It’s over. Case closed. After cataloging the evidence against men who reject God, and then describing the emptiness of a self-confident attempt to please God, quoting verse after verse from the Old Testament and keenly describing man’s experience, Paul sums things up in Romans 3:23:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
All have sinned. This is basic to our understanding of the good news of God. It is also a basic challenge to the common attitude of simply trying to do the best we can in challenging circumstances. It is so far removed from our daily experience that it is difficult and in some ways awful to contemplate an entirely righteous Being. Either we reject Him, or we attempt to follow methods and practices that manage God for us, making Him understandable and bearable. However, the sentence quoted above is not finished. It continues in verse 24:
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Man in himself is condemned, but here, in Christ, man is justified! This is “God’s action whereby He approves people according to His standard of righteousness”, according to the Recovery Version note. His approval is not based on merely overlooking. It’s not the kind of forgiveness we may employ when we choose to look past someone’s offense and accept their apology by acting as if nothing has happened. God’s action is based righteously on Christ’s redemption:
To redeem is to purchase back at a cost. We originally belonged to God but became lost through sin. The requirements of God’s holiness, righteousness, and glory were so great upon us that it was impossible for us to fulfill them. However, God paid the price for us through Christ, repossessing us at a tremendous cost. Christ died on the cross to redeem us (Gal. 3:13; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18); His blood obtained eternal redemption for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
The righteousness of God condemned us completely. Christ paid a price we can never fully understand to satisfy this righteousness. Now the same righteousness, as the note on freely points out, brings us into a condition too wonderful to describe:
Since Christ has paid the price for our sins and in His redemption has fulfilled all God’s requirements on us, God, because He is just, must justify us freely. Such justification is by the grace of God, not by our works.
This justification was what caused Martin Luther to feel “altogether born again.” Because of this justification, Paul could “stand and boast because of the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). To boast, to exult in the righteousness of God is wonderful, this verse points us to something deeper than simply a happily forgiven sinner. Paul saw that God’s purpose is not simply to save sinners from eternal condemnation, but to make them His sons, to express Him corporately as the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5). You might expect Romans 3:23 to say “all have sinned and fall short of the righteousness of God,” but what man fell short of is the glory of God! The note on this phrase begins:
God’s glory is God expressed. Whenever God is expressed, His glory is seen. Man was made by God in His image that man might express Him for His glory. But man has sinned and has contradicted the holiness and righteousness of God. Instead of expressing God, man expresses sin and his sinful self. Hence, man falls short of God’s glory. This falling short of God’s glory and expression is sin.
Man was made to express God (Genesis 1:26). The fall brought in the sinful condition Paul describes in chapters 1 and 2, deadening us toward God and making us enemies of the one in whose image we were made. When God righteously justifies us, based on the redemption of Christ, He does so with a clear purpose: to bring forth many sons conformed to His Son (Romans 8:29-30). Our destiny as sons of God is to be glorified, to fully express the Father of glory even through our transfigured bodies (Phil. 3:21). What a hope, and what cause for exultation!