by John MacArthur Monday, August 3, 2020
A legal arraignment is where the accused is brought to court to answer formal charges. And that is what the apostle Paul did with all of humanity—all of us—in the third chapter of his epistle to the Romans. At this trial, the whole human race is brought before the eternal Judge. The charge against us is uttered in Romans 3:9: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”
“What then?” simply means, “What is the case? How are we to understand the situation?” What follows is the answer to that question, stated in God’s own words.
Bear in mind the structure of the preceding context. In Romans 2:12 Paul states his point succinctly: “All who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” That is all-inclusive. It encompasses each one of us—Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free.
Then Paul goes on to lay out the charge in meticulous detail. In Romans 2:14–16, he charges the Gentiles with sin, even though they were not directly given God’s written law. In verses 17–29, he charges the Jews with sin as “transgressor[s] of the Law” (Romans 2:27). In Romans 3:1–8, he defends the righteousness of God as Judge. Then in verse 9, just before launching into that long string of Old Testament references (Romans 3:10–18), he sums up what he has just said and reiterates the main point so no reader can possibly miss it: “We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” The whole world is “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19, NKJV).
That is Paul’s formal arraignment. The charge is universal guilt. No human being escapes that charge. He makes the universality of sin as plain and categorical as possible, refusing to exclude even himself: “Are we better than they?” (Romans 3:9). “We” is a clear reference to Paul and his missionary companions—and by implication, it includes all Christians. The same pronoun (“we”) is used in verse 8 (“we are slanderously reported”; “some claim that we say”). The “we” in verse 9 clearly refers to the same people. It’s a reference to those who proclaim the gospel. To paraphrase, Those of us who are making this charge, pointing out that Jews and Gentiles are hopeless sinners—are we saying we’re a special case? Are we claiming to be better than everyone else? “Not at all” (Romans 3:9). He uses an emphatic negative. In no way do we think that! We are wretched sinners too. Elsewhere, in 1 Timothy 1:13–15, Paul describes himself as the chief of sinners—“formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” He retained a keen awareness of his own sin throughout his life. He was a mature, seasoned apostle when he wrote Romans 7:14: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” And verse 24: “Wretched man that I am!”
So Paul very acutely feels his own fallenness. He’s not setting himself up as a judge over the rest of humanity. He is merely stating the case. The entire human race is fallen and sinful, including Paul, his companions, and all believers. We all belong to the same sin-cursed race.
It’s good to remember that Christians are nothing but redeemed sinners—saved from condemnation not because we are somehow better, smarter, more worthy, or more acceptable to God. As Paul himself testifies, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18). “It is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Apart from Christ, we’re all in the same guilty condition as the world’s most dissipated human being. Without Christ, we would be completely under the command, control, dominion, and damning power of sin. As a matter of fact, we once did walk in step with the prince of the power of the air, Satan. Remember, in our natural, fallen state, we “were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3).
That is the arraignment. Paul summons the entire Adamic race into court, and on the authority of God’s Word, he reads the capital charge against us: “[We] are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). The arraignment is complete. Paul now moves on to the indictment, which we’ll consider next time.
(Adapted from The Gospel According to Paul)