But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3: 21-23).
All have sinned: one of those key texts I was taught to remember to prove that all are condemned and in need of salvation. The context to the text is the failure of both Jew and Gentile to attain righteousness. The core argument is not to present a proof text but to maintain universal failure, whether Jew or Gentile. We could translate ‘all’ as ‘both’ – both Jew and Gentile have sinned. And sin, Paul says, is to fall short of the glory of God. That is the part that interests me. ‘Glory’ so often taken to mean some transcendent place or experience that is somehow other than down here and visible. There are experiences that are out there; there are texts that speak of seeing the glory of God but it seems in this context Paul is suggesting that ‘glory’ is something very human and very visible. In line with this John says of Jesus that we saw his glory, full of grace and truth. We can use the term ‘glory’of something transcendent, but in the NT glory is incarnated and has content.
Both have sinned; they have failed to manifest the glory of God. Jews with all their advantages (Rom. 3:2) failed to manifest the glory. For this Jesus is clearly the Saviour of the Jew, and because of that, Saviour of the world, for Gentiles too have failed to reveal glory. Glory then is something that is very human and very down to earth – or was meant to be. In 1 Corinthians 11 in Paul’s writing about men and women, and however we work it out he certainly does nothing to limit potential function, he uses the term ‘glory’ applying it both to males and females. There are probably some quotes flying around there rather than simply Paul’s own teaching and wording but it again shows that glory is not simply an attribute of God. We are not simply meant to have an experience of entering into the glory but are called to manifest his glory. Failing to do so is to sin, to miss the mark (the word also being an archery term) not simply in terms of the guilt of not coming up to the legal standard required, but of failing to live humanly.
C.S. Lewis (an Anglican hence his sacramental context in the quote below) wrote of the holiness that is present in another human being:
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
God has invested himself into humanity, and perhaps we could even say divested herself into humanity. To live humanly, to honour humanity, to help create and hold shapes that allow people to live humanly is to reveal glory. Every time we do not do that we do not act humanly and as much as we prevent others from acting thus we act demonically. The demonic is not presented as the antithesis of God but as the antithesis of humanity. The crisis of the present, the imminent collapse of certain ways that have been constructed are the fruit of the dehumanising culture that has sadly been nurtured.
Big issues need big solutions. Yet those solutions probably begin closer at hand than we think. A commitment to humanity will both manifest God’s glory and pull others toward the same. Although salvation by works is rejected there is such a call to live rightly – to do good.
There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism (Rom. 2: 9-11).
For us who claim to have made a commitment to God there is an even stronger requirement on us that we also make a commitment to humanity. Let the glory return!