One of the lessons that Paul seeks to remind us of in the book of Romans is the fundamental commonality of humanity’s moral condition. Paul’s purpose, as God’s ambassador, is not to remind us of our true fallen condition in order to cause discouragement, guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Paul’s purpose is to give us an accurate diagnosis so that we can trust the Great Physician regarding our condition as well as the treatment.
Romans 3:23 reminds us that, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. As we know from previous study, God’s glory is His character (Ex. 33). And God’s fundamental character trait is love (1 John 4). So in saying that all have sinned, Paul is confronting us that we’ve all fallen short of representing God’s love to others in the world around us – spouses, children, parents, friends, coworkers, strangers, and enemies.
We’ve lived, to one degree or another, lives motivated by self-interest, self-preservation, and self-promotion. Even in our religiosity, or performance of benevolent deeds, we need to be sensitive to whether our motives are solely and purely for the benefit and blessing of others, or are they tainted by the desire for affirmation and appreciation of others for our good behavior and generosity.
Paul is saying that we’ve all sinned – we’ve fallen short of a pure, undiminished, and untainted revelation of God’s love to those around us. Consequently, we’ve all been – to varying degrees – the victims and victimizers of others. We’ve damaged others and they’ve damaged us. We’ve damaged ourselves. True love and faithfulness, that are unchanging, are an extremely rare commodity in the social economy of today’s world. In contemporary culture, love so-called, is transitory and conditional and based on self-interest. The world’s “love” is really selfishness hidden under the garment of pleasant temporary emotionalism.
This condition of self-love at the expense of true love for others dates back to our human parents, Adam and Eve. Both were led into “sin” by an appeal to self-love. Eve under the guise of self-promotion, and Adam under the guise of immature and blind emotionalism. Adam’s chief concern was what he would be losing. True love would have moved him to give himself for her, not to join her in the descent of self-interest.
Satan appealed to them by causing them to mistrust the goodness and love of God. The serpent’s message was basically that God is self-preserving (God is holding back this amazing fruit from you because He doesn’t want you to elevate to His exalted sphere), and therefore you need to take care of yourself. God can’t be trusted as His basic instinct is self-interest, not love and self-sacrifice for you.
So it makes sense that if the basic origin of sin (anti-love) is distrust of God’s goodness and love, the remedy would be an overwhelming message of God’s actual goodness and love. And so, Rom. 2:4 tells us that the goodness of God does in fact lead us to repentance!
Notice how Dr. Waggoner develops this thought in Waggoner on Romans:
“The goodness of God leads men to repentance. Therefore the whole earth is full of incentives to repentance, for “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” Ps. 33:5. “The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy.” Ps. 119:64. God may be known through His works, and “God is love.” All creation reveals the love and mercy of God.
And we need not try to improve on the Scriptures, and say that the goodness of God tends to lead men to repentance. The Bible says that it does lead them to repentance, and we may be sure that it is so. Every man is being led toward repentance as surely as God is good. But not all repent. Why? Because they despise the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God, and break away from the merciful leading of the Lord. But whoever does not resist the Lord, will surely be brought to repentance and salvation.”
As we all see – to some degree – how we have fallen short of the glory of God. May we see that God’s remedy for the virus of sin is repeated overdoses of the goodness of God. We need to see, more and more and more, the goodness or righteousness of God as manifested in Jesus Christ. We need to take our medicine every day – at least “a thoughtful hour each day” – of the healing dose of Jesus’ life and death. This medicine will enable us to be changed by beholding (2 Cor. 3:18), and to grow up into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). Healing is possible, but not by looking merely at where we are, but by looking continuously at Jesus – and change will come. God is faithful and will perform it! (1 Cor. 10:19)