One of the most widely quoted verses in Paul’s letters is the condemnation of Rom 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Although we usually focus on the idea that all have sinned, the fact that all have sinned is simply what leads to the really bad news: we do not now enjoy the glory of God. In this post, the sixth in the series, we examine God’s restoration of man to glory as Paul understood it.
Universality of sin
Access to God’s glory is not the natural condition of mankind because “all of have sinned.” The most basic denotation of “sin” (harmartia)) is to fail to “hit the mark.” Connotations range from simple mistakes to grievous offenses committed knowingly against deity. Therefore both pagans, who have a law only “by nature,” and Jews with the Mosaic Law are equally sinners and equally in need of God’s gracious initiative.
Because all have sinned, all equally “fall short.” The word behind this English expression is hystereō. In the active voice, it means “come too late,” or perhaps “fail to reach.” In the middle voice it implies an experience of a deficiency. Paul’s point is that all of us lack the glory of God that should be ours. And since this is a present tense verb, we are experiencing this lack now.
What is this “glory of God?”
A casual approach to “glory” might suggest that “glory” can be equated with “light,” making this lack of glory a deficiency best remedied by a steady diet of radioactive materials. In reality, the glory of God is the outward manifestation of his excellence. To have God’s glory is to possess an enhancing quality leading to a share in all facets of his excellence and ultimately to enjoy his presence. In 1 Cor 2:6-8, for example, it is access to the Creator’s wisdom:
6 Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. 7 Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, 8 and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
How do we come by God’s glory?
Well, the obvious answer is the right one: through Christ. But there are some interesting details in Paul’s thought. Consider Rom 8:28-30
28 We realize that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purposes. 29 Those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 Those whom he predestined, he also called; those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.
Although the heart of our purpose in reading this section is in v. 30, there are a few things that should be noted in passing. The phrase “those who love God” is probably Paul’s definition of a Christian. The point of v. 28 then, is
the transcendent power of Him who helps us. His power, His authority, is such that all things, even the action of those who are disobedient and set themselves against Him, must subserve His will. To say that all things assist believers is thus—in a biblical context—a heightening of the statement that God assists them; for it is to assert not only that He assists them but also that His help is triumphantly and utterly effective (Cranfield, Romans, 428-29; emphasis in the original).
Verse 29 marks the first appearance of the word “predestination.” The historical-critical understanding of this expression is far less exciting than the theological controversies suggest. Paul’s use is a corporate one. Individual predestination to glory or damnation is a by-product of Augustine’s speculation in the Pelagian controversy. Paul’s thoughts about foreknowledge and predestination should not be confused with determinism.
The purpose of God’s prior knowledge and decision is that believers “be conformed to the image of his Son.” This is an on-going process (2 Cor 3:18):
All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Elsewhere Paul writes that we are adopted children (Rom 8:15), but here we become more, the image (eikon) of the Son. The end state of this process will fulfill the original specifications of Gen 1:26-27 as man is once again “in the image of God.”
And so we come to a reading of the entire passage. Standing behind this passage is the bedrock truth that God first loved all of us. The phrase “those who are called” is the complement to “those who love God,” that is, those who respond to God’s love (v. 28). God has pre-designated the end state of those that love him as conformation to the image of his Son and membership in the same family (v. 29). This same group is likewise justified and finally glorified.
As with so many of the effects of the Christ-event, some aspects of this effect are now present and some await the eschaton. In Paul’s inaugurated eschatology, we are passing “from glory to glory” now (2 Cor 3:18), but in Rom 8:18-21, there yet remains more:
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. 19 For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; 20 for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Thus the suffering we endure as part of this life is a faint counter-point to the glory we will eventually enjoy. We are in the process of being changed, but this change is only a part of a far larger cosmic change that awaits all of creation. The material universe, which now exists in a state of ineffectiveness, will eventually also share in our glory.
And since Paul brought up the topic of “the glorious freedom of the children of God,” this freedom will be the subject of the next entry in this series.