|Rom 3:23||For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard (or fall short of the glory of God).|
most people render this verse to be a universal proclamation of the depravity and falleness of man. that we are all going to ‘hell in a handbasket’. but is that what is being said?
i think its important to remember that the majority of the time when paul uses a ‘you’ in his letters he isn’t directing the ‘you’ to those outside his audience, he is directing it to the readers/hearers. or even what some might call universal proclamations tend to not include the universe within which most traditional theology sets the stage for universal depravity. take for example the first few words — ‘for all’ — which the word in greek for this phrase is better rendered ‘for all of those who’. paul is dealing with a specific issue, he is also referring to an older set of scriptures, more specifically to the verse in the OT where God supposedly tells the nation of Israel that not one among you is good (there’s that ‘you’ showing up again; remember God wasn’t talking to the world, he was speaking thr0ugh a prophet to the Israelite followers). Paul is relating this terminology to make a point that this new grace that the Romans are receiving isn’t cheap grace. It comes with an inherited experience. A inherited family that they are not a part of. Then Paul goes on to talk about the idea of sin. remember the word is singular, not epidemic. and two it is directly related to personal journey that is experienced and sought out throughout our life. so he is tell them that no one in their community is who they should be. (because there were some in the community who thought they were better than others because they thought following jesus was all about the law — this is why Paul says before and after these verses that everyone has been made right. Paul is dealing with this destructive spirit of exclusivity here. some were saying only those who follow the list of the right things to do are good enough to call themselves followers. Paul nips that whole way of thinking in the bud by cutting out the legs from underneath those who have gotten too big of a head for the group they are a part of.
the next section is this idea of falling short. the word in the greek is hystereo. it means ‘lack’. deeply rooted in the origin of the word is this idea where the effect in the cause lags behind. so instead of having a cause and effect, one right after the other, the results don’t come immediately or directly after the cause. it would be like putting some money in a vending machine and making your selection and then coming back the next day to get your selection. or using paints to paint a picture, but the picture itself doesn’t show up until hours later. it is this idea that people haven’t caught up with they are meant to be. that we are learning what it means to follow christ. everyone. not just a few. and that no one can pull rank. in fact, the word also connotes a sort of partnership. so paul is actually chastising those who are trying to be exclusive by challenging them to see that by being exclusive they are partnering with their lack, they are partnering with the ‘who’ they are not meant to be. and by doing so, they don’t make god famous (which is the idea behind the hebrew word for glory). that we don’t draw people to jesus when we think we are better than others. and a good reminder is to see that we all need jesus. Paul goes into the atonement theology on the verses between these two. but the point is clear, exclusivism stops us from being who we are meant to be.