Today we are paying a return visit to John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. His pieces are much longer than we normally use here, so you’re seeing about the first 60%, but need to click through to reach the conclusion. (And see the verse I chose — and John chose — for today’s header.) Click the title below or the link at the end to begin. Also, be aware this is part of a much longer arc of articles working through the book of Romans. Consider using the link below to navigate to commentary on other sections.
Judgment is certain. God’s warning to mankind: Don’t show up to the trial of your life armed with nothing but a folder of good deeds.
Twinkies in the Courtroom
In 1979 an ex-San Francisco police officer assassinated the San Francisco mayor. Attorneys for the defense argued that around the time of the murder, their client had begun consuming large amounts of sugary food and drink. This, they said, had triggered deep mood swings in the defendant which in turn substantially contributed to the homicide. It was the first ever courtroom defense based on junk food abuse, and it worked. The jury reduced the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter. Following those days, the term “Twinkie Defense” became part of the unofficial legal lexicon, describing any improbable defense strategy.
The Bible assures us there will be a Day of Judgment, when God will directly judge every individual. Most people have no plan for that Day. Those who do are piecing together a “Twinkie Defense.” They intend to tell God that although they’ve done many evil things, they’re not completely to blame because forces beyond their control compelled them to sin.
They hope to redirect God’s attention to a portfolio of their nicer, more decent deeds, ranging from Goodwill donations to handing change to the homeless man standing at the highway exit ramp.
Aside from the New Testament faith, every world religion trains, encourages, and indoctrinates its followers to prepare a “Twinkie Defense” for the great day of reckoning—to amplify good works so they can hopefully outweigh the bad. Human beings have an almost unprecedented trust in this strategy. We believe God will credit our works of shaky goodness to the highest possible extent, not only meriting a reduced sentence, but full acquittal.
We are actually hoping God will be more gullible than that San Francisco jury.
As dubious as this plan sounds, it is pervasive. Ask anyone. Begin with grandparents, especially those who are not committed Christians. Say to them, “Statistically speaking, you’re going to meet God before I do. For my peace of mind, please tell me, what is your plan?”
Ask friends and other relatives, too. Listen closely to identify a Twinkie Defense strategy commonly emerging. Most importantly, check with yourself to see whether you are unconsciously trusting in that same plan.
A Dose of Reality
The cold hard reality of Scripture warns us no human being stands a chance of acquittal before God based on his or her personal righteousness. We must look for righteousness outside of ourselves.
The previous sections of Romans have led up to this closing thought, this slam dunk, in 3:9-20. At this point, if any reader still trusts in his native righteousness, Paul will seek to overwhelm that trust before he moves forward into the rest of the gospel.
He begins by pointing out that every human is a sinner, virtually from head to toe.
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off?
Paul leads with this question, because lurking in the subconscious of his Jewish countrymen is still the supposition that a particular group of people is nobler born than the rest of mankind.
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;
An Apostolic Insult?
“None” is a scandalous assertion, and one that always elicits protest. For that reason, Paul once again unfurls the rap sheet of typical sinners, so that we can come face to face with our own character and symptoms.
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
The apostle begins with the braincase, pointing out that sin is firstly evidenced in the muddled understanding of the mind. Sinners not only find the knowledge of God impenetrable, but they are in a maze of confusion about the obligations of morality, the meaning of life, and the importance of eternity. Their thought processes as to profound matters have been warped to the point of non-understanding.
Nor are they interested in seeking answers. Sinners find the exercise of pursuing God an insufferable bore, especially when compared to other, far more stimulating pastimes. The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Man’s sensitivity to trivia, and his insensitivity to matters of major importance, reveal he has a strange disorder.” Strange indeed, that we can name five brands of beer, but not five commandments. We can cite detailed stats from players on our favorite athletic teams, but can’t find the book of Colossians.
Paul goes to write,
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one.”
Whether we turn aside because we’re distracted by the tinsel of the world, or drunk on its intoxication, our inability to walk a straight line says something about our sinful condition. As God estimates the global value of this scene, with the entire history of our race, His “math” sums us all up a flat, worthless zero. In the sight of God, every work and deed and accomplishment piled up, resembles a landfill. These calculations are fair, for when no one does good—zero—then the grand total of all such individuals must also be zero.
Moving Right On Down…
But Paul isn’t done with the sinner’s profile. He moves from the brain to the mouth:
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.”
Human beings sin not just in deed, but in verbal communication. Here the Scriptures resort to thick metaphor in order to portray the garish variety of evil we transmit with our words. “An open grave” refers to a place of exposed death, depicting the way a sinner’s words spread spiritual uncleanness. “The venom of asps” corresponds to the poison of a snake, and well describes sinful words as being analogous to snakebite.
The sinner’s mouth is also full of curses, that is, expressions of ill-will, and bitterness, anger that has been allowed to simmer, sometimes for years. Simply stand next to a sinful human being and it will not be long before all of this—death, lies, poison, mean talk, and anger—creep out.
Your Worst Life Now
Following this sketch, Paul then illustrates in brief, the way, the habit of life, exemplified by a sinful person:
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.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Humanity is swift to violence, as any study of history will show (or any local police blotter), but even when violence is not present, the path of a sinner is one of ruination. Wherever he goes, ruin occurs, whether it is to himself and his health, or his marriage, or employment. In addition, humans continually taunt themselves into misery, always fancying if they could only get this or that, life would be better. But when they finally obtain the thing long pursued, their pleasure only lasts fleeting moments before misery begins to reemerge.
Paul adds that they do not know peace, which explains why, wherever sinners go, drama breaks out. If none is present, they seek it, or deliberately stir it. Peace to them is unfulfilling. As a final observation, and probably worst of all, their way of life does not incorporate any true fear of God. The sinner feels emboldened to develop ever darker, more destructive strains of sin. In that fearless vacuum, any imaginable evil could occur…
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