Falling short of God's glory

Text Romans 3:23 Time 07/10/07 Place Childs Hill Baptist
This evening I would like to look at a text of Scripture found in Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is a famous text and one that we should all try to learn. Some of you know it already - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In many ways it is similar to other verses in the Bible that talk about the problem of sin in our lives.
Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray
Ecc 7:20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Prov 20:9 Who can say, I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?
Ps 143:2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
1 John 1:8, 10 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. ... If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
Now the letter to the church in Rome was written, of course, by the Apostle Paul. Paul was a great evangelist or church planter, probably the greatest of all time. In a relatively short period he founded churches all over the eastern Mediterranean and as an inveterate evangelist his attention began to turn to the western Mediterranean. Whether he actually got to Spain we don't know for sure but he certainly came to Rome, to the very heart of the Roman Empire – not perhaps in the way he expected – he came as a prisoner in the end - but he came there.
The other letters that we have in the New Testament were written to churches Paul had planted but this letter was written as a sort of introduction to the church in Rome, which had already been founded. What Paul basically does in this letter is to set out his stall. He systematically goes through the gospel message and looks at what it says, answering the various objections that people often raise to it. This verse is found in the early part of the letter and sums up much of what he lays down in the first three chapters - that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is important in his argument because Paul wants to go on to show that the only way to be acceptable to God is through an alien righteousness, a righteousness not of our own. We need this alien righteousness because we have none of our own. We will refer to these first three chapters and others as we look at the text but just note the immediate context for now.
Cf 21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, everyone needs it for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and (if they trust in Christ) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
There are really three things to consider here.
1. Consider the glory of God
In this text Paul says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We need to consider what that phrase means then – the glory of God.
Of course, when Paul says people fall short of the glory of God he could simply mean that men do not have anything to glory before God, or boast before him, about. We can't boast of our innocence, we don't have any. Perhaps, we can boast before men but not before God.
Otherwise the phrase the glory of God here can refer to
1. The glory or praise we give to God
In Romans 1:21 Paul says of men that although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him. When man was created he was made head of the visible creation. His aim was to be to glorify God in this. But sin has come into the world and so man fails to do this. Instead of glorifying God, he dishonours him. We were made to give God glory but by nature we do not.
2. More generally man is to give glory or praise to God in the sense of being his image
In 1 Corinthians 11:7 Paul says of men that they are the image and glory of God. The very way we were made was intended to reflect God's glory by governing the creatures, by being righteous, holy and wise, loving and what is good and right. Again, because of sin, we fail to reflect his image in the way that we should.
3. There is, of course, also the glory or praise that God gives to men
In John 12:43 Jesus speaks of men who loved praise from men more than praise from God. By nature we are short of justification, acceptance with God, glory begun and of holiness or sanctification, glory continued and all hope and expectation of being glorified with God in heaven. It is impossible to get to heaven by way of spotless innocence. There is as it were a cherub and a flaming sword set to keep that way to the tree of life.
It is most likely that Paul has in mind this idea of being the image of God that we have failed to live up to.
God created man perfect, in his image. Like a mirror man was perfectly to reflect God's image. But that mirror has been smashed. The image is marred and spoiled. We do not reflect his image as we should.
2. Recognise that all have sinned
And so when it comes to the image or glory of God we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In what sense have we sinned? There are at least two senses we need to see.
1. There is original sin
Paul goes into this in detail in Chapter 5 but the fact is that Adam in the Garden was our representative and when he sinned there is a sense in which we all sinned in him. He is what is sometimes called our federal head or our covenant head.
I like to think of it as when a leading mountaineer falls from a mountain. If he falls then all those roped to him will also fall with him. We are born sinners – born guilty in that we are children of Adam, born sinful too in that we inherit a bias towards sin from our parents and from our ancestors all the way back to Adam. As the 1689 Confession says (and here we paraphrase)
(Chap 6) Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which would have led to life had he kept it and that threatened death if he broke it, man didn't remain for long in this honourable state. Satan used the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve and then through her, seduced Adam, who went on to wilfully transgress the law of their creation and the command given to them by eating the forbidden fruit. God was pleased to allow this, according to his wise and holy counsel, having purposed to use it for his own glory.
Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God and so did we in them. So death came on all of us, all becoming dead in sin and totally depraved in all our faculties and parts, body and soul.
Adam and Eve were the root. By God's appointment, they represented all mankind and so the guilt of the sin was imputed to us all and a corrupted nature was passed on to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. Everyone is now conceived in sin and by nature are children of wrath, servants of sin, subjects of death and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus sets them free.
2. There is actual sin
Of course, quite apart from original sin there is actual sin – the sins that we ourselves commit.
'From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.'
This sort of sin is defined in 1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. We sin when we transgress the law - not only by our actions or deeds but also by what we say or think too. Blaspheming or lying are obvious sins of the tongue. Coveting is a sin of the mind. God sees such sins. Of course, there are not only sins of commission but also omission. For example, it is a sin to kill someone but it is also a sin not to positively do something to help someone who is in some need.
3. This applies to all
In his letter Paul begins by showing that the Gentiles, the non-religious, if you like had all sinned.
He shows how although they know there is a God they don't glorify him as God or seek to do what is right. He concludes
28-32 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
There are plenty of people around us today who are obvious sinners. They break the law without apparent care and encourage others to do the same. Such people would not even claim not to be sinners in most cases.
As he comes into Chapter 2 Paul also deals with the Jews, with religious people. They too are sinners by nature he shows. God doesn't show favouritism
2:12, 13 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Religious and irreligious alike all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
3. Recognise all have thus fallen short of the glory of God
So all are sinners and with regard to the glory of God, and this is the third thing - they fall short. That is their nature – they are all falling short.
Think of an archer shooting an arrow. He shoots at the target but there is not enough power in the shot. It falls short of the mark. Or think of a runner falling short of winning the race and the the prize.
My sons went to the cinema yesterday and they had less money with them than was needed – they fell short of what was required.
A good old illustration is in an exam where the pass mark is 50%. To get anything less than that is to fall short. There are differences, of course. Some get 10% or 20%. Someone may get 49% - but if its less than 50% it is still a fail. Of course, the pass mark with God is 100% - nothing else will do and we all fall short.
One writer spoke of how some are down in the pit, as it were, and others or up on the Alps. I don't know where you would place yourself – on a little hill somewhere perhaps. But none have reached the height of heaven itself.
4. Applications
1. Do not be surprised at the disappointing way people behave
Given what this verse teaches it is no wonder life on this earth is like it is. People all around us are failing and falling short all the time. Bear that in mind And try not to expect too much from people. And don't be surprised at life's troubles.
2. See that there is no place in any of us for pride
What have we got to be proud of? We certainly can't boast before God. Rather we have many reasons to be ashamed. How humbling this verse is.
3. None of us can claim a place in heaven by right
Clearly known has a right to heaven. By nature we fall short of that honour, that glory.
4. There is no way to God by our own efforts
If we simply rely on our own efforts to overcome this handicap then we will get nowhere. There is nothing in us that can overcome our falling short. We cannot pull ourselves sup by our own bootstraps.
6. We desperately need a Saviour
This verse underlines our desperate need.
7. We clearly need to repent
We have spoken about our sins, which this verse reminds us of. It is a reminder of the constant need to repent.
8. This is something that everyone needs to know
There are people who are ignorant of what this verse teaches. It is not a pleasant or comforting message that it contains but it is one that it is vital for every single person on this planet to know.