I have heard Romans 3:23 quoted a lot in my years of church-going – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” It often is used as a stand-alone verse to give us permission to be okay with our sin. We are all sinners after all, right? However, you see in this verse the “for” is lowercase and there is a comma at the end of the phrase. That is because, my sweet friends, there is a whole lot more to the story. Praise God!
Let’s look at the fullness of Romans 3 : 21-26, shall we?
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Pay special attention to the word propitiation in verse 25. If you are anything like me there is a temptation to just skip over big words like this because you get the basic idea of the passage, but this big word is worth looking at.
Propitiation means “substitute.” When Jesus went to the cross he took our place so that we could receive the grace of God – forgiveness for our sin.
We should be devastated by our sin. Because of it we deserve death, but Jesus took our punishment, conquered death and gives us his righteousness when we believe in him. Now when God sees us he does not see our filthy and death deserving selves. He sees people who love him and are washed clean of their dirt – completely clean, white as snow.
To help make this idea come more alive a recent Hollywood picture of sacrificial substitution comes from "Hunger Games". Katniss Everdeen volunteers to go into nearly certain death on behalf of her sister, Prim who is chosen to “play” in the hunger games. Here Katniss faced torture and wrath that she did not deserve. Like Christ she conquered death, but looking at her young, much weaker sister it’s safe to say that she would not live through the type of harm she would have faced. Katniss fulfilled Prim’s obligation to die.
Let's be clear that the real, ultimate sacrifice and substitute was Jesus. Though this is a powerful clip, it is not a perfect example. Hollywood cannot come close to painting the picture of this level of love that Jesus has for us.
Prim didn’t deserve death, but we do. Let’s suppose that her sister had betrayed her in some deep and hurtful way prior to this moment. Imagine how much more of a sacrifice that would be for Katniss to volunteer to take her place. Picture yourself as Prim, but walking slowly toward the cross knowing full well that it meant torture and death. Now here the voice that says, “No! I volunteer!” as your substitute.
That is what Jesus did for you and for me.
He took our place knowing full well that we would spend our earthly lives struggling to be faithful to him, turning our backs on him and placing other people and things much higher on our priority list.
1 John 4 :10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.