Read Romans 3:9-20
This is the conclusion of this section, put forward as a closing argument with evidence from the Old Testament. Paul writes "what shall we conclude then?" And the answer is in verse 20: No one is righteous! Everyone is under sin! Jew and Gentile!
The last 2 chapters have been spent putting Jew and Gentile in the same state before God. Then some questions were posed and answered by God. These were common objections that had been circling in response to the Gospel being preached by Paul. The privileges of the Jews were highlighted, but used to strengthen Paul's argument that Jew and Gentile are both unrighteous before God. That while obedience leads to blessing by God under the old covenant, so shall disobedience lead to curses.
Here we have the longest quote from the Old Testament in the New Testament, however, it's taken from various sources, various books. We can break this down into three main sections:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10b-12)
These are adapted from Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-3, however, by changing "no one does good" to "no one righteous" it also picks up Ecclesiastes 7:20. These references in their original context talk about human beings generally.
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips." “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:13-14)
These are from Psalm 5:9, 140:3b and 10:7 and highlight the organs of speech. The original context speaks of Isreal's wicked enemies (the other nations).
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And finally, Isaiah 59:7-8a, Proverbs 1:16 and Psalm 36:1b. These verses speak of those who are unrighteous within Israel.
What has Paul been able to do with his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament? He has managed to put forward yet more evidence that all are under sin! That Jew and Gentile alike are all under sin. That there are none who are righteous. That all will seek mercy from the judge. That there are no works that can be done to gain salvation for ourselves. That no works done in obedience to any law or moral impulse can justify and make us right with God.
The Law does however make us conscious of our sins. It brings us awareness of sinfulness. What is interesting is the use of the phrase "under sin". Paul could have said committing sins or that all people are sinners, but he uses the idea of being under sin. The concept of being a prisoner or a slave to sin, or being dominated by sin.
But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22, emphasis added)
The idea is not that people commit sin or even form a habit of committing sin, but rather that the problem is that we (mankind) are helpless prisoners of sin. That people are, by nature, addicted to sin, and are unable to shake off the shackles of sin. That we are all imprisoned under it! Unable to escape its grip on us! This, therefore, means that all transgressions proceed from this original corruption, rendering us unfit for anything good or any good deeds worthy of righteousness.
This fights against our own belief that we can be better, do better, fight and work for our own righteousness. Our prideful nature slams against this barrier because we compare, we compete, we judge others and ourselves, trying to free ourselves from these shackles of sin. But freedom comes from humility. Understanding that we can't work to freedom, the release and acceptance that it is only through God's grace can we be set free. That only trusting in God, who He is and what He has done for us upon the cross, can set us free. This realisation is what we are reminded of as we journey towards Easter. Christ's work on the cross! His great love for you! Complete!