For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Adam and Eve Falling Short of the Glory of God
In the first launchpad for meditation we will consider what it means to fall short of the glory of God. Typically, our understanding focuses on a moral failure. We fail to live up to the holiness of God.
While this view is not wrong, there is likely more that Paul has in mind when he talks about all humans falling short of the glory of God. Like so much of the Bible, we will understand better what Paul means by going back to Genesis.
In Genesis 1, God creates humans in His image, according to His likeness. Humans are to be God’s representatives as they are fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and rule over creation. Importantly, as beautifully meditated upon in Psalm 8, part of what it means to be created in the image of God is to be crowned with glory.
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, Psalm 8 indicates that human glory is connected to ruling as God’s image bearers. But does this Old Testament understanding of glory match with Paul’s understanding of glory?
A key verse related to Romans 3:23 is Romans 1:23 where humans have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things”. Sadly, rather than bearing the glorious image of God in ruling over the animals, humans have given up the glory of God by worshipping statues of animals. For example, reflecting on the story of the golden calf of Exodus 32, Psalm 106:19-20 reads, “At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped the cast metal image. They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating ox”.
This Old Testament backdrop paired with Paul’s own understanding of humans losing glory in Romans 1, should inform our understanding of Romans 3:23.
Colin Kruse in his commentary does an excellent job of linking Paul’s language to this Old Testament backdrop when he writes that the verb Paul uses for “fall short” is a:
“verb Paul uses seven times elsewhere in his letters to indicate either a lack of something (1 Cor 1:7; 8:8; 2 Cor 11:9; Phil 4:12) or to be inferior to something or someone (1 Cor 12:24; 2 Cor 11:5; 12:11). In 3:23 he uses it to mean ‘lack something’, in this case to say that human beings lack the glory of God, by which Paul means that they lack the original glory that they had been created in the image of God.”
In summary, when humans sin, we fall short of ruling the world as images of a glorious God.
Being Restored to the Glory of God
In the second launchpad for meditation, we will explore how Paul writes about being restored to glory. Thankfully Romans 3:23 is not the end of the book. Sin does not get the final word.
In Romans 5:32, there is reason to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. For followers of Jesus, our glorious status is in the process of being restored as we are being transformed into God’s likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
While we are currently being restored to glory, Scripture promises that in the life to come, we will be fully transformed:
“And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” (1 Corinthians 15:49)
“He (Jesus) will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.” (Ephesians 3:21)
So assured is Paul of this future return to glory, that in Romans 8, he can write about it as if it has already happened: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30).
In summary, in the words of F.F. Bruce:
“God’s creating mankind ‘in his image’ was an early step towards the accomplishment of his age-long purpose, to have creatures of his own sharing his glory as fully as it is possible for created beings to share their Creator’s glory. When the image of God in the old creation was defaced by sin, so that man as he now is falls short of the glory for which he was made, the purpose of God was not frustrated. When the due time arrived, the divine image was displayed on earth in the new Man, into whose image those who are united with him by faith are progressively changed—from one degree of glory to another—until the day when… they will be perfectly conformed to his likeness”.
My prayer today is that in the midst of our messed-up world, we would look ahead to our future glory. A glory not of disembodied beings playing harps on clouds but a return to the glory in the garden. I long for the New Earth where we will gloriously reflect God’s image as we rule rightly.