I wonder how many of us evangelicals, reciting one of our essential Bible verses, ever stops to realise that we hardly understand it. We quote Romans 3:23 as if it says: ‘Each and every member of the human race, whether Bible-practising or not, has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of perfect behaviour and motivation.’ Actually, it says that and a lot more. The tenses of the Greek verbs ‘sinned’ and ‘fall short’ imply:
‘… all sinned [in Adam’s original disobedience – the aorist tense focuses on a single event] and keep falling short [the imperfect tense implies every descendant’s habitual practise] of the glory of God [not merely his standard requirements of, say, the Ten Commandments].’
Honour or radiance?
The word glory can be used in two ways: ‘honour and respect’ or ‘radiant glow’ – our text clearly refers to the latter meaning. If we take the trouble to use our imagination to enter the story of Adam and Eve’s disaster we would soon discover why their nakedness became an embarrassment to them both. It had not troubled them before, had it? But if they had lost their original brilliant radiance when they bore their Creator’s image, then it all makes sense. Nudity had previously been natural; now ‘nude’ had become crude; and ‘vulgar’ and ‘common’ no longer simply meant ‘normal’!
The only one who could reverse this tragedy was God’s Son, ‘through whom he created the world,’ because he ‘is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’ (Hebrews 1:2-3). No wonder, then, that when he arrived on earth, incarnated as a helpless human baby, when the angelic choir leader above the plains of Bethlehem announced to the shepherds the birth of a Saviour, Christ the Lord, ‘the glory of the Lord shone around them’ (Luke 2:10-11).
Let’s revisit 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; 4:1-18 and Exodus 32:1-35; 33:1-23; 34:1-35 taking time to meditate on the unfolding message till we begin to realise that when Jesus is our Lord, and the Holy Spirit is allowed his lordship in our personal and communal lives, we can be ‘transfigured from one degree of glory to another into the same image’ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18, where the verb transfigured is the one used of Jesus on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, witnessed by Peter, James and John, Matthew 17:1-8; indeed it has given us the word we learned in biology at school concerning the glorious change from caterpillar to butterfly, metamorphosis).
We were given Jesus’ risen life when we were born again. That life can transform us in character and behaviour, till others can begin to see the outshining of the glory that, at his coming again, ‘will transform [same Greek verb] our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:20-21). Meanwhile, keep focusing your eyes of faith, ‘beholding the glory of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), so that you become ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2).