“All Fall Short”, but be careful not to “Fall Short”?

(Romans 3:23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Un)Comfortably Falling Short - Sean Heritage

I assume the above verse is fairly familiar with most Christians, as it is used by Christians sharing the gospel with the lost and in conversation concerning the difficulty of living the Christian life. In the first instance, appropriate use is more than reasonable as it causes the lost person to focus on Christ as the only means of salvation.

In the second instance, that of understanding and walking throguh the difficulties of the Christian life, using Romans 3:23 is not appropriate; in fact, if not careful, we can justify a fall away from God. Consider Hebrews  12:15.

(Hebrews 12:15) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

From one verse we are told “all fall short” and from the other we are instructed to be careful not to “fall short“. Without prayer and further digging it would seem the verses are in contradiction. I assure you they are not.

As we do some digging, we will find that the surrounding context of these verses explains their use and focus in our walk of faith. One speaks of our entry into the kingdom and the other our need to grow in Christian maturity for the sake of our relationship to God, after already entering in.


Romans 3:23 comes from a section of scripture where the inspired writer, Paul, is dealing with Christians of Jewish background in the church of Rome. Paul’s audience for his Holy Spirit inspired letter to the Romans was a majority of Jewish Christians and a minority of Gentile Christians. Both groups seemed to not like the other.

Through the first ten chapters of Romans, Paul leans heavily on the Jewish contingent, who believed themselves more spiritual; because of their Jewish ethnicity and former religion. By the time we get to chapter 11 Paul warns even the Gentile Christians in the fellowship, not to become prideful or risk being cut off for unbelief.

In the third chapter of Romans, Paul gives the doctrinal bomb that blows apart the Jewish Christians mix of faith in Christ plus their own righteousness, as a means of their salvation. The Holy Spirit lays this to waste in verses 20-26.

(Romans 3:20-26) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

From this powerful passage of scripture we understand why no person can be justified by the deeds of the law… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. in this context, how do we define “the glory of God”.

In simple terms we understand that because all have sinned, none measure up to God’s standard of righteousness needed to be in His presence, except the Lord Jesus Himself. Let’s dig a bit further.

COP 24: Paris Agreement plans to reduce greenhouse gases miss the mark |  CFACT

Our Lord Jesus, in Hebrews 1:1-3, is referred to as the “brightness of His glory“. We understand that when we see Christ we see all that can be understood, grasped, or experienced by men of God’s glory and greatness. In this we also understand that Christ Himself is the Judge, concerning who is in or out of the kingdom II Timothy 4:1.

In addition to this we understand from Matthew 5:17 that Jesus came to fulfill the law, and that the law itself was given to reveal man’s sin (Romans 7:7) and our need for the One who would perfectly fulfill the law and come to be our atonement… JESUS CHRIST our LORD!

(2 Corinthians 5:21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Himself is the standard, the only atonement. Therefore He is the mark we fall short of because He is the only perfectly righteous fulfiller of the law. Therefore using Romans 3:23 in witness to Christ’s atonement and our inability to save ourselves is appropriate.

That being said, when Christians use it inappropriately in witness, we can stifle the ultimate purpose of salvation, which is not our entrance into heaven (which makes it about us rather), but about our total new creation transformation from glory to glory (When we all get to heaven!). Please read II Corinthians 3:18; I Thessalonians 5:23; I Peter 1:13-16.

Most often, Romans 3:23 is used inappropriately when a well meaning Christian is talking about sin and wants to reassure the lost person that they are just like them. In those cases, “I’m not saying I’m perfect. Ya know, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and in that same vein, “I still sin all the time“.

In both cases the person is misusing a passage of scripture for whatever reason. Romans 3:23 deals with the inability of a person to save themselves and directs them to the only Person who can save them, which is Christ. Yes, this salvation brings us justification (not guilty before God), but Romans 6 declares that it brings us new life in Christ, where we are able, by the Holy Spirit, to choose to yield to righteousness and refuse unrighteousness or sin (Please read Romans 6:23).

So yes, we do fall short of God’s standard, but Jesus Christ does not! That said, Romans 3:23 is not a passage for us to find solidarity in justifying the practice of sin. I John 3:4-9, which I have previously written on, declares that those who continue to practice sin are not born of God. Although we do miss the mark, we are being sanctified by the Spirit and we practice righteousness as the principal of the life of children of God.

This is where we receive the admonition of Hebrews 12:15 and where we will see a distinction in “fall short of the glory of God”  and not “to fall short of the grace of God


(Hebrews 12:15) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

You’ll notice that the falling short in Hebrews 12:15 is not falling short of “the glory of God” but falling short of “the grace of God“. In order to understand the distinction we must dive into some context.

The book of Hebrews is written to Christians who are ethnically Jewish. These followers of Christ are beginning to experience the sting of persecution at varying levels. Judaizers are threatening them and promising to take them back if they leave Jesus Christ and His followers, going back to Old Testament Judaism.

The balance of the book of Hebrews is to warn them not to forsake assembling of themselves together for any reason; to do so is willful sin of the highest degree: which will trample the Son of God under foot, count the blood of the covenant, by which they were sanctified, a common thing, and insult the Spirit of grace. To do so was to place oneself out of Christ and under the judgment of God (Hebrews 10:25-31).

In chapter 12, we see the inspired writer warning the hearers, that their suffering is not as bad as they are making it out to be (Hebrews 12:3-4). In this warning they are admonished to see the persecutions as God the Father’s loving discipline, allowed to make them more like Christ (Hebrews 12:5-10). This is declared, even though it is acknowledged, that although God’s love through discipline is good, necessary and transformative (in holiness), it is still painful.

Into this context we then read…

(Hebrews 12:12-17) Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

In the context of the Book of Hebrews and specifically chapter 12 we understand falling short of the glory of God, as falling short of the promises and implications of His grace throguh Christ Jesus. What are the promises and implications of His grace?

  1. Living as a child of God in His love through discipline.
  2. Enduring in His love and with His Church regardless of risk
  3. Living as a holy and separated servant of God.
  4. Living as a life giving peacemaker, rather than a bitter person who sows discord.

In short, falling short of His grace, is to fall short of God’s expectation for those whom receive the gift of grace He gives in His Son’s cross and resurrection. This is where we see an intersection from Romans 6:1-14, I Thessalonians 5:23 and I Peter 1:13-16.

We must remember that we do not keep our salvation by perfect execution of any of the above four characteristics or scriptures’ quoted, but we do grow in grace and execution by His Spirit, when we pursue those very things, and refuse to get bitter when times are tough, taking them as God’s loving discipline.

Although none of us can hit the mark of God’s glory, for all have sinned, once we receive the grace of God, we must pursue Him and His purposes or fall short of the purpose of His grace. To do that is to fall away and be at risk (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:25-31, Romans 11:19-23; Join 15:1-6).

So, although we all fall short, we must be careful not to fall short!

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply