3:16 – The Rest of the Story – The Human Condition 5: Romans

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition (Current location of study)
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

“in their paths are ruin and misery,”Romans 3:16

This is the final study in the first part of this series on the 3:16 verses in the Bible. We’ve been looking at what the Bible says about the human condition. This week’s verse from Romans provides a fitting summary of where things lie in the Biblical view of the human condition.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul addresses believers in the city of Rome to encourage them and provide them with foundational doctrinal teaching as well as to communicate his plans and desire to come to visit them and use their city as the launch point for a missionary journey to Spain. Early on he makes the point about the sinful condition of all the human race. Specifically in Chapter 3 he is speaking about the claims of some Jews that they are God’s chosen people and therefore have special advantages and access to God’s blessings. Paul acknowledges that the Jews were originally “entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:2)” But jumping down then to verse 9 and beyond, he picks up with the answer to the question he posed in verse 1 – “What advantage has the Jew?” – to which he quotes from the Scriptures to provide that answer.

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

These verses are loosely quoted from Psalm 14:1-3. Notice the universal (to humanity) language: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Paul is using this passage to drive home the point that there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles – all are included in their rejection of God’s ways.

Paul continues on with another set of Scriptures.
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

These verses are quoted from Psalm 5:9 (For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue), Psalm 140:3 (They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps), and Psalm 10:7 (His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity). The common theme, of course, is the deception of human speech in making false claims of self-righteousness, curses and hatred.

The next three verses (which includes this week’s 3:16 verse) are from a single passage in Isaiah.

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

Isaiah 59:7-8 says “Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” Again, there is a theme through this passage using the words feet, paths, and way. Where the previous verses focused on speech (e.g. attitude and words), these verses focus on action. Both the speech and action of humanity, left to its own devices, is in opposition to the holiness and righteousness of God.

Paul wraps up his string of quotes with this:
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This one comes from Psalm 36:1 – “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

I want you to notice how masterfully Paul has captured the sense of the Scriptures. He has woven multiple texts together to form one cogent thought. The natural trajectory of the human race is toward destruction.

Now look specifically at that 3:16 verse:

“in their paths are ruin and misery,”Romans 3:16

There are three things I want you to think about in relation to this verse.

  1. The natural path of human rebellion leads to personal ruin and misery. There is a well known (and accurate) explanation about the gospel (one version of which is on the Navigators website). In the beginning, humans were designed in God’s image to live in fellowship with him. Unfortunately, the first humans, and every human since, chose to rebel (sin) against God and forced a gulf of separation between our sin and God’s holiness. We cannot bridge that gulf (e.g. become completely holy) with any effort of our own. We are stuck on the path of ruin and misery. However, Jesus’s sinless life and willing sacrificial death on our behalf (because our sin deserves it) provided a “bridge” across that gulf of separation by allowing us to claim his holiness and perfection and cross into the presence of God. However, we must believe in the sufficiency of His sacrifice and willingly receive this provision of holiness from Him (John 1:12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God).
  2. The natural path of human rebellion is to lead others in the path of ruin and misery. The Bible is very clear that sin does not exist in a vacuum. Paul explained this very well in the first chapter of Romans (verses 18-32). Notice the progression of sin. I’ve bolded a few phrases for emphasis. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
  3. The natural path of human rebellion is to bring about ruin and misery. Part of the original curse upon the world when humans chose to rebel against God was “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Genesis 3:17)” I’ll be examining more about this passage next week, but for now suffice it to say that it is because of sin that our relationship with our environment is flawed. Paul addresses this in Romans as well when he states in Romans 8:19-23, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” As much as we’d like to think we can fix all the problems we’ve caused environmentally, we need to first understand that the root cause of the problem is fundamentally sinfulness and until Jesus returns and completely eradicates sin, the world is doomed to destruction. I’m not being fatalistic here, just acknowledging reality.

The human condition is that we and the world we live in are filled with sin and rebellion. We have ZERO ability to do anything about it ourselves. Paul finishes his argument in this passage with the following two verses.

19 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. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

God’s law was given to us, not to make us holy, but to prove to us that we are unable by ourselves to become holy enough to have fellowship with God. Hence the gulf that I spoke of earlier in this article. But Paul doesn’t leave us without any hope. The rest of Romans, and the essence of the gospel, is that Jesus is our hope. He is the means by which God provided us an escape from our sinfulness. He is God’s plan from the beginning.

And that is where we’ll pick up next week with our 3:16 study – God’s Revelation of His Plan!

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