“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What is the glory mentioned here? Isn’t it our natural state to fall short of the glory of God? Was Adam equal in glory to God? Are the angels themselves? Nothing is as glorious as God.
But God made Adam to be like Him, to reflect His glory. Adam and Eve were indeed glorious, a shining example of God’s greatness. He said, when He made them, that it was “very good.” But of course Adam and Eve sinned against God and fell from that glory.
The glory of God referred to here in Romans 3:23 is not then the glory which God Himself possesses (for everything created falls short of that) but the reflected glory which God gave us. To sin then is to fall short of that glorious state in which God made us, which God intended for us. To sin is to fail to be what God has made us.
And so we see sin is extremely pervasive. Sin defines our very being in our current state. It’s not something we just do some times. It’s what we are.
I’ve been reading a book about depression called Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray which is a really good book in a lot of ways. One thing that bothers me about it, though, is the way that Murray is anxious to show that depression is not always the result of sin. He says that it can be the result of personal sin but also can be caused by false or wrong thinking or stressful lifestyles. He also spends time talking about possible physical causes. I’m no doctor and can’t really address the medical side of it at all, which I agree is real. But why would we say that a lifestyle which causes stress from overwork is not sinful? Perhaps that work is compelled through slavery. But most of the time in our modern lives, people fall into a habit of overwork because of wrong habits of thought or values, which are themselves sinful. False thinking is likewise a sin, regardless of when and how we learned that false thinking, even if we learned it as children on our mother’s knee. Sometimes it seems like Christians believe that for something to be sinful, it must be consciously chosen and able to be resisted. But sin is “falling short of the glory of God.” Sin is failing to be what God has made us. Sin is not something we do, it’s something we are.
This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is so important. It’s not just a matter of making better choices. We need to be transformed. On the subject of depression, we can recognize that the person did not consciously choose the sinful thought patterns or the particular debilitating reaction to trauma or abuse in their lives, and yet still recognize that it is nonetheless a sinful reaction, as it falls short of the glory of God. The solution is often much more complex than simply telling the person to stop it. And yet the solution still lies with Christ, with repentance, with the long-term work of the Spirit in replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25). Even those lifetime habits of thought that we learned from our parents or childhood before we even knew we were learning anything, are either true or false, righteous or sinful, and therefore to say simply that something was not a matter of choice, was not something someone had control over when it started, and is therefore not a matter of sin, ignores the nature of the Biblical teaching on what sin really is.
The same thing is true regarding the homosexual debate. Christians often fall into simplistic language, saying that someone chose to be homosexual. We know it’s a sin, and therefore they must have chosen it at some point. Yet the reality is much more complex. Lots of factors, genetic, environmental and social, can go into the development of homosexual tendencies. As Christians, we can recognize this and have compassion over it, and yet at the same time say that it is a sin, which requires repentance. Now of course this is not to say that depression and homosexuality are the same kinds of things. But there is this similarity, that both of them often have very complex roots that the individual usually had little or no control over, and yet both of them “fall short of the glory of God.”
To say that something is a sin is not so say that it has an easy quick fix of just “stopping it”. If that were the case, we would not need Christ, or the Spirit. But we do. At the same time it is never compassionate to tell people who are stuck in the mire of sin that they have no choice, that they can simply manage the symptoms but that there is no real cure. There is always a cure, in the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. It’s a process, and it takes time, and that process will not be complete until Christ comes again. But by His grace, all His people will achieve the glory that God intends for us.