my Christian friend about these subjects, but she’s barely read any of the Bible and our conversations never get anywhere. That’s partially why I suggested we read the Bible together–so that we both get a more complete understanding of Christianity than what we hear in Sunday school or on TV.

        You say that “Jesus doesn’t fully explain the gospel of grace in the gospels” because he was still alive, but this doesn’t explain why the synoptics are so different from John. After all, Jesus is alive in pretty much all of John as well.

        I don’t think your interpretation of Matthew 25 is plausible. For one thing, none of the synoptic gospels mention the Antichrist–that word is only found in 1 and 2 John. (The gospels do mention false prophets and messiahs, but there is no mention of Christians persecuting Jews any time, anywhere.) For another, Jesus specifically says that “all the nations will be gathered” before the Son of Man (Matthew 25:32). If Jesus really meant only Christians, why did he say all nations?

        I think your interpretation of the rich man’s story is plausible: none of us are perfect, and without God (without his forgiveness? His guidance?) nobody can enter into the kingdom of God. On your blog post, you say that Jesus wanted to make this clear to the young man. But this isn’t true–he tells this to his disciples, after the man has walked away. All the young man heard is that he has to follow the commandments, and maybe sell his possessions.

        About Luke 23:40-43: Jesus never explains his reasons. The first criminal mockingly calls Jesus a messiah; the second criminal rebukes the first for being a hypocrite (“Do you not fear God? For you are under the same sentence of condemnation”), realizes that he deserves his death while Jesus doesn’t, and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into the kingdom. What do you think Jesus is rewarding him for–fearing God, recognizing his own wrongdoing, or asking Jesus to remember him?

        My final question to you: do the synoptic gospels ever say that belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God is necessary for eternal life? (This is not the same as saying that belief in God or God’s forgiveness is necessary–after all, the 613 commandments presuppose belief in the Jewish God, especially the one at Matthew 22:37)

        Thank you for your response, and for your blessing. I hope that you will eventually shift to a healthier form of Christianity, one that doesn’t view everyone with different religious beliefs as deserving of hell.

    • bkshiroma says:

      I wasn’t particularly satisfied with my previous answer to your second set of questions, so I have revised it. Hopefully, it better answers your questions.

  2. bkshiroma says:

    “You say that “Jesus doesn’t fully explain the gospel of grace in the gospels” because he was still alive, but this doesn’t explain why the synoptics are so different from John. After all, Jesus is alive in pretty much all of John as well.”

    It’s an interesting question. I think it’s because its purpose was different.

    The purpose of Matthew was to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. You see this in the genealogy that starts it, and all the quotations from the Old Testament prophets.

    The purpose of Mark was to tell the Romans about the words and life of Jesus.

    The purpose of Luke, as he wrote, was “to write an orderly account” to a man named Theophilus (or possibly to the “lovers of God”) about the life of Jesus’ and words, much as Mark’s was.

    John’s however, goes further, in terms of purpose. He said, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31).

    In other words, John doesn’t just want to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. He doesn’t want to just talk about his life. He wanted to bring people to the point that they would put their faith in Jesus as God’s Son, and in believing, find life. That’s why you see more specific statements and stories of Jesus that bring these truths out even more.

    That’s one reason.

    I can give you two other answers, one speculative and one definitive. In terms of specifically saying, “You are saved by grace through faith, not by keeping the law but through my death on the cross,” even in John, you really see this spelled out (to a degree) only once, and that’s in chapter 3.

    Here he first talks about being born again, and in doing so, you see that salvation is not by our works. We need to be made completely new, and that this work is done by the Spirit of God (that’s what he means by “born of the Spirit.”) You see more of what this means in the homework I gave you concerning communion and the New Covenant, particularly in the Jeremiah passage.

    Nicodemus, however, didn’t understand this, so Jesus pointed to a story in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). In it, the Israelites rebelled against God, and were bitten my snakes. When Moses interceded for them, God told him to put up a bronze snake and anyone who would look up to it would be saved. So here we see, the Israelites didn’t have to do good works to make up for their bad ones. They simply had to trust God’s word that if they looked to the bronze snake they would be healed.

