Justification has nothing to do with what we do . . . it has everything to do with what Christ has done. Until we understand the gravity of Romans 3:23, we will constantly deceive ourselves into thinking there is something we can accomplish for our salvation. So let's join Stephen now as he grounds us again in that foundation Gospel truth.
“The Great Divide”
I want to draw your attention today to one of the most well known Biblical verses in all of Christianity. Romans 3:23, which says, “For all have sinned and . . . say it with me . . . fall short of the glory of God.”
Not only is this verse well known within the church, the Apostle Paul has clearly provided the inspired evidence that the truth of this verse is buried within the heart of mankind.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In fact, man will spend his lifetime trying to come to terms with that message written on his heart.
- How do you deal with guilt?
- What do you do about sin?
- Why is there a sense of coming judgment?
- Why do I feel an emptiness even with more and more things to fill my life?
- What can I do bring peace to my mind concerning the afterlife?
- How do I make sure I end up eternally in a good place, instead of a bad place?
- How can you be right with God?
Religions throughout all time and around the world are nothing more than man’s organized effort to answer to those questions.
Whether it’s bathing in sacred water, taking a sacred journey or performing acts of penance and self-sacrifice.
The Greeks, even before the time of the Apostle Paul had developed the Mystery Religion which involved initiations into a spiritual oneness with a god who had suffered death and had been resurrected. That part sounds familiar, right?!
The person who desired to be related to this god had to go through a series of initiations known as identification rites. When the identification rites were completed, the initiate was, in the language of the Mysteries, a "twice-born" one . . . or simply put, “born again.”
In one particular mystery religion, the initiate, after his identification rites were completed was given milk to drink symbolizing the fact that he was a new born babe.
In one graphic mystery ceremony, a person came in direct contact with blood in a ceremony called taurobolium.
In this mystery identification rite, the initiate was lowered into a deep pit. Across the mouth of the pit, beams were placed in a lattice type arrangement. Then, on top of the beams a bull that had been killed was laid . . . it’s throat had been cut. The bull was laid down on top of the beams and its blood gushed down into the pit. The initiate in the pit below literally bathed in the blood as it fell down. This was considered his salvation. And when the ceremony was over and he was brought up out of the pit, covered in blood, he was referred to as, “one reborn for all eternity.”
The world has is looking for spiritual answers. And in it’s pursuit of answers, it is exercising great faith in all sorts of beliefs and systems.
But the religions of man are as futile to deal with sin and guilt and judgment than the little mouse I read about recently. A man purchased a white mouse to use as food for his pet snake. He dropped the mouse into the snake’s glass cage where the snake was sleeping in a bed of sawdust. The tiny mouse had a serious problem on his hands . . . or little paws. At any moment the sleeping snake could awaken and swallow him for supper. Obviously he needed to come up with a brilliant plan. So what did he do? He quickly set to work covering the snake with chips until the sleeping snake was entirely covered with sawdust. With that, the mouse apparently thought he had solved his problem. The only salvation for that little mouse came from outside the glass cage. That man took pity on the mouse and removed him from the cage.
Religion is like piling wood chips upon sleeping judgment.
I have seen people attempting to cover their guilt by going into baptismal water, performing acts of penance and self-sacrifice, piercing their bodies, being literally hanged upon wooden crosses, washing themselves polluted rivers they considered sacred, humming the chantras, praying to the spirits and gazing at the stars.
Those activities are no more effective in producing salvation than the person who climbs down into a pit and lets the blood of a bull drench their body.
They are no more effective than covering over our sin and guilt and judgment with sawdust.
Paul has delivered the truth from God that final and full cleansing comes through “faith in Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:22
Justification – that is the legal declaration of our righteous standing before a holy God – has nothing to do with what you can do. It has everything to do with what Christ has already done. Sola fide refers to faith in Christ alone as the only one who can save us, independently of our efforts and our goods works.
The truth is, Ladies and Gentlemen, when you understand the gravity of Romans 3:23, you begin to understand the absolute necessity of Sola Fide.
Paul begins this classic text with a Universal Verdict: The word: “All”
Paul is talking to everybody. The word, “all” is comprehensive. It is inclusive, all embracing, all encompassing.
“All” leaves no one out or behind.
No one can say, “Paul is only talking to the Romans . . . he is only writing to the first century Italians.
No . . . “all” is a reference to everyone from time past up to this very moment. Notice earlier in verse 19 of chapter 3 where Paul says, “And all the world may become accountable to God.” There’s that word all again.
And what is it in which we are all included?
Paul says in this universal verdict that we are all included in an irrevocable condition: “For all have sinned”
The key word for now is the word we most often skip. It is the word, “have.” It’s as important as the next word.
The verb in the Greek text refers to something that happened in the past.
You need to understand that Paul is referring not so much to our sinful actions as he is to our sinful nature. In other words, Paul is not talking about individual acts of corruption, he is talking about the condition of our character.
