Sin-talk. Mostly reserved for Sundays. It left ordinary conversation with the Enlightenment–a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were synthesized into a worldview that gained wide assent in the West and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness–https://www.britannica.com/event/Enlightenment-European-history.
In Romans 3:9-20 Paul paints the final dark strokes of his picture of God’s wrath. Why God’s wrath? He explains and, therefore, the reason for the gospel. Further, he insists “that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin”. To prove his concluding points, Paul cites a catalogue of verses from his (Old Testament) Bible . . .
“What shall we conclude then? Are we [Jews] any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (Romans 3:9)
Despite being entrusted with God’s very words, Jews are no better off. All humanity is “under sin”. Paul sees sin as a power that dominates all humans since the Fall. No one is free from it.
“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’” (Romans 3:10-12).
“As it is written” claims the words that follow are authoritative. Paul cites Psalm 14 and virtually repeats himself citing Psalm 53 . . .
“They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1b-3).
“They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:1b-3).
No one possesses a personal, moral righteousness enabling him/her to stand before the holy God. No one is able to comprehend his personal unrighteousness before God; unrighteousness has corrupted his moral thinking. And no one is searching after God. Instead, they have turned away and become depraved. This doesn’t mean that every human commits acts of what we would call moral depravity (few are as evil as they could be); it means every aspect of our being is morally depraved because we all have turned away from seeking after God. Not one of us does what God’s law says is good.
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:13-18).
Citing Psalm 9:5, Paul says every person’s throat is like an open grave from which deceitful speech gushes. Citing Psalm 140:3, Paul claims their words, like poisonous snakes, are aimed to destroy. Their words curse God and man. Vile speech overflows their mouths.
Paul next turns to Isaiah 59:7,8 where the LORD condemns Israel. Paul applies it to all humans. They are violent in words and acts. Theologian Karl Barth, writing near the end of World War 1 commented, “The whole course of human history pronounces this indictment against itself.”
Finally, Paul cites Psalm 36:1—“There is no fear of God before their eyes”. No awe. No trembling. No sense of responsibility or accountability. Instead, a brazen presumption that God will not judge.
“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” (Romans 3:19,20).
Jews condemn Gentiles. But Paul reminds Jews that God’s law speaks to those under it; they can no longer boast of their righteousness. Their lawbreaking silences their arrogant tongues. God’s law sharply confronts their sin. It holds the whole world accountable to him.
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Before the Enlightenment, people in the West believed in God as they believed in the sunrise. But the Enlightenment changed that. It elevated rational thinking. That is, what made sense to the human mind, what was logically based on fact, won the day. Scientific studies (man isn’t the center of the universe), geological discoveries (earth is much older than the Bible suggests) and even the Protestant Reformation (wars within the church undercut its authority) all contributed to throwing off traditional beliefs in favor of human experience and what the human mind could understand.
New scientific discoveries led to an “unprecedented optimism” based on confidence that man could “shape his material and social environment and this led man to assume that he was “to a great extent the master of his own destiny” ( https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/).
Enlightenment thoughts still permeate ours. But over 30 major wars in the 20th century may have shaken our confidence that man is “the master of his own destiny”. Nevertheless, the assumption that we can shape our material and social environment remains. And all the while we are storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).
That doesn’t compute with the rational mind. Remember: the rational mind, however intelligent, is corrupted. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened . . . ” (Romans 1:21).
We are (graciously) called to believe what the fallen human mind deems irrational–that we’re all under the power of sin, that no one seeks God, that all have turned away from him, that not even one does good, that the day of God’s wrath is coming . . .
and that God has revealed his righteousness in the gospel
to powerfully save all who trust in his grace in Christ Jesus.
*Note: Interested in a good summary of Enlightenment thought and its effect? Go to https://probe.org/the-enlightenment-and-belief-in-god/