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There is a phrase in Paul’s letters that is notoriously difficult to translate. It occurs at key moments in major letters like Romans and 2 Corinthians. Most often the phrase is translated into English as “the righteousness of God.”
Notice how the New American Standard Version renders Romans 1:16-17:
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written” But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Now Romans 3:21-22 (NASV):
21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; . . .
Now I must admit that I like the NASV translation; I have preached from it for years. It is probably the most literal translation into English we have. If you have the time, interest, and skill in doing a word study, it is an important translation to have around. Unfortunately, it tends to obscure the meaning of important phrases. People without a background in Scripture may be left scratching their heads.
So what does “the righteousness of God” refer to? It is an important question. Without getting that straight you can’t make heads or tails out of what Paul is saying in these key passages. Scholars, by the way, have been debating the significance of this phrase in these letters for centuries. So it is no easy task.
When we were translating THE VOICE, we spent a great deal of time working through Paul’s language in these passages. We ended up with what I think is a faithful and helpful rendering. Here is The Voice translation of Romans 1:16-17:
16For I am not the least bit embarrassed about the gospel. I won’t shy away from it, because it is God’s power to save every person who believes: first the Jew, and then the non-Jew. 17You see, in the good news, God’s restorative justice is revealed. And as we will see, it begins with and ends in faith. As the Scripture declares: “By faith the just will obtain life.”
Now Romans 3:21-22:
21But now for the good news: God’s restorative justice has entered the world, independent of the law. Both the law and the prophets told us this day would come. 22This redeeming justice comes through the faithfulness of Jesus, the Anointed, who makes salvation a reality for all who believe—without the slightest partiality.
Now, we think this translation may help shed light on what Paul is getting at here in these verses. Still we decided to put some commentary with it to help people think through it.
The phrases “God’s restorative justice” and “this redeeming justice” refer to the same reality. For Paul the good news—the gospel—is located in history in the incarnation and sacrificial death of Jesus. By “God’s restorative justice” Paul means first that justice and rightness belong to God; they reflect his character. God, and no one else, determines what is right and what is just. But as we all know, character is reflected in action. “Justice” and “righteousness” are nouns of action. This means that God’s justice must express itself in some way. So it is in the nature of a just God to act, to restore, to redeem, to repair the world. This God did primarily through His Son, Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King.
Paul would not shy away from these bold claims. The gospel is power. It is God’s power to restore the world to what it can and ought to be. But how do we get in on what God is doing? Well, Paul says, it begins with and ends in faith. It begins with God’s faithfulness to His creation, then His covenant people. It continues with Jesus’ faithfulness to God to enter our broken realm to give Himself in love to begin its repair. It ends with us, hearing and responding in faith and following faithfully in his footsteps.
Now read the passage again with these things in mind. Do you see it? Did you get it? Recognize that from the beginning God has been at work to restore our world so badly damaged by sin and corruption.
“A story is a way to say something which can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say it.” –Flannery O’Connor
I thought I’d revisit a post I wrote back in 2011 because it received a number of comments and continues to be relevant. I was inspired recently by a statement Flannery O’Connor made about “story.” She was a gifted southern writer whose stories continue garner attention.
We received a question on our Voice Facebook page from one of our fans.
Question: “What is propositional-based thought and how does it apply to us?”
The fan is referring to the introduction in one of The Voice products where we observe that people do not respond to propositions as well as they respond to stories. This, of course, is nothing new. People have been telling stories for thousands of years. Humans are hard-wired to tell stories, remember them and pass them along to others.
Not long ago when people were sharing “the gospel,” they would boil it down to a set of manageable propositions:
1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
2. But you are a sinner separated from God.
3. Christ died for your sins and helps to bridge the gap between you and God.
4. So put your trust in Jesus to be saved and you .
Now these propositions are true, but they make little sense when isolated from the greater story of God’s plan and purpose for the world and us.
Let me illustrate it this way. Here are some lines from one of the greatest films of all time (Casablanca 1942):
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”
“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world and she walks into mine.”
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.”
Now these are some of the most memorable lines in the film. But without the rest of the story you have no clue what it going on. They might punctuate the story, remind you of the story, illustrate the story, but they are no substitute for the story itself.
Imagine deciding whether or not to marry someone based on a resume. You might say, “Well, he looks good on paper.” No. We would never do that. On a first date you don’t exchange resumes or give a list of your strengths and weaknesses (you don’t, that is, if you expect a second date!). No. You sit down over a good meal and begin to tell your story. You talk about where you come from, what you love to do, what it was like to be the older brother or sister in a family of four, or whatever is unique to your own story. This is how we woo a potential partner and how we make friends, by telling our unique stories to those willing to listen.
God did not give us a list of propositions to follow. He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he gave us 66 books that detail an amazing story of love and redemption. Thomas Nelson has created The Voice Bible because they recognize the power of stories to tell the truth and call us into a new life.