Our Only Hope

Closing trial arguments are critical—especially for the prosecution. They answer objections. They summarize and present compelling evidence. They establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, they argue for a guilty verdict and just sentence. 

Romans chapter three flows like that. The Apostle Paul is presenting his closing arguments. He is proving beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of all of mankind—both religious and irreligious. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.  

This chapter may be one of the most important in all of Scripture. Lay it beside Genesis 3 and you’ll get a commentary on the ramifications of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God—what it means for the rest of us. This is life on a cursed planet, in a fallen body, with corrupt hearts. It makes for somber reading. But Paul has a purpose in mind. Before you cling to the good news of the gospel, you need to feel the bad news. You need to face your desperation and be confronted with your true condition. Only then will you cry out for rescue.  

After addressing some objections in the opening paragraph, Paul proceeds to lay out one of the most powerful proofs of what theologians have called total depravity. Sin has corrupted our character, our conversation, and our conduct. We have fallen natures, minds, wills, motives, and emotions. Sin has completely ruined us.

Perhaps the most gripping—and possibly offensive—verses are 12 and 16 where Paul says of humans “they have become worthless,” and “in their paths are ruin and misery.” That’s hard to read but impossible to deny. Apart from the restoration of Jesus Christ, humans are worthless, ruined, and miserable. That’s Paul’s comprehensive evaluation. It’s a spiritual check-up that’s straight from God. 

Our condition is…very bad. We’re in trouble. There’s no denying it. It’s stunning to consider how accurately the Bible assesses the universal human condition. No matter where you visit or what historical timeline you study, the list in Romans 3 is applicable to every individual and group: Unfaithfulness. Deceit. Slander. Greed. Anger. Hate. We don’t tell the truth. We don’t keep our promises. We crave attention. We glorify violence. We vilify our enemies. The Bible does not exaggerate.

It's not improvement we need. Education won’t help us. Role models, more time, better conditions, or a nicer environment are not answers. We already had a perfect environment in Eden and still fell. We don’t need an example. We need a savior.  

No amount of penance will save us. Our crimes are irreparable. We can’t make amends. The only right response is to shut our mouths and agree with God. We’re guilty. The charges are accurate. The verdict is just. We deserve punishment. That’s why Paul follows his spiritual evaluation with this: 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. —Romans 3:19–20 

The Law has spoken. That’s the standard. We tend to think in terms of good vs. bad instead of perfect vs. imperfect. But the Hitlers, Mansons and Bundys of history don’t make us look any better than a poor swimmer who drowned makes an expert swimmer who drowned look less dead. Both have lungs filled with water instead of air. Neither has a pulse. Neither are alive. The ground is equal at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  

We may protest:  “Come on! I’m a nice guy! I help old ladies across the street. I leave big tips. I work hard. I rescue pets. I recycle, for crying out loud!” But the law is not a checklist we keep. It’s is a benchmark we fail—all of us.   

The Russian poet Turgenev said, “I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible.”   

Sure, we’re nice people. But our problem is, we’re nice, evil people. Jesus once looked at his closest followers and said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” Jaw dropping, isn’t it? Evil parents can do good things, like give a birthday present to a child. But what they cannot do is obey God perfectly. Only one did that.  

Ray Comfort is a native New Zealander with a gift of talking to unbelievers about their law-breaking and need for Jesus. His winsomeness, natural charisma, and charming accent have gained him a hearing with scores of people. He films evangelistic encounters and teaches people a method of evangelism called “The Way of the Master.” That approach would go something like this: 

Do you think you’re a good person? YES. 

Would you mind if I asked you a few questions? SURE. 

Have you heard of the Ten Commandments? YES. 

Have you kept them? SURE.

Can I give you a test? OKAY. 

Have you ever told a lie? OF COURSE. 

Have you ever stole anything? ONCE. 

Have you ever looked at a woman not your wife and lusted? HAVEN’T WE ALL? 

Have you ever loved anything or anyone more than God? I HAVE.  

Have you ever used the Lord’s name in vain? SEVERAL TIMES. 

Sir, we’ve only covered 5 of the commandments and you’ve already admitted that you are a lying, thieving, adulterous, idolatrous, blasphemer. Do you still think you’re a good person? If so, whose grade book are you using. You’re certainly not taking God’s standard of the Law serious. According to God’s report card, you failed.  You’re guilty. 

It’s a sobering approach and I’ve used it on occasion when encountering proud, stubborn people who protest their own righteousness. We’ve all fallen short. We’ve all missed the mark. We’re all hopeless…or are we? Suddenly, Paul changes the conversation in what is one of the most shocking statements in the Bible: 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. —Romans 3:21–24

For the first time in history, an unheard of approach to God has been “manifested.” A a perfect record Paul calls “the righteousness of God” is given to us through Jesus Christ. His righteous life is ours through faith—not through effort, sweat, or work. It’s a free gift. No other person can offer us this; certainly no court in the world can.   

This is one of the biggest transitions in the whole Bible, and the best news in the world. God is going to change us, but it’s not going to be by the law.

All it takes is belief. You agree with what God has said about your disease. You believe what God has said about the cure. You believe the Gospel. You trust in Christ alone. 

What an offer! Martin Luther once said, “If I were God, and the world treated me as it treated him, I'd kick the wretched thing to pieces.” He’s right. We’d kick it to pieces, but God restores it. We toss out, burn, or delete “ruined” and “worthless” things. But God redeems and restores them. He gets more glory that way.   

But the only way that can happen is for His Son, Jesus Christ, to be sent into the world, live a righteous live, and die in our place—to be kicked to pieces. That’s stunning. That’s shocking. And that’s beautiful. That’s why it’s such good news.  

God kicked Jesus to pieces so you and I could be restored. That may make you angry. But I pray it makes you grateful. That’s God’s purpose: a grateful throng surrounding the throne of the Lamb in heaven singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”