Have you ever gone shopping and at the end discovered that you fell short of the amount needed? That happened to me once. I went right up to the payment counter and then found out that my purse didn't have enough to cover the cost. As you can imagine, that's quite embarrassing. The Bible refers to "falling short" of God. First, we fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) by our sinfulness.
Not Good Enough
A rich young man came to Jesus asking what "good thing" he must do to attain eternal life. The Lord told him to just keep the commandments about not committing murder, adultery, theft, and perjury, and honouring parents and loving neighbours. The man replied, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" The Greek word translated "lack" is the same one translated "fall short" in Romans 3: 23: usterevw (pronounced hustero). The man felt that, in spite of his moral character, somehow he was deficient in matching God's requirements. How true for all humans? When comparing ourselves to others, we may think we are okay/quite good/really good. But when we measure against God, we are left with the feeling that we haven't done enough. He said, "Be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). Still, even without claiming perfection, most people who belong to polite society cherish the thought that they somehow deserve heaven. "We don't kill, rape or steal. We don't hurt or harm others." They don't pause to think that they have what might be labelled "negative goodness." In a sense, they are not claiming goodness. Theirs is a claim to not being bad. Comparing ourselves with those who are not as good, always disguises our pride. But that is so foolish. It is like the person who has missed the bus because he was five minutes late, turning to the man arriving after seven minutes and saying, "Hey! I'm better than you. I got here two minutes earlier than you." Does it matter? Both have missed the bus. Both of them will not be going anywhere.
That precisely is what Romans 3: 23 is talking about, when it says that our sin makes us fall short of the glory of God. He has set up the target, and the target is God Himself. He is the standard against which we are measured. It does not matter whether someone misses that target by one inch and someone else misses it by a mile. When the requirement is to hit the bull's-eye, missing it by an inch is no better than missing it by a mile.
When God is the standard, we can never conclude that we have matched the standard. That rich young man felt it all. When Jesus told him to keep the Law, he could proudly claim to have done so. But at the same time, he had a gnawing thought that there was some deficiency, some emptiness in himself.
This is so true for all of us. While we may consider ourselves worthy of God's favour, if we were pressed to answer whether we are perfect, all of us would have to confess that we are not perfect. In fact, one would have to be stupid to claim perfection. When we try to reach God's standard of holiness, all we are left with is this sense of not having done enough. That is why, while the tax collector who simply asked for mercy, went home knowing that he had been justified (Lk. 18:14), the Pharisee, who proudly trotted out all his religious accomplishments, had no assurance that God had even heard him. He asked God for nothing and instead told God to take what he himself had to offer (his big fat self). He was answered: he got what he asked for-nothing.
A Second Falling Short
But there is also another kind of falling short that the Bible talks of. The Scriptures talk not only of falling short before we come to Christ, they talk also of falling short after we come to Christ (Heb.12:15):
* Before coming to Christ: all fall short of the glory;
* After receiving Christ: believers can fall short of grace.
How can that be? We believe that the grace of God is sufficient, nay, more than sufficient. How then can the grace of God fall short? God's grace will never run out. He is the source of everything in the world. He is able to sustain everything because He created them and they exist, powered by Him. He is sufficient unto Himself. He does not need any other. He does not need another source of power to sustain what He has created. That means that it is impossible for His grace to fall short.
Loss Of Sustenance
There is only one way God's grace can fall short in our experience. We ourselves fail to take the grace that is offered. We took the grace-offering of salvation when we came to Christ. But we don't always stay connected to God's grace. We foolishly, subconsciously think that that is the one time we needed the grace of God; having accepted it, we ignore grace in our lives by just taking it for granted. We do not feel that we need to actively and daily be open and receptive to grace. When we have that attitude, we begin falling short of grace, because God does not force Himself on people. Where He is sidelined, He withdraws. Remember, the picture that the Lord Jesus drew for the church at Laodicea. Though they were the church of Christ, having received Him as Saviour and Lord, Jesus was on the outside of their door knocking to be admitted to their fellowship (Rev.3:20).
When the Lord taught about Him being the bread of life (Jn.6:35), He meant that those who come to Him, will have a new kind of life-eternal life. This new life has a new quality to it: people who have it "know" God (17:3). The Bible uses the word "know" to describe intercourse between a husband and wife. So, when the Bible talks of knowing God, it is talking of an intimate, interactive relationship with God. Jesus said that that intimate relationship-life is sustained by Him. He is the bread that will sustain our soul-life. He initiates this new life (6:40, 47-54)) and sustains it by feeding us with Himself, His life, His power (vv.55-58). But the church in Laodicea had left the sustaining fellowship of the Lord. He was left out from their table and their spiritual life had suffered. They still thought they had it all-spiritual wealth, insight and righteousness-and they were not even aware of having become impoverished, blind and nakedly, shamefully unrighteous (Rev.3:17), for all of which there was only one remedy: returning to the relationship of finding their sustenance in fellowship with Christ (vv.18-20).
