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Depravity and Desperation

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 3:15–18

When God is forgotten and His Word ignored, any sin can be justified—and often is. Ultimately, this spells disaster, for apart from Christ there is no peace, no fulfillment, no satisfaction, and no hope for eternity. This is the plight of all people who do not trust in Christ.


Like a prosecuting attorney, Paul has given us a brutally honest assessment of fallen, unbelieving humanity. Here in Romans chapter 3, in verses 10 through 12, Paul describes the evil condition of humanity—who they are. Then in verses 13 through 14, he describes the evil communication of humanity. Now, in verses 15 through 18, he is going to describe the evil chaos created by sinful humanity.

So, Paul is describing the unbelieving world—who they are, what they say, and now, what they do. You might not like the prosecution of this inspired attorney, the apostle Paul, but it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

By the way, when we say that mankind is totally depraved, we do not mean people are incapable of doing good things. We simply mean that every area of their lives is infected, tainted, with selfishness and sin.

The purpose of this honest description of the sinfulness of mankind is to reveal the absolute inability of people to save themselves. Paul is showing us why we need a Savior, a Substitute who came to pay the incredible penalty for our sinfulness. Beloved, there is no way we could ever pay for our mountain of sin—who we are, what we say, and what we do.

Verses 15 through 18 now give us four short, powerful phrases that pull off the mask and reveal the human heart for what it truly is—totally depraved. First, in his inspired description of the evil chaos human beings create, Paul says that mankind is callously unconcerned. He writes, “Their feet are swift to shed blood.”

The fact is, we live in a world of violence. In 1900, there was only one murder for every 100,000 people in the United States.[1] By 2020, it stood at about 6.5 people per 100,000.[2] In other words, over that 120-year period, homicide grew six times more rampant.

Human life has been devalued by decades of teaching an evolutionary worldview. A human being is no more valuable than an animal today. I read an article the other day in which a psychologist suggested that human value is granted by society. So, if someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s and doesn’t have friends or family—someone to grant the person value—then that person ought to be euthanized, put to death. In a world that defies and denies the Creator, you are just a few steps away from not having any inherent value as a person; you are not a special creation in the image of God but just an animal taking up oxygen on Planet Earth.

The apostle Paul says that the capability of murder resides within the human heart. In fact, the very first crime recorded in Scripture was Cain murdering his brother Abel.

The second description here is that mankind is not only callously unconcerned, but also destructively unharmonious. Verse 16 says, “In their paths are ruin and misery.”

The word for “ruin” is a rare Greek word (suntrimma), which means to grind up or to crush. It is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Leviticus 21:19 for a fractured foot and a broken hand.[3]

Paul is saying that man is destructive—he crushes and breaks things. He breaks his word, he crushes a competitor’s reputation, he breaks his vows, he destroys relationships, he breaks someone’s heart. All around the world today, if you listen carefully enough, the sound of breaking lives can be heard. And it is all the result of our own sin.

Paul adds in verse 16 that “misery” is also “in their paths.” People might get their own way, but they are going to spread ruin and bring misery upon others who get in their way. Let me tell you, the history of humanity is a highway of ruin and misery and brokenness.

So, we are not surprised that immediately following this description Paul says mankind is inevitably unfulfilled. He writes in verse 17, “And the way of peace they have not known.” Peace on earth is temporary. Peace between nations today is a time when everybody stops to reload their weapons. Peace between people is just as fragile. And most importantly, there is no peace with God for the unbeliever.

Paul will write later in Romans 5:1, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ effectively signed a peace treaty between mankind and God there on the cross. As one gospel song puts it, that peace treaty was “written in red”—blood red – with the sacrifice of His own life.[4]

Peace comes when you sign your name to that peace treaty—when you personally confess your sin, and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah Jesus as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Our world does not have peace today because they have rejected the Son of God. And you cannot have peace in your heart and life today until you surrender to the Prince of Peace and give Him the throne today in the castle of your heart.

Well, not only is mankind unconcerned, unharmonious, and unfulfilled, but Paul now describes humanity as unrepentant. He writes in verse 18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

They are not about to repent of their defiance. They have no respect, no trust, no loyalty, no awe, no worship of God in their hearts. Beloved, unbelievers are afraid of a lot of things, but they do not seem to be afraid of God.

  • Unbelievers might be afraid of other people, but not of the Lord.
  • They fear the future but not the Giver of eternal life.
  • They fear death but not the Lord who conquered death.
  • They fear being caught in their sin, but they do not give much thought to standing one day before the divine Judge and sovereign Lord.

Years ago, I read the true story of well-known Chicago surgeon Leo Winters. He was awakened by a call from the hospital at one o’clock in the morning. There had been an accident, and a young boy was in the hospital. Only Dr. Winters had the skill needed to save the boy’s life.

He jumped out of bed, got dressed, and ran to his car. As he made his way to the hospital, he stopped for a moment at a stop sign. Suddenly a man appeared, opened the door and pulled the doctor from the car, screaming “I’ve got to have your car!” He sped off, leaving the doctor to search for a phone and call a taxi.

By the time the taxi dropped him off at the hospital, more than an hour had passed. He was informed that the boy had died thirty minutes earlier. The nurse told Dr. Winters the boy’s father was in the chapel, grieving. He just did not understand why the doctor never showed up.

He hurried to the chapel. There at the front was the crumpled form of that weeping father—the same man who had pulled him from his car and sped off! He had been in a hurry to get to the hospital too, but in his rush, he had pushed aside Dr. Winters, the only person who might have been able to save the life of his son.[5]

You want a picture of humanity? There it is—rushing after life, racing after satisfaction and fulfillment, hungry for meaningful relationships and lasting commitments, hoping for peace and some relief from guilt and sin, and yet at the same time, pushing from their lives the only One capable of saving their lives.

Paul has given us this description of the depravity and desperation of humanity to show these Roman citizens—and you and me—who we really are apart from God and why we need to give our hearts and our lives to the Savior, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

[1] A. Joan Klebba, “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1900-74,” Public Health Reports 90:3 (May–June 1975), 195.

[2] “U. S. Murder/Homicide Rate 1990-2023,” Macrotrends,

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV (Baker, 1931), 345.

[4] Gordon Jensen, “Written in Red.”

[5] “Parables, Etc.,” Moody Monthly (Nov., 1989).

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