    Jesus then said, in the same way, he would have to be lifted up (on a cross) and if people will put their trust in God, and look to Jesus’ work on the cross for us, they will be saved.

    Jesus gives more detail on the whole gospel here than anywhere else in the four gospels, perhaps because Nicodemus was a teacher of the people, well versed in the Old Testament scripture. Yet even as a teacher of the people, he had trouble grasping what Jesus was trying to say.

    This is pure speculation (my first answer to your question), but it is perhaps because Jesus knew the people wouldn’t be able to grasp it, he no longer tried to explain in detail why he had to die and merely focused on the need for people to put their faith in him in order to have eternal life. (The incident with Nicodemus was very early in his ministry). Even in telling his disciples that he had to die, he never really explained why until after his death.

    The closest he came to it was in Mark 10:45, where he said he would have to die as a ransom for many, the communion passages, where he said he was giving his body and blood for our forgiveness, and in John 10:11-15. I think the last place he addresses it is in John 12:32-36. Even there he was vague, and again, the people couldn’t figure out what he was saying, so basically he just told them, put your faith in me (“Believe in the light [that is, me] while you have it).

    Nevertheless, and this is my second answer, you see hints of the gospel of grace throughout the synoptic gospels, in his interaction with the rich man for one (I’ll get back to that in a moment). Also in the communion passages as I mentioned before.

    We see also the ideas of grace apart from works in his teachings in Luke 18:9-14 and Luke 15:11-32.

    We also see it on the cross and his interaction in the thief.

    You said, “About Luke 23:40-43: Jesus never explains his reasons. The first criminal mockingly calls Jesus a messiah; the second criminal rebukes the first for being a hypocrite (“Do you not fear God? For you are under the same sentence of condemnation”), realizes that he deserves his death while Jesus doesn’t, and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into the kingdom. What do you think Jesus is rewarding him for–fearing God, recognizing his own wrongdoing, or asking Jesus to remember him?”

    My point here is that Jesus did not say, “Sorry. Too late. According to my gospel, you need to keep the law, give to the poor, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. It’s too late for you to do all that. You’re lost.” If what you said is true concerning Jesus’ gospel, that’s exactly what he should have said.

    Instead he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Why? Because the man put his faith in Jesus. Remember the man said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into YOUR kingdom.” Essentially, he’s saying here, “Jesus I believe in you. I believe that you are the Messiah. Will you now accept me?” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

    Completely in line with Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul says,

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.

    Further, at his death on the cross, we see the gospel. In John (Yes, I know it’s not a synoptic. Bear with me.), as Jesus dies, one of his last words is, “It is finished.” The Greek word for that has among other meanings, “Paid in full.” It was the word used when people paid their taxes, and was stamped on their documents. Jesus was saying, “Through my death, I have paid in full the debt of sin people owed.”

    Why do I say that? Because we see in Matthew 27:51 that when he died, the curtain in the temple split in two. Why does Matthew mention that? The curtain hung between the Holy Place and Most Holy place. In the Most Holy place was the Ark of the covenant which represented the presence of God (remember Indiana Jones)? Only the high priest could go in the Most Holy Place and only once a year. But when Jesus died, that curtain was torn it two. God was showing that by Christ’s death, the barrier that hung between God and us because of our sins was torn in two. Now we can have a close relationship with God.

    Finally, as I pointed out in Luke, Jesus did after his death explain in detail the gospel in its fullness. In the book of Acts, we see exactly what he told them, through the preaching of the apostles.

    So the most important answer to your question is, don’t merely look at Acts as a separate book to Luke. It really is a continuation of it, and you see the gospel pretty much spelled out there as Jesus gave it to them in Luke 24:25-27 and verses 44-47.

    But even without Acts, we see in the synoptics that we are not saved by law because none of keep the law (the rich young man). We see that we are saved only by grace, and only by putting our faith in Jesus (the thief on the cross). And the reason we can be forgiven is because of his death on the cross (the tearing of the curtain).

