There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. (Rom. 3:11)
Some have used this verse, a quotation from the Psalms, to teach that unregenerate men are incapable of exercising saving faith in Jesus. However, when the verse is read in context, it becomes clear, I believe, that this interpretation is incorrect. Consider the structure of Paul’s argument in Romans.
The first section of Paul’s argument is from 1:18 to 3:20 and opens with these words: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.” In this section, Paul begins by setting up God’s standard, claiming that “the doers of the law will be justified” (2:13). He then proceeds to argue that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, have violated God’s law. By the end, Paul has established that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified” (3:20). It is here that Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:2-3 are quoted; they are quoted as evidence for Paul’s assertion that all men have violated God’s law. They are not quoted as evidence that all men are incapable of faith.
The second section of Paul’s argument is from 3:21 to 8:39 and opens with these words: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (3:21-22). In this section, Paul argues that “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (3:28).
Now for some reason, Paul seems to think that this is a big deal. He seems to consider it very significant that God has made justification available through faith and not through works. He speaks as if this is somehow gospel, or "good news," for sinful men. But if unregenerate men are just as incapable of exercising faith in Christ as they are of keeping God’s law, how is 3:21-22 good news? It is like calling out to a man who has fallen down into a deep pit and saying, “Listen, chap, I know you can’t jump out of this hole, but I have good news for you! If you simply fly, you can escape!” That is not good news.
Let us be very clear: if we were left to ourselves, none of us would be saved. But we have not been left to ourselves. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We did not seek God, but God was seeking us. Jesus jumped down into the pit and is offering to lift us out. Now that is good news!