I don’t think I can go on in this passage without addressing at least one major objection, that being, “Isn’t Paul exaggerating a bit here? I mean…no one seeks God? I know many people that are seeking God. And no one does good? I know lots of people who do good things.”
Let’s take both questions one at a time.
What does Paul mean that no one seeks God? We find the answer back in Romans 1, where Paul tells us that people rejected the knowledge God gave them concerning himself, whether it was the witness of creation, the witness of their consciences, or the witness of God’s written Word.
Instead, they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and while they said they were seeking God, they were following after things that were not gods at all (1:25).
In some cases, they followed idols. In other cases, they corrupted scripture’s teaching of God and started following a different Jesus Christ, a different gospel, and a different Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 11:4).
“But I’m a Christian. I don’t belong to a cult or another religion. I started seeking after God and he saved me.”
That may be true. But it’s only an incomplete picture of what really happened to you. You see, long before you chose Jesus, he chose you. (John 15:16)
Long before you started seeking him, he was seeking you. (Luke 19:10)
The only reason you started seeking God was because he loved you first and started seeking you. He took the blinders off so that you could see your need for him and start going after him. But had God left you to your own devices, there is no way you would have ever started to go after him. No one seeks God on their own. They seek God because he touches their lives first. And if you take a careful look at your life, you will come to realize just how he did that.
What then does Paul mean when he says there is no one who does good? Let’s put it this way. Imagine you make a cake, but instead of using sugar, you intentionally put in salt. When it’s done, the cake looks good on the outside, but is it edible? No. The only thing you can do is throw it out.
That’s what our “good works” are like when we have turned our backs on God. Doing “good works” when all the while, you’re salting them with an attitude of rebellion against God makes those deeds worthless in his eyes. Your works may look good, but your attitude of rebellion against God makes it impossible for him to accept them.
The prophet Isaiah puts it this way,
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
In short, no one is saved because of the good things they do or because of some inner goodness within them that sets them apart from other people. We can only be saved by God’s grace alone, and we’ll see that more as we go along.