Every Mouth Stopped
Please turn in your pew bibles to Romans 3 and follow along as I read verses 19-20.
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
When I was in High School, I remember one semester that I was taking a course in World History. My best friend at the time was a kid named Larry Vaughn. Larry was also taking that same course, but he was not doing very well. We were coming down to final exams, and Larry needed a good grade on the final to pass the course. If he did not pass, he would have to go to summer school, which was definitely not something he wanted to do.
Two days before final exams he met me in the hall. He looked nervously from side to side, and pulled me over into a corner. He had a kind of a smile on his face as he opened his notebook.
He showed me the history final exam, with answers. Somehow, Larry had broken into the history teacher’s desk, and found the final. He had copied it, and put everything back, so that he had a copy and no one knew about it.
I was stunned. I could not believe he would take that kind of risk, but he had done it, and he was going to use this stolen exam, and he also offered it to his best friend, to me.
Now I did not need the exam. I am one of those people that always found history a snap. I already had an “A” in the course. If I failed the final the lowest I could get was a “B,” and it was really unlikely that I would fail. So I did not have anything to gain by cheating.
But what was I to do? Larry was offering me the test. What should I do? You might say that I should have refused the offer and told the teacher about the theft of the exam. But I would never tattle on a friend, and Larry knew that, of course. You might say that I should have said to him, “You ought to tear that test up and just study and take your chances.” I did not say that, because I knew that having gone to all the trouble to steal the test, he was going to use the test. You might say that I ought to have said, “Larry, if you want to use that test, OK, but I am not going to use it.” That is the very least I should have said, but I did not say that. With shame, I confess that I took the stolen test and I cheated on the final.
I made a100 on the final. I make an “A” in the course. I cheated. It was so unnecessary. I did not need to cheat, but I did it anyway. Why?
I guess I did it because it was so easy. Larry had already taken all the risks. He stole the test, and he offered me the results of his thievery for nothing. Of course, that does not in any way justify what I did. Just because something is easy does not make it right. I knew that at the time. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. And neither Larry nor I ever got caught.
After High School, Larry went into the navy. He was killed in an accident on board an aircraft carrier. So, I suppose he long ago ceased to care about world history grades, and now I am the only one who remembers that stolen test.
I no longer condemn Larry for what he did. The only condemnation I have left today is for myself. I wish I had been a better person that day. I wish I had not succumbed so easily to temptation. But the fact is that the pit of temptation yawned before me, and I jumped right in. I did not hesitate. I did not have any moral struggle. I did it. I committed a sin against God.
Now I had forgotten that stolen test until Tuesday of this week (August 22, 2006) when I was reading an article on cheating in the Rock Hill Herald. The article talked about athletes cheating on drug tests, mentioning specifically Marion Jones and Floyd Landis. Then the article said that when we talk about other people cheating, most folks adopt a high moral tone, a holier-than-thou attitude. In this, most folks are hypocrites. There have been a number of studies on this subject, and all the studies show that given the chance, when they feel that there is little possibility of getting caught, most people cheat. Most people bend the rules a little bit when it is convenient. Most people in these studies admit to telling lies regularly, but they say their lies are harmless.
It is a characteristic of a human being that each of us considers our personal sins to be harmless. If I cheated on the test, that is OK, it was a minor sin. If I told a lie, that is OK, it was just a little lie. But if someone else cheated or lied, particularly if their deed made the newspapers, It was a black horrible day for humankind. If Marion Jones or Floyd Landis took illegal performance enhancing drugs, that is awful, crucify them. But if its my sin we are talking about, that is different, forget about it.
In fact, studies show that human beings have an amazing capacity to forget personal sin. As I said earlier, I had forgotten that history final. That is not unusual. Psychologists tell us that we are so good at rationalizing our sins, that we can convince ourselves that whatever happened must have happened in such a way that we didn’t actually do much of anything wrong. We do this all the time. We are very good at explaining away our sins. So you can see then that when it comes to dealing with personal sin, human beings are thoroughly untrustworthy. The way we deal with our sins is itself a sin.
