Can Paul really mean it when he says, "there is no one who does good" in Romans 3:12?

When you want to make a point and drive it home the trick is to exaggerate it. Maybe that is what Paul is doing when he says "there is no one who does good." Otherwise, how does he account for the remarkable acts of morality we see each day? From friends who take time off work to help you move house, to the stranger who delays his journey to change your tyre in the snow. How could Paul include Oskar Schindler in this evaluation, who risked his life to save 1,200 Jews from the Nazis?

How do we account for this good behaviour in light of Paul's evaluation? Though the philosopher Immanuel Kant is not considering the question of morality from a Christian perspective he helps us to consider an answer. He explained, to be a moral person you must follow your duty. Kant provides an illustration: one morning a student spontaneously gives some money to a beggar he passes everyday. The next day, worried how the beggar may have spent the money, the student decides to take him out for a late breakfast. Over the student's three years at university they become good friends and the student arranges a job for the beggar on the campus cleaning staff. The difference between acting spontaneously and being moral is the moral person understands and carries out their duty. So when they act their behaviour is good. Whereas the student who acts spontaneously only happens to chance upon something that leads to favourable consequences. Kant argues it is not the consequences of our actions that cause us to be moral but our motives. To be a moral person we must understand and follow our duty. But how do we know what our duty is?

The Christian knows that our duty arises from our obligation to the Creator. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul says "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." This is the duty that is absent from Kant's thought. We have a duty to do everything we do for the glory of God. If we fail to do that duty we are not a good person. 

When Paul writes, "there is no one who does good" he is explaining that there is no one who understands and carries out their duty before their Creator. This makes sense; there are many reasons why people do good, peer praise, to feel good, to give back to society, and yet there is no one who does good to bring glory to our Creator.

 


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