Commentary by Walter Albritton

March 6, 2005


There is No One Who is Righteous


Romans 1:16-20; 3:9-20


Key Verse: There is no one who is righteous, not even one. – Romans 3:10

In every age, in every culture, there have been people who thought of themselves as “good” people. Generally such people come to this conclusion by comparing themselves to those who are morally corrupt and shameless about their wickedness.

The “good” people are proud to say that they obey the law and mind their own business. They are not guilty of murder, adultery, stealing, lying, or drunkenness. They are good citizens who respect the flag and always remove their hats when the national anthem is played. They live in good neighborhoods, keep neat lawns, and donate to United Way. Their children behave and do well in school.

As any preacher will admit, it is extremely difficult to persuade these “good” people that they are sinners. Call them sinners and the reply goes like this: “Why do I need to repent? I do not beat my wife. I do not get drunk on Saturday night. I do not covet my neighbor’s wife. I live by the Golden Rule. I go to church when I can and I always put a few dollars in the plate. I work hard and I believe anyone who wants to work can find a job. So what I have I done to feel guilty about?”

Good people are proud of their goodness! They are not usually looking for an altar where they can confess their sins and get right with God. They may even suppose that God is fortunate to have them on “his side.” Such self-righteousness can become a hard shell that is difficult to penetrate.

Rome must have had its share of “good” people in the first century. Paul must have found some of them within the body of believers in Rome. Some of the Jews still felt they could please God by keeping the laws of Moses. So he reminded them that they, and all people, were “under the power of sin.” His words are crystal clear: all have sinned and “there is no one who is righteous, not even one.”

Roman society in Paul’s day was much like our own today in America. Everywhere people were worshipping at the altars of pleasure, money, power, and sexual immorality. Violence, greed, and corruption were rampant. That aptly describes our modern culture.

Paul realized that for the church at Rome to fulfill God’s mission the Christians had to understand and embrace the basics of the gospel. All have sinned. No one is righteous. All are in need of God’s mercy. God offers his mercy. Our only hope of salvation is the gospel for “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” It was this gospel that Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to proclaim to all people, both Jews and Greeks.

While God offers us all mercy, we often offer one another judgment. Our reluctance to offer mercy to others results in conflicts both in our churches as well as our communities. God wants us to live in peace and harmony but that will never happen until we learn how to be merciful rather than judgmental toward others.

It is surely true that some people will never believe that God loves them until they experience being loved by a fellow human being. People who are loved despite their sinfulness can begin to believe that God also loves them in spite of their shortcomings. In the same way, the unsaved may never believe the gospel until they see “good” people admit that they too can be saved only by God’s mercy, not their goodness.

Consider also that people on the fringe of faith can be persuaded to surrender fully to Jesus when they see Christians practicing the faith. How do we practice the faith? By forgiving those who have hurt us! By not condemning others! By accepting in love those with whom we have had a disagreement! By refusing to let our petty differences divide us and weaken the fellowship of the Body of Christ! By making peace instead of enemies!

None of us can be saved by our goodness. The gospel is not about goodness. It is about mercy, God’s mercy offered to anyone who will trust Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation. Does this mean goodness has no value? No, it simply means that goodness cannot save us. Whatever goodness we can achieve will be always less than perfect. It can, however, demonstrate our gratitude for the mercy we did not deserve, and can never earn. Goodness honors God but it can never merit God’s salvation, else Christ died in vain.

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