This verse is a reference to all of humanity sinning in Adam. Adam, the representative of the human race, sinned. And that corrupted the fountain head of the human race. And the water is now polluted. No matter how far downstream you are from Adam – thousands of years now – the water is still polluted.
Paul explains further in Romans chapter 5. Look at chapter 5 verse 12. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
So Paul, in chapter 3 is viewing the entire human race as having sinned in Adam. And the proof of having Adam’s sin nature is the fact that we, by nature, sin.
I mentioned those little birds up in the rafters of our house, just outside our bathroom . . .we thought the nest was somewhere under the gutters outside. Well, Marsha was outside the other day working in the yard and she saw a vent open on the side of our house, outside what would be our bathroom wall, and a bird fly out. She watched and sure enough, a little while later, that bird flew back and with it’s beak opened the flap on the vent and disappeared inside. That nest of little birds was actually inside the vent that ran from the ceiling of our bathroom to the outer wall. Sure enough, the sounds make sense to us now. We can hear the slam of the vent door and immediately the loud chirping of those baby birds vying for as much of that worm as they can get. Then, we hear the vent door slam shut again and the little birds stop chirping. The vent door opens and they chirp as loudly as they can.
That mother bird never gave her little ones any chirping lessons. She never taught them, “Now, if you want some of this worm, you’re gonna have to chirp first!” No, they chirp for their mother’s attention instinctively.
And in a couple of weeks, thank the Lord, that mother is going to push those little birds out of that vent and they are going to instinctively flap their wings and fly.
There’s no driver’s ed . . . 12 months of flying with a permit. No! Think of it - they will never be taught how to fly. . .they will, by nature, fly.
Just as a bird flies by virtue of it’s nature, so you sin, by virtue of your nature. Just as a bird, because of it’s nature, loves to eat worms; so we, because our nature, love to sin.
And just as a bird flies without ever having had to learn how, so you and I sin without ever having had to be taught. We never had one lesson in how to do sin.
Now that doesn’t excuse our sinful behavior . . . it merely reveals how corrupt our nature is and why we are all guilty.
And would you notice that Paul is not referring here to the amount of our sins – he isn’t saying here, “For all have sinned.” If he said that, someone might say, “Well, I don’t fit in this verse because I don’t do as many sins as other people I know. . .so this verse isn’t for me.”
But Paul isn’t referring to the amount of our sins, but the nature of our sinfulness.
You could read verse 23 this way, “For all have the nature of a sinner . . . for all have the nature of their father Adam . . . for all, by nature instinctively sin.”
And therein lies the offense. Paul moves from the universal verdict, through the irrevocable condition, to the irrefutable offense. “For all have sinned.”
You can deny it . . . doesn’t matter, all have sinned.
You can excuse it . . . doesn’t change the offense to God’s holy character – all have sinned;
You can say you don’t think it’s really that bad . . . doesn’t matter, all have sinned.
You can even claim that there isn’t even such a thing as sin . . . like the Russian Dictionary that was published after the Communists came to power in Russia. After the entry of the word “sin” was the definition: archaic word denoting the transgression of a mythical divine law.” It doesn’t even matter how you define it away in the dictionary . . . all have sinned!
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans Vol. 2 (Eerdmans Publishing, 1982) p. 71
Because of this irrefutable offense, Paul reveals the truth of an impassable chasm: “For all have sinned and fall short”
“Husterountai – to come short of, to be utterly lacking.”
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan Publishing) 1976, p. 356
Husterountai was used by Greek farmers in the first century for a farmer who missed the season – he failed to get the seed into the ground on time and thus, failed to get a crop . . . “for all have sinned and missed the season of the glory of God”
Husterountai was used in ancient Egypt to refer to those uneducated who couldn’t read. “For all have sinned and are illiterate of the glory of God.”
Husterountai was used in the financial world of the Apostle Paul to refer to someone who was bankrupt. You could translate this phrase, “For all have sinned and are bankrupt of the glory of God.”
Adapted from, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans Vol. 2 (Eerdmans Publishing, 1982) p. 72
Suppose I asked all of you to stand up on top of your seats and, on the count of three, to take one jump to where I am on the stage. Read? On your mark, get set, jump. Even if your eternal life depended on it, no one in this auditorium would make it to the platform – the divide, the chasm, the separation is too great.
Some of you would jump further than others . . . those of you on the front row would land closer than those of you on the back row . . . but all of you would fall short!
It doesn’t ‘matter what kind of person you are standing there on your chair . . . morally upright, educated, articulate, open minded, generous, kind, well connected; your gonna fall short because you also have sinned and failed to meet God’s holy standard.
