Back in 1992 I was thinking I was pretty big stuff. I was starting to drive and I was making some money. I had a paper route that I did with my brother, rising far earlier than any other kids I knew at school so that I could deliver my papers, get home, shower, watch SportsCenter and get to school in time for my early bird classes–a voluntary class period offered before the start of the regular school day. I also did some yard work for a few customers, mostly mowing, and seized other opportunities that came along to make some extra money. Then I got a part-time job working at the local drug store, which I did in addition to all of the above. My expenses were minimal and I had a goal in mind.
I wanted my own car. Not just any car, mind you. Despite not really being much of a “car guy”–when it came to the mechanics of an automobile I knew very little and even basic auto maintenance was beyond me–I had somehow developed a fondness for Porsche cars. I do not remember where that originated, or even when, but I knew I liked them. On the rare occasions when I would see one on the road it always caught my eye. I knew what I wanted and I was going to work hard and get it.
After a few years of the paper route, innumerable miles walked behind a lawn mower, driveways shoveled after snow storms and lots of change counted back to customers at the drug store I had accumulated a nice savings account. On top of that, I was a well-behaved young man, earned excellent grades and spent most of my free time playing sports or reading books. The most trouble I had ever been in was a police officer telling me I had to obey all traffic laws after I had failed to stop my 10-speed bicycle at a Stop sign coming home from work one day.
So, shortly after I turned 16, I went to the bank and withdrew my hard-earned $4,296.17 (including interest earned for letting it sit there!). I borrowed the family’s Chevy station wagon–you know, the one with the lining of the ceiling held up with thumb tacks–and set off for the Porsche dealer. There was not one in our town so I had to drive a ways to the big city to get there. I got a few looks when my dark blue wagon pulled onto the lot, but I didn’t care; I knew I would soon be saying goodbye to that car forever.
I walked into the showroom and there is was: a beautiful 911 Turbo S. It was a metallic navy blue, shiny chrome on the wheels and the spoiler was up, just how I liked it. I walked around the car and admired it from every angle. I think I avoided having drool spill out of the corner of my mouth, but it had to have been close. This was the car I had dreamed of and here it was. Behind me a sharply dressed man approached and said, less politely than I would have imagined from a Porsche salesman, “Can I help you?”
“I expect so,” I responded. “I am here to buy this car.”
“Is that right?” he said, the less-than-polite tone seeming to become even less polite, yet somehow mixed with a bit of incredulity.
“Yes it is,” I responded. “I have been dreaming of this car for a few years now, and I have worked hard and I am ready to make it mine.”
“Young man,” he said, “do you know how much money it would take to buy this car?”
“No I don’t,” I said. “I thought that was why you’re here.”
He smiled, but not a friendly smile. More of a you think that’s cute, kid? smile. “The list price on this car,” he then said in measured words, “is $118,935.”
I had been smiling up to this point, I am sure. Ear-to-ear smiling probably. But the smile disappeared in an instant. Somehow this caused his smile to grow wider. “Not quite what you have with you?” he asked, clearly condescending now.
“No,” I replied. “Not even close. But I have worked extremely hard for what I have. I have earned excellent grades in school, I have stayed out of trouble and I have saved every penny I could because I want this car. I have Porsche posters on the wall of my bedroom and pictures of Porsches in my locker. My favorite t-shirt has the Porsche logo on it and look,” I said, pulling it out of my back pocket, “so does my wallet.”
“That’s all very nice,” the man said, “but none of that matters much. We do appreciate your affinity for our automobiles, of course, but that does not entitle you to drive one.”
“But I have been telling everyone about this Porsche,” I told him. “Everyone! I can tell you the length of it, the wheel base, the horsepower! I know the name of the engineer who designed the original engine. I have been waiting, hoping and longing for this day. Anytime someone asked me I told them I was going to buy a Porsche! I have worked as hard as I can to save this money–almost $4,300. You can’t send me away without that car…”
“I’m afraid I can,” the man replied. “The money you have there is far short of what is required. You would need about twenty-five times more money than you have there to purchase this car. Your efforts are commendable, I suppose, but you’ve simply come up short. Waaaayyy short. Now I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
The story above is just that–a story. There are elements of truth to it; I really did have those jobs, for example, and I really did have a police officer fuss at me for not stopping my bike at a Stop sign. I also am not a car guy, yet I do have a fondness for a Porsche 911 Turbo–especially with the spoiler up. But I am wise enough to know that I could never purchase one with forty-three hundred dollars. The point of the story is to (inadequately, I acknowledge) illustrate the meaning of ὑστερέω. That is a Greek word, rendered hustereó in English, that means “to fall short.” HELPS Word Studies says “This state of lack (insufficiency, privation) naturally results when a person misses out on what is vital.” I my story above I had missed out on the vital realization of exactly how much a Porsche would cost. But that same word appears in Romans 3:23, which says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV).
The Voice paraphrases the verse this way: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” The standard God has is perfection. Absolute holiness and righteousness. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden we have all been born in sin and, try though we might, we cannot ever come close–not even one twenty-fifth as in my story above–of that standard. It does not matter how good we are, how hard we may work, how many people we tell about God, how many t-shirts or car magnets or wrist bands we have with crosses or fish symbols or John 3:16 on them. All of that combined and multiplied exponentially would still leave us infinitely short of God’s standard. Of our very best efforts the Bible uses some very vivid language–and not in a complimentary way, either! The cleaned up, suitable for polite conversation version says that all of our efforts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Romans 6:23 tells us that the just due for our sin is death–eternal separation from God. The good news is that that same verse tells us that the gift of God–the free gift which no one deserves but which all can receive–is the eternal life. In other words, God has set an impossible standard that none of us can meet, but He has also provided a way for it to be met for us. He did that through His Son Jesus, who died on the cross in our place as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, KJV).
That would be, by way of pathetic example, as if the salesman in the story above looked at my savings and said, “You’re not even close to being able to pay for this car. However, because I love you, I will give it to you.”
God has looked at each and every human being and said, “You are ὑστερέω. You are not even close. You could do your very best from now until you die but you will be no closer then than you are now. You simply cannot do it. It is not possible. However, I love you. And if you will accept my love, acknowledge your own inadequacy and fallenness, and accept the sacrifice of my Son on your behalf, I will give you eternal life anyway. You cannot earn it, and you do not deserve it, but I will give it to you…because I love you.”
That is the wonder of God’s love.