    It’s all there. It’s just not spelled out in so many letters as it is in the epistles.

    “I don’t think your interpretation of Matthew 25 is plausible. For one thing, none of the synoptic gospels mention the Antichrist–that word is only found in 1 and 2 John. (The gospels do mention false prophets and messiahs, but there is no mention of Christians persecuting Jews any time, anywhere.) For another, Jesus specifically says that “all the nations will be gathered” before the Son of Man (Matthew 25:32). If Jesus really meant only Christians, why did he say all nations?”

    As for this passage, look carefully once more at what I said. I didn’t say that Christians would persecute the Jews. I said that people claiming to be Christians would, or at the very least, would not help the Jews during their time of persecution. And again, the reason I said that was that though we call this man “Antichrist,” he will actually call himself “Christ.” To be clear, ANY false Messiah is an antichrist. But this will all come to a head when the final false Messiah (antichrist appears) and deceives the nations. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 24:15. The reference he makes is from Daniel 9, where it talks about a “ruler” who will come that will desecrate the temple of God in Jerusalem (something that can’t happen yet because there is none — trust me though, there will be). And Jesus told them, when he comes, flee. Why? Because of the persecution that will come (24:9).

    At any rate, all the nations will be gathered. Those “Christians” who followed the false Christ, and the true Christians who followed the true Christ will all be there at that time. I will be honest, it’s a very complicated prophesy. It’s a lot to digest, and you’d have to study a lot more to fully understand it (Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation). Honestly, so do I. 😉

    “I think your interpretation of the rich man’s story is plausible: none of us are perfect, and without God (without his forgiveness? His guidance?) nobody can enter into the kingdom of God. On your blog post, you say that Jesus wanted to make this clear to the young man. But this isn’t true–he tells this to his disciples, after the man has walked away. All the young man heard is that he has to follow the commandments, and maybe sell his possessions.”

    What Jesus made clear to this man was that he was a sinner, something that he couldn’t admit previously. The young man’s did recognize this in the end. His problem was that he failed to take the next step and say, “I can’t keep the commandments perfectly. How then can I be saved?” Instead he walked away.

    The disciples did ask, and received Jesus’ answer.

    “My final question to you: do the synoptic gospels ever say that belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God is necessary for eternal life? (This is not the same as saying that belief in God or God’s forgiveness is necessary–after all, the 613 commandments presuppose belief in the Jewish God, especially the one at Matthew 22:37)”

    Specifically spelled out, again, the answer is no.

    But two points. First, throughout the synoptic gospels, the importance of putting your faith in Jesus was clearly taught throughout. It was the faith that people showed in him that he praised above all else. The main question is, what did they believe? Simply that Jesus could heal? I doubt it. I believe that these people actually believed he was the Messiah. (Matthew 9:27, Matthew 12:23, Matthew 15:22, and Matthew 20:31 for instance), And Jesus challenged them to consider that the Messiah was God himself. (Mark 12:35-37)

    You also see that in his discourse with the rich young man, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” And you see this in another discourse when he healed a paralytic in Mark 2. He said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees said, “He’s blaspheming, only God can forgive sins.” So what does Jesus say? “You’re saying only God can forgive sins? You’re right. Now let me prove that I can make that claim by healing this man.” And he did.

    Second, as I mentioned before, it’s clearly implied that this is what Jesus taught after his resurrection. And if you consider the book of Acts as a continuation of the book of Luke as I do, and if you are willing to accept that what Jesus told the disciples on the way to Emmaus and the other disciples in the upper room is the same thing they preached in Acts, then the answer to your question is yes, definitely. If for whatever reason, you think they changed what he preached, then you’d have to say no. I see no reason to doubt it. For one thing, Luke wrote both books; for another, the gospel matches what the prophets in the Old Testament said had to happen.

    My prayer is that the day will come when you will see the gospel for what it really is…amazing grace to people like you and me who are totally undeserving of it.

    God bless.

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