This is the problem that the Apostle Paul is talking about in Romans chapter 3. We are guilty sinners, all of us. We may sometimes obey the laws of God and man, but at other times we do not obey. Thus, our occasional obedience goes for naught and, as the Apostle Paul says, no one can be justified by deeds of the Law. By the law, Paul means the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.
Paul would admit that if we perfectly kept the Torah, we would be pleasing unto God. Perfect means flawless and faultless, totally without flaw, totally without fault. If we were absolutely perfect in our keeping of the law, if we never committed any sin in word, deed, or thought, we would be saved by keeping the law, but no one has that kind of sinless perfection, and so we are all condemned, both Jew and Gentile alike.
Now the Jews had always taught that the Gentiles were condemned, and they would have agreed heartily with that part of the apostle1s doctrine, but it was a great shock to them to find themselves classified right along side every one else. They thought they were better than other people. After all they had the covenant, they practiced circumcision. Surely they were pure and holy. It was, therefore, strange doctrine to them to hear that they were unclean in God's sight. But the Apostle Paul emphasizes this in Romans 3:9 saying, "What then are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin." And to further make his point, he cites certain passages of the Old Testament. In Romans 3:10-12, he paraphrases verses from Psalms 14 and 53: "There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one."
In vs 19-20, Paul summarizes his case against humankind, against us, against you and me. He says, the Law holds everyone accountable before God.
Go back to that World History final again. I have said that I knew that what I did was wrong. How did I know? Because I knew right from wrong. In Paul’s terms, I knew the law and the law told me I was wrong. That is the function of the law. That is why Paul writes in v20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
We know the laws of God. We know what we ought to do, but we do not do it, and thus the law condemns us. The law does not justify us before God. It has just the opposite effect. It condemns us and shuts us up in our wickedness, so that "every mouth may be stopped."
What does it mean to have our mouths stopped? We are so jarred and jolted and startled and shocked that we cannot speak.
Picture this: A woman is on trial for murder. Evidence is being presented for and against her, but she thinks things are going pretty well. She takes the stand to testify in her own behalf. She thinks she is doing a pretty good job of it, and suddenly the prosecuting attorney presents irrefutable evidence of her guilt. What is her reaction? Her mouth drops open, her muscles freeze, she catches her breath—she is dumbfounded.
Paul says that is the first step in salvation. We stand dumbfounded before the tribunal of God, realizing that we have no defense for our sins. We stand dumbfounded before the court of God realizing that we can no longer rationalize our sins and that we deserve whatever punishment that God chooses to give us.
Let us be blunt and ugly here, we deserve to go to hell. We deserve eternal punishment, everyone of us, and that includes me, not just those other sinners.
Now most people, when they begin to understand the unpleasant truth that I am talking about here, start to make resolutions. They say, “All right God, I know I have been a sinner. If you will forgive me, I will be better in the future.” That never works. In the future, they may give up some sins, but they will find others.
Every January 1, we talk about making New Year’s resolutions. We break most of those resolutions on January 2. what is my point? No matter what resolutions we make about doing better, we are still sinners who deserve eternal damnation.
What are we going to do about that? The fact is there is nothing we can do about it. No matter how much we struggle and wiggle and rationalize we are still damned sinners. There are no human answers for our problem. We can do nothing to save ourselves from the just wrath of holy God. Nothing we do is deserving of salvation. That is the bad news. The good news is that God saves us anyway. The whole human race deserved to go to hell. That is Paul’s point in Romans 3. The entire human species deserved damnation, but God in his mercy decided to save some. The saved are called the elect because God elected them for salvation. So no one saves themselves, only God saves. Which leads us to the next question: How do we know the elect? How do I know that I am saved? God has given us assurance on this all important question. The elect are those who believe in Jesus Christ.
When we accept Christ as our savior, God attributes his righteousness to us and pardons every sin and remits all punishment so that we are truly and completely saved. Believe on Jesus then for your salvation. Nothing else will help. Nothing else will do any good. Only Jesus saves. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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