Romans 3:19-20, 22-24 “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight be observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Notice how many times Paul uses the word “all,” or words that are all inclusive. EVERY mouth, the WHOLE world, NO one. In each case he is making it clear that the law condemns us all. Let me start at the end. “through the law we become conscious of sin.” That’s not the way people like to use God’s law. Throughout time people have tried to use it to work their way to heaven. Others have wanted to use it to defend themselves. Still others see nothing more than the secret to a full and happy life there.
It’s true. God’s law does show the way to heaven, but only if you keep it perfectly. God’s law is a law of love, and he gave it to protect us and guide us. But as long as we are sinners, every time we look at his law, God’s finger is pointing at us and saying, “You did it.” “You don’t do what you’re told.” “You don’t love me with your whole heart.” “You neglect my word.” “You use other people instead of loving them.” “Your heart is full of lust, hatred, greed, resentment, doubt, and unbelief.” Through the law we become conscious of sin.
That is not merely academic, theoretical information. God’s law doesn’t teach about sin as religious concept. It burns. It nags. It cuts and it tears and it hurts. It makes us so conscious, so aware of sin that it gives no peace.
It gets worse. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There may be no harder words for us to hear in all of Scripture. “There is no difference.” There is no difference between us and the most disgusting sinner we can imagine. There’s no difference between us and the pedophile. There is no difference between us and the corrupt politician enriching himself at the expense of the people he is supposed to serve. There is no difference between us and the overt racist proudly intimidating and abusing others because their skin is a few shades darker.
How can Paul say that? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Apart from Christ, God looks at each individual in the world and he always sees the same thing: Rebellious, self-centered ego-maniacs trying to become little gods in their home-made heavens. As one Christian writer observed, “Sin, in the Biblical view of it, is never merely something gone wrong with man, but the whole man gone wrong.”
But there is more to this story: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Paul piles on the good news, the relief, the comfort, the freedom in just a few words. He promises that ALL are justified. That’s a word which should be easy for us to understand. It’s a court room term. When God justifies us, he is the judge, and he hands down a not guilty verdict. He declares us innocent. It didn’t cost us some million-dollar dream team of lawyers to be set free. It didn’t cost us a nickel. We are justified freely. We don’t have to pay our debt to society. We don’t have to report to the parole officer. We don’t have to put in hours of community service. God declares us not guilty for free.
How is this possible? “Through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Jesus paid it all. He served the sentence we deserved with his death on the cross. We all share the same deed for it–Jesus’ own perfect sacrifice.
Equality is a value about which many people obsess today. The foundational Christian truths Paul shares in these verses have a leveling effect on all humanity. All are equally sinners under God’s law. All are equally justified by his grace. We all have reason to thank God for the gift that sets us free.