A man in Detroit Michigan did everything he could to meet the standard height for law enforcement officers, which was 5 feet 7 inches. He was five feet five inches. Two inches too short. He tried pulleys . . . he even tried a stretching rack. It worked – he had stretched nearly 2 inches. When he had exhausted everything however, he was still 5/8ths of an inch short. All of his hard efforts drew the attention of the press, and the public. The police commissioner eventually changed the rules and allowed individuals to apply regardless of their height!
But God doesn’t change the rules when He gets a bad press report. His verdict is unchangeable.
Not only is the verdict comprehensive; mankind’s condition irrevocable; sin an irrefutable offense, the distance between sinful man and holy God an impassable chasm . . .but it only gets worse . . .
The fifth declaration found imbedded in this one verse is this: Heaven, is an unreachable goal: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
What exactly was Paul intending to communicate? The word translated “glory” is the word “doxa.” It’s the same Greek word from which we get our word, “doxology.”
The word “doxa” originally meant to appear . . . it eventually came to refer to having an opinion about someone.
Over time the word came to refer only to that which was a positive or good opinion.
From there it developed further to mean praise, honor and glory which came from that good opinion.
Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In other words, sinful mankind is unable to praise and honor and glorify God.
But that’s not all. The Greek word doxa is used to translate the Hebrew word shekinah. This sheds another volume of truth on Paul’s use of the word here.
Shekinah refers to the splendor and brightness of God’s presence. When the tabernacle of the Lord was completed in Exodus 40, the shekinah glory of God descended. Later in Israel’s history, the location of the ark signified the place of God’s shekinah. God again revealed His shekinah glory again through a cloud at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in I Kings chapter 8.
When the Apostle John was describing the birth of Christ he wrote that in Christ we saw the glory of the Father.
In Matthew chapter 2, I believe the star was a manifestation of the shekinah glory that led the wise men to where young Jesus was – the same Shekinah that led the Israelites for 40 years now led the magi to the Redeemer.
In Acts chapter 9, we’re told that when the Apostle Paul was traveling on the road to Damascus he saw the glory of the resurrected Christ and was blinded by His brightness.
When Stephen was stoned to death, Acts chapter 7 recorded that Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the shekinah glory of God and Jesus Christ standing there to receive Him.
To fall short of the glory of God means that mankind can not praise and honor and glorify God as he should, but also that mankind will never live in the presence of God’s shekinah glory . . . man will never be able to reach the glorious, brilliant place where Jesus Christ, the Son of God resides!
For all have sinned and fall short of the shekinah of God.
Unless man admits his bankrupt nature and confesses his sin and receives his free ticket to cross the bridge that can spans this great divide.
What is that ticket? Paul writes in verse 24. being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Again back in verse 22. even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.
Yes . . .
there is a comprehensive verdict;
there is an irrevocable condition;
there is an irrefutable offense;
there is an impassable chasm;
there is an unreachable goal . . .
Oh, but my friends, there is an eternal bridge – the bridge that crosses the great divide. It is a wooden cross. An altar of sacrifice where our Lord Jesus died to pay the eternal penalty for your not just your sin, but the sinful nature . . . and offers you what Paul calls in verse 24 – a gift – the righteousness and the redemption in Jesus Christ.
Several years ago there was an Arthur Murray dance instructor who had been out late on Satruday night. In the wee hours of the morning he had staggered back to his hotel room, fell into bed, and went to sleep. The next morning he was suddenly jolted awake by the hotel room clock radio. A man was preaching and was asking this question, “If in the next few moments you should die and find yourself before God and He should ask you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’ What would you say?” The dance instructor was amazed and confounded by this question. He realized that he did not have an answer . . . not one single thing to say. He sat silently on the edge of his bed while the preacher, the late Donald Grey Barnhouse explained the answer. That dance instructor knelt down by his bed that morning and placed his faith in Jesus Christ alone. Sola Fide. And found the gift of God through Jesus Christ, which is forgiveness and future home in heaven. By the way, that dance instructor was D. James Kennedy. He eventually went into the ministry and pastors to this day Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He also began a ministry of evangelism called Evangelism Explosion that we teach here at Colonial; an evangelism strategy that begins by asking people, “If you were to die today and stand before God and God should ask you, “Why should I let you into heaven . . . what would you say?”
Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume One (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI), 1991, p. 327
What would your answer be, my friend? Why do you think you’re going to heaven? What right do you have to ever think you could live for eternity in the presence of shekinah glory?
For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God!!!!!! That means you and you and you and you . . . that means me!
There is no way for you to reach heaven. There is no way for you to get across this great divide. The great divide between earth and heaven . . . between corruption and Shekinah glory . . . there is no way! FOR ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD.
There is only one way. You must travel on that bridge fashioned in the form of an old rugged cross . . . it has created an eternal bridge. Between earth and heaven. Between corruption and Shekinah glory. Between religion and redemption. The bridge built by our Redeemer. For Jesus Christ said Himself, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.”