Let’s back up for a moment to v.23: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? We’ve violated God’s Law and stand guilty before God, right? Perhaps not. Or at least that’s not what’s really at issue here.
What would you say is the key word in this sentence. I’d say “glory” because that is the word that doesn’t seem to quite fit our normal understanding of this sentence. “All have sinned and fall short of God’s . . . Law, Standards, Justice – that would make good sense with our usual understanding. But “glory”? Not so much. At least on the surface.
What is God’s “glory” and how does our sin cause us to fall short of it? In the Old Testament God’s glory most often refers to or stands for his presence. On this rendering our sin has caused us to fall short of God’s presence. How so? Human beings were from the beginning meant to reflect God’s glory as his image-bearers. In relationship to God we were to reflect his will and character and serve as ambassadors of his rule throughout creation. God’s presence in creation is us – living as we were meant to live! Irenaeus (2nd century) captured his best with his saying: “The glory of God is humanity fully alive, and life is beholding God.”
Our sin, then, breaks the relationship with God that makes us his glory, his presence, in the creation. That’s the tragedy of sin as Paul sees it here. Not merely a legal infraction or a missing of the mark. No, sin is always personal and relational. It is a breaking faith with God. Disloyalty. Treason. Seeking to become our own “glory.”
Sin, our sin, then, needs forgiveness. But even more it requires a restoration of right relationship to God. Then we may once again begin to live in such a way that God’s presence is seen among us and in his creation.
How God did just that is the burden of the rest of this section of Romans 3. But it is important to be clear on just what is at stake here before we dive into the depths of Paul’s exposition. God’s glory is his eternal purpose of having a world filled with creatures who reflect his will and character and care for one another and the creation itself as his stewards. Nothing less than the very heart of God, fully invested in this creation project, is what is spurned and broken by our sin. We make ourselves opaque, no longer able to reflect that love which is life itself and life-giving to all it touches! God’s passion and energy are devoted to not simply reclaiming us from our folly and sin, but in restoring us to that purpose for which he originally made us. And that what the rest of this passage deals with.