Read Romans 3:10-12
10 As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous-
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.” (NLT)
At first glance,a text like this doesn’t ring true. Surely people do good,whether Christians or otherwise. We experience this every day of the week. So if a preacher mounts the pulpit and pronounces that none of us is capable of doing good,we rightly protest. We wince at the phrase ‘total depravity’ which is part of some Christian traditions.
We first understand that Paul is writing to Jewish people who figured their ethnicity gave them some advantage when it came to relating to God. Paul quotes their own Scriptures reminding them that all human beings are incapable of relating to God in and of themselves. Contemporary churchgoers must beware of seeing themselves as morally superior to those outside the church.
And then we grasp the exaggeration in the text. Not all have turned away: some have turned to God. The Scriptures themselves speak of people seeking God and of people doing many good things. Paul is using such overstatements to remind proud and complacent people that they need the grace of God.
Of course humans do good: after all,they are made in the image of God. But the point is that all our goodness is imperfect and thus doesn’t qualify us to relate to a perfect God. It is not as if we are all utterly wicked: it is rather that we are all utterly unable to connect to God unless he acts in mercy towards us.
Which he has done. And for which we can be grateful.