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The Chasm Between Earth and Heaven

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 3:23

Romans 3:23 gives us a concise, accurate diagnosis of our natural condition as human beings. It is not a pleasant portrayal, but it is one we must accept if we are to understand our need and God’s gracious work on our behalf.


Many years ago, a ballroom dance instructor staggered into his hotel room late one Saturday night. The next morning, he was awakened by his hotel room clock radio. He heard a man preaching, asking this question: “If you should die and find yourself standing 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 now wide awake—and deeply disturbed by that question. He realized that he did not have an answer. He sat up on the edge of his bed and listened to the sermon. The preacher was the late Donald Grey Barnhouse, and at the end of his sermon, this dance instructor got down on his knees beside his bed and asked Jesus to forgive him and to become his personal Savior.

That changed his life. He left the dance studio and eventually entered the ministry. His name was D. James Kennedy. In fact, he went on to launch an evangelistic ministry that challenged people by asking questions. One of those questions was this very one: “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?”[1]   

Now I have asked a lot of people over the years that same question. And many of them tell me that they are going to get into heaven because they deserve to be there. God certainly would not turn them away—they have been good persons most of their lives.

Most people I talk to have their own opinions—and there are a lot of opinions out there today. But what does the Bible tell us? We do not need another opinion; we need to hear what God has to say about how to get into heaven.

Well, we arrive today at what God says about it—here in Romans 3:23, where we read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Let’s unpack this message from God.

First, we have here what I will call a universal inclusion. He says that all have sinned.

The literal meaning of “all” is—“all.” It is comprehensive. It is inclusive, it is impartial—“all” leaves no one out. No one can say, “Paul is just talking here to these Romans, these people back in the first-century. No. “All” is a reference to everyone, from time past until this very moment.  

Everyone is included.  

Paul now gives us, secondly, an undeniable observation: “for all have sinned.” You will notice the verb is past tense: “for all have sinned.” This verb clearly refers to something that happened in the past.

Paul isn’t referring so much to sinful things we have done, as to the sinful nature we have. This verse is a reference to all of humanity sinning, as it were, in Adam. Adam, the first man and the representative of the human race, sinned. That corrupted the fountainhead of humanity, and ever since then, the water has been polluted. No matter how far downstream you live from Adam, which is now thousands of years, the water is still polluted.

And we prove we have inherited Adam’s sin nature because we sin. You could read verse 23 in this way: “for all have the nature of a sinner.”

My wife put up a bird feeder several years ago, along with some birdhouses just outside our screened-in porch. We can sit out there and watch a mother bird fly into that little birdhouse with a worm or some seed in her mouth. Immediately, we can hear the chirping of those baby birds competing for as much of that food as they can get.

That mother bird never gave her little ones any chirping lessons. She never taught them, “Now, if you want some of this food, you are going to have to chirp for it!” No, they chirp for their mother’s attention instinctively. 

In a couple of weeks, those little birds are going to instinctively flap their wings and fly out of that nest. There is no driver’s ed., no learning to fly with a driver’s permit. Think about it. They will never be taught how to fly; they fly instinctively—by nature.

Well, just as a bird chirps and flies by nature, we are sinners by nature. Just as a bird does not need to be taught to love worms for breakfast or to flap its wings, so we do not have to be taught how to sin. We sin by nature.

Now that does not excuse our sinful behavior. Paul is just revealing how much of a problem we have.

You can try to excuse your sin; you can redefine it, or sweep it under the rug, but it does not change what it is. The Greek word for sin means “to miss the mark.” So, we have all missed the mark—literally. We have all missed the mark of God’s holy standards. This is an undeniable observation.

Next, Paul describes what we will call an unpassable canyon. Because we “all have sinned,” we all “fall short.”

The Greek verb translated “fall short” (hustereō) means “come short of” or “be lacking.”[2] The word was used in the financial world of the apostle Paul’s day to refer to someone who was bankrupt. So, you could read this verse to say, “For all have sinned and are bankrupt of the glory of God.”[3]

If you had to swim across the Pacific Ocean to get into heaven, some of us would not make it very far at all. Some would swim for hours and go quite a distance. But in the end, everyone would fall short.

And that is what Paul means here as he gives us what I will call an unreachable goal.

You might be morally upright, educated, articulate, generous, kind, and well connected, but you are going to fall short of heaven because you are a sinner—you have failed to meet God’s standard of perfect holiness. “For all have sinned and [therefore] fall short of the glory of God.”

The word translated “glory” is the Greek word doxa. From it we get our word doxology. It refers to praise, honor, and glory. This verse tells us that sinful mankind cannot fully praise and glorify God.

That is not all though. The word is also used of the brightness and splendor associated with the Lord’s presence.[4] Therefore, to “fall short of the glory of God” means that we are never going to reach that glorious heaven, where Jesus Christ, the Son of God, resides! We are not going to make it into heaven.

So, if you died today and God said to you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” you would have to hang your head and admit that you were not even close to good enough to get in.

This might sound like bad news, but it is actually the beginning of good news. The gospel, which means “good news,” is for sinners. Paul writes later in the book of Romans, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Here is the bad news: you will never get into heaven because you are a sinner. But here is the good news: if you admit your sin to Jesus and ask Him to save you, He will forgive you.

Jesus is the bridge across this impassable chasm between earth and heaven. The bridge is in the shape of His cross. When you trust in Jesus alone, you will one day walk across that bridge, so to speak, and enter heaven forever. If you have not done that yet, what are you waiting for? Do it today.

And one day if God asks you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” you will have the only answer there is: “Jesus is my Savior, my Redeemer and Lord.”

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 1 (Baker, 1991), 327.

[2] Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon L. Rogers Jr. (Regency, 1980), 356.

[3] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans, Volume 2 (Erdmans, 1982), 71.

[4] See Luke 2:9; Acts 22:11; Titus 2:13.

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