Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
In the opening chapters of Romans, Paul has been methodically building his case that all mankind in Adam is without the righteousness that allows us to stand unafraid before God Almighty. The Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law nonetheless suppress and reject the Lord’s revelation in creation and their consciences. The Jews who have the Scriptures are no better off, for they have not kept God’s law with the perfection required for justification—the Lord’s declaration that a person is righteous in His sight. True, Jews have benefits that Gentiles lack, but mere possession of these benefits is not enough, and like the Gentiles, the Jews have fallen far short of God’s glory. But although this teaching is offensive to anyone who measures goodness by comparing themselves to others and not to the Lord’s perfect standards, it should not be difficult for anyone who actually knows the Old Testament. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures provide ample testimony of the pervasive sinfulness of humanity (1:18–3:17).
The worst indictment of all that we read in the Old Testament is Psalm 36:1, which the Apostle quotes in today’s passage (Rom. 3:18). “There is no fear of God before their eyes” represents a stinging and decisive rebuke for all who think themselves in the right before our Creator. Remember that the fear of God or the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all true piety. It is the starting point for godliness, the beginning of wisdom that leads to eternal life (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 10:27). The fear of God is properly held before our “eyes” because fearing Him means that we keep Him and His statutes as the focus and center of our attention. But human beings in Adam have utterly failed to view the Lord with such reverence. Because of this, we sin in what we think, do, and say. Ultimately, if we cannot keep the fear of God before our eyes, we cannot do anything else that is pleasing to Him. We start off on the wrong foot, as it were, and that means the entire direction of our lives is oriented away from the things of the Lord. Because there is no fear of the Almighty for the naturally conceived-and-born sons and daughters of Adam, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10a).
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage, “Where no fear of God is, no good is to be expected.” Fallen people might do civic goods that are praiseworthy from a human perspective, but they cannot do what is fully and truly good in the Lord’s sight. Apart from Christ, we are as bad off as we could possibly be.
Proclaiming that no human being in Adam—including the most outwardly pious—has the fear of the Lord before his eyes is unlikely to win us any more friends than it did the Apostle Paul and the other early Christians. That does not mean we should shy away from this proclamation. And we should expect it to find a hearing among some, for no matter how much they deny it, all people know that they have not feared the Lord as they ought.