For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: "There is none righteous, no not one…there is none who does good, no, not one."…Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:9–20—NKJV)

A more startling biblical text would be hard to find. Paul is setting about the task of defining the fact that all men, without exception, stand condemned by the perfect law of the Lord. Some have called this passage in its entirety “The Sinner’s Snapshot.” All men, past, present, and future, are “under” sin (sin-laden and guilt-burdened).

A cursory reading of the passage amply removes any doubt about God’s view of all men in their natural-born state. The kindest and nicest among us is inextricably indicted alongside the most vile sinner. It is altogether fitting that all men read this passage with a desire to remember and to learn. Whether born again and covered by the benefits of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, or whether unrepentant, all men must take the time to see themselves through the eyes of the Holy God.

Verse 10 sounds forth with authority, “It stands written and now is on record” that there is not one who is righteous. Three times in this single verse you hear God’s honest appraisal of your standing before Him. None is righteous, no, not one. I do believe that includes you and includes me. Isaiah 64:6 states, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Four facts about every man’s fallen nature are listed in verses 11ff. Many men are valiant in their efforts to gain spiritual standing but, before the perfection of God, each man’s self-efforts at righteousness are wholly inadequate to solve his own spiritual death and blindness because of sin. Man is spiritually ignorant for no one understands (to pull together and embracingly grasp) righteousness. Man is spiritually indifferent for no one seeks after (to crave, desire, investigate and to mount a determined search for) God. Biblically speaking, the True God seeks man out because it is impossible for man to seek God out. Man is spiritually crooked for they have all turned aside (to lean out, to deviate) from the way of the righteous. Man is also spiritually unprofitable (unserviceable, to render useless) for righteousness—gone bad like spoiled milk poured into your morning cereal. The conclusion: There is no one who habitually does good; no, not so much as even one!

Paul vividly illustrates every man’s total depravity with depictions of sin-nature eruptions of which we all have very personal memories. No matter how much we may wish to whitewash with the “milk of human kindness,” there lurks within each of us the nature of Satan. When left to yourself you find that from within you reeks forth the stench of the tomb, from your lips the coiled poison of the cobra, and from your mouth malediction and imprecation. Your life path is littered with the blood of others; grinding destruction (to rub together, crush and scatter) and afflicting hardship follow in your wake; and true, settled, and long-lived tranquility is an unknown experience, for there is no fear (right estimation) of God before your sin-jaded eyes (verses 13–18).

After reading and understanding the doctrine of total depravity of man, it is certain that there is no room for self-righteousness, hypocritical judgmentalism, and self-satisfying superiority. The commission of one “little,” “innocent” sin is enough to condemn each and every one of us to Hell. You need God’s saving grace applied to your life. Thank God if He has invaded your life and granted you forgiveness and new birth through faith in the finished Calvary work of His dear Son. Recognize that if anything good has proceeded from your life (though you may see it as good upbringing, good thinking, or a tender spirit), its root arises solely from God’s goodness. Trust and obey.