If I were ever asked to summarize the message of the Bible in one sentence, I would point to Romans 3:23-24:
23 for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Romans 3:23-24 (KJV)
This phrase, which is part of a larger sentence that deals with this topic, presents a complete view of the Gospel message, and in this study I intend to explain why I think so. This reading is part of a section of Paul’s letter to the Romans that deals with God’s righteousness and how we are justified through faith by his grace. To understand this reading, we’d have to reflect on each verse individually:
- Verse 23 tells us that we are sinners (all have sinned) and therefore, we cannot reach the glory of God by our own merits.
- But the story doesn’t end there. Verse 24 gives us hope by reminding us that God’s grace has justified us as a gift (freely) through Jesus’ sacrifice (redemption).
ALL HAVE SINNED
Paul is not shy to remind us of our sinful nature. Just a few verses earlier he says:
[…] For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.
Romans 3:9-10 (ESV, abridged)
Our sin can be traced back to the fall in Genesis, and the Old Testament chronicles how common it was for men to fall out of the grace of God. This sin separates us from God, and keeps us from the glory of God
THE GLORY OF GOD
The glory of God refers to the original state that Yahweh (God) intended mankind to be in. This is the way he created Adam and Eve before the fall. Because of our sin, we have lost the glory of the original creation. God’s glory is reflected in his original creation of mankind. Genesis 1:26-28 says:
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. […]
Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV, abridged)
David recognizes the intended glory of God’s original creation. He sings:
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:5 (ESV, abridged)
Mankind was originally created with glory, a state that was lost due to sin. So, how can we return to this state? The answer is that we can’t; at least, not by ourselves. However, God offers us another way to return to this state.
JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE
As verse 24 states, by the grace of God we are justified. The Greek word for justified is δικαιόω [dikaioo]. James Strong defines this term in various ways: to make righteous, to defend the cause of, to plead for the innocence of, to acquit, to justify, or to regard as righteous. The word itself is derived from δίκαιος [dikaios] which means righteous. Hence, when we are justified, God makes us righteous; He regards us as righteous.
Paul uses the verb justified 10 times in his letter to the Romans. Depending on your English translation, you may see it as justified or made righteous. Paul uses this term in the following verses:
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
Romans 2:13 (ESV)
[…]That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.
Romans 3:4 (ESV, abridged)
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, […]
Romans 3:20 (ESV, abridged)
and are justified by his grace as a gift […]
Romans 3:24 (ESV, abridged)
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Romans 3:28 (ESV)
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
Romans 4:2 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1 (ESV)
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Romans 5:9 (ESV)
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:30 (ESV)
Notice a pattern here? In all of these verses, God is the one who justifies us. This justification does not come by our own merits, but rather, by the grace of God. Justification is given freely. It is not a reward for any work done on our part. A reward implies some merit on the part of the receiver (for example: winning a race, a bet, a game). In the case of our justification, there is no merit on our part, so the best way to describe it is as a gift. A gift is given without conditions, and the receiver can choose to accept or reject it.
REDEEMED IN CHRIST JESUS
Just as God is good, he is also righteous (a key topic in Romans). This means that in order to atone for sin, a payment must be made. (This is what we mean when we talk about Salvation). The Bible is clear about the payment to be made for sin. Earlier in the letter, Paul says:
For the wages of sin is death […].
Romans 6:23 (ESV, abridged)
God established the consequences of sin since placing Adam in the Garden of Eden:
You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV, abridged)
The payment for sin is death. Now, God’s grace does not automatically exempt us from the wages of sin. His justice is not negotiable. Fortunately, Jesus Christ took our place to pay the wages.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Hebrews 2:9 (KJV)
This verse shows us that the payment for our sin was not nullified, it was fulfilled. We are redeemed in Christ Jesus. Redemption (ἀπολυτροσεως [apolytroseos]) has an interesting origin related to the slave trade. It refers to freedom obtained by payment of a ransom. Regarding our relationship with God, we are slaves to sin (flesh), the ransom for our freedom is death, and Jesus Christ paid for that ransom in the cross.
THE NEW GLORY
We will return to the glory of God through Christ. Paul says:
We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ICB, abridged)
This description makes it clear that at some point, we will have glory, so let’s look at it in more detail:
Show the Lord’s glory
The ESV translates this phrase as beholding the glory of the Lord, the HCSB translates it as: looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord. The Greek work κατοπτρίζομαι [katoptrizomai] means to see something in a reflection (for example, seeing yourself in a mirror). When we show the Lord’s glory, we are reflecting it, in the way a mirror can reflect our faces.
Being changed to be like him
The ESV and the HCSB translate this phrase as: being transformed into the same image. We will be transformed/changed into something that resembles the image of God. The English word metamorphosis comes from Greek word μεταμορφόω [metamorphoo], which is used in this verse as “changed” or “transformed”. Metamorphosis is defined as “a change of the form or nature of a thing” (like the process whereby caterpillar transforms into a butterfly).
More and more glory
The ESV translates this as: from one degree of glory to another, and the HCSB: from glory to glory. All of these terms refer to a progressive glorification.
And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
‘Nuff said. This new glory reflects the original creation of Adam and Eve, free of sin.
In essence, this verse provides a “1-sentence summary” of the Bible. In the context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, this verse shows:
- The original state of Creation, and our Fall from that state (all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God)
- The result of Salvation, by which we are made righteous, in other words, the return to the original Glory (being justified)
- The knowledge that Salvation is a gift that is only given to us by God’s grace (freely by his grace) and not by any merit of our own (come short of the glory of God)
- The spiritual process of Salvation, which explains that Christ redeemed us, that is to say, paid our ransom (through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus). This means that Salvation was not a nullification of God’s law & justice, but rather a payment for it performed by Jesus.
As we reflect on these verses, let use remember what the message of the Gospel says. If at any point we feel that we are not worthy of receiving the grace of God, Paul reminds us that though we are not, the Lord still extends his grace to us.
- You may notice that Romans 2:13 sounds like a contradiction to the above statement, since it is “the doers of the law who will be justified”, but a reading of the preceding and following verses show that this is not the case. However, this will be discussed in a future study to stay on topic.
- For 2 Corinthians 3:18, after trying to decide between the readings of the KJV, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NIV, and NLT, I ended up resorting to the ICB, because I found that the ERV and ICB seem to show a more direct translation of the Greek text. This is something I’d like to discuss with someone who has more experience with Bible translation, so I will expand on this topic in a future post.
- An alternative translation to show the Lord’s glory would be to reflect the Lord’s glory, but translators are careful to use this word (and rightly so) due to some implications and false doctrines that can be drawn from a misunderstanding of the word.