Falling Short of Grace
The book of Hebrews is where we get the clear warning about not falling short of grace: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing upshould cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (12:14-15, NKJV).
A study of Hebrews will show how the soul journeys to this point of falling short of grace. The writer first warns of the possibility of experiencing a drifting from the truth that has come into the life of the believer: "We must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it" (2:1, NLT).
The truth that Jesus brought to us is important. It is the truth that has brought us life. He is the truth and He is our life (Jn.14:6). When we don't hold to Him who is the truth, we lose the way, for He is the way. Then we begin to drift. We drift because we don't know the way, and that is because we have completely forgotten that it is in reaching the Father that our lives find meaning and fulfilment.
Hardening of Heart
Hebrews then warns us against growing hard (3:8,15; 4:7). The warning is plain: "Don't harden yourself." Growing hard is something we do to ourselves. No one else can do it in our lives. The prime biblical example of someone who grows hard is the old Pharaoh who refused to respond to God's overtures. He would swing between saying that God is God and asking, "Who is God that I should obey Him.” One moment, he would ask for forgiveness, and when the forgiveness came, the moment of penitence was gone because the moment of danger and harm was over. He would then make another attempt at defying God's power. Each act of defiance brought more and more hardness, and in the end, he and all Egypt lost their firstborn sons-the heirs to the future of Egypt. They became a broken people who grieved and despaired. In desperation they told the Israelites to go free. Remarkably, even that grief and despair disappeared, to be replaced by a fresh hardening that birthed an act of rebellion against the manifest powerfulness of the Lord God. They pursued the Israelites as though they were mere animals to be hunted down, captured and put back to slave labour-as though there was no God who could protect them against the might of the Egyptian army.
But the writer of Hebrews does not refer to Pharaoh's hardness of heart. It is to Israel's hardening of the heart that our attention is drawn. Israel that had been witness to the power of God acting on their behalf and in their favour, forgot the grace of God. Every time God would meet their need, they would take it, but would very soon act as though there was no grace of God in their lives. God protected them, guided them, provided food and water, but their complaining never stopped. Having escaped mighty Egypt's power, when they were about to enter the Promised Land (flowing with milk and honey), they balked at the report that there were giants in the land. They seemed content to live homeless and wandering in the wilderness, than go into the land that had been promised to them. God said it was nothing but their hardness of heart that made them ignore all the signs of grace that had been their portion in the midst of the extreme barrenness of the harsh wilderness that they had journeyed through (Psa. 95:7-11). Remarkable, isn't it? Having witnessed what happened to hard-hearted Pharaoh, they still showed a similar hardness of heart toward God, the One Who had defeated Pharaoh and liberated them. They ignored the grace of God-the grace in their lives.
The writer of Hebrews thinks that this is a condition that can creep up on the Christian, and warns us no less than three times. Having stated it with a full quotation of a passage of Scripture (3:7-11), the subject is referred to twice more (v.15; 4:7).
Our Lord warned that there are those who allow the seed of the Gospel to come into their lives, but their lives are hard like ground that is a thoroughfare for the world (and its views) or underneath soft topsoil, there is hard rock that remains impenetrable to the Gospel. Such lives, He said, are not fruitful lives (Matt.13:19-21).
Falling Into A Pattern
Hardness of heart is followed by leaving the Living God (3:12). Jeremiah said Israel had, in turning from the Living God to idols, turned from the fountain of running water to cracked cisterns that couldn't store water (2:11-13). There are people who exchange glory for shame. In their hearts they know God has to be greater than anything they create with their hands (Rom.1:19-23), but when they silence the truth that they know, they travel downward into shame (vv.24-32).
But, says the author of Hebrews, we have God's promise and we should make sure that we don't fall short of claiming it: "Since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it" (4:1, NIV). The promise stands. Don't fall short of claiming it. If we don't take advantage of grace, what happens is that we "fall into a pattern of disobedience." That is the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible phrases it: "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (4:11).
Those who fall into such a pattern, instead of going on to maturity in Christ, experience a falling away from Christ (6:6) and are filled with terror whenever they think of the judgement that is coming (10:26-27). And all this is simply because we fall short of grace (12:15). There is plenty of God's grace, but it is our failure that we have not gone back again and again for fresh supplies of grace.
Throne of Grace
The writer of Hebrews says that God has a throne of grace: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (4:14-16).
This is a wonderful word picture that we have been given. God has a throne. Whenever we have thought of the word "throne," we have always thought of it as representing the might of a kingdom. Earthly thrones represent power. From the throne a king sends forth his decrees. From the throne he rules. From the throne he dispenses justice and punishments. No earthly throne has ever been identified as a throne of grace.
Who, but God, would have such a throne of grace? Open your eyes and see Who it is Who sits on that throne. It is our High Priest Who is on the throne of grace. He feels for us because He Himself has gone through our experiences and He has grace for us for all our needs and His grace is there for us all the time.