LentBlog Day 11: Righteousness and justification. AKA The English Language Fails Again.

Romans 5:6-11.

I guess I’ve been thinking about the topic of this post for a while now. Since I’ve started reading and blogging about Romans, I’m almost continually reminded of the course at Nazarene Seminary I had with Dr. Alex Deasley.

I’ll never forget how many times he said something like, “and here again the NRSV gets it wrong” with his thick, slow, articulate London-ish accent. He taught us a ton in that course right before he retired. One of the things I remember, in addition to several hilarious one-liners, was his treatment of the word for “righteous” or “righteousness.”righteousness

It turns out the same Greek root word is elsewhere translated “justice” or “justification.” Insert Deasley’s words here: “here again the NRSV gets it wrong” along with most other English translations. The problem here is that when it’s used in the verbal form, there’s not really an English word for what Paul is saying here. So Dr. Deasley created one: instead of “justification” or “justified,” he used the words “rightification” and “rightified.”

And while that may seem like a small translation nuance, it was a biggie for me.  I’m conditioned by my native tongue, I guess, but “justice” and “justification” bring to mind courtrooms, penalties, and our old friend Substitutionary Atonement.

Problem is, the words are better translated as variations of “righteous.” Being made righteous or “rightified” is a whole different ballgame than “justified” for me. What would it mean (to badly misquote Luther here, but it’s late, I’m exhausted, and these are devotional reflections, not scholarly research) for the justice of God not to be some standard by which we are judged. What if God’s “justice” is really God’s righteousness that he wants to work in us through the faith of Jesus? Being justified sounds static, final, and stoic to me. Being made righteous, especially when coupled with the reconciliation language Paul uses here and elsewhere, sounds a lot more relational, dynamic, and real-time.

Man, sometimes I wish the English language had better words.

Blessings all. Have a great week!


LentBlog Day 2: On Faith and Righteousness.

Romans 1:8-16Image

Even though he is about to totally shred them, Paul follows the typical letter form and begins with a thanksgiving. He also gives us the main point of the letter, introducing two very important words: Faith and Righteousness.

The Good News (of Jesus, to whom Paul is enslaved, remember) is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. Same root word (πίστις: pistis) here for “faith” and “believe.” To believe is the verbal form of faith. In the gospel, God’s righteousness is reavealed… from faith to faith. No bones about it… righteousness comes through faith.

And the faith of the Roman church is being proclaimed throughout the world.

That makes me wonder about the church. It wasn’t their success, their growth, or even their works of piety or service that was proclaimed throughout the world. It was their faith. The faith of Abraham, which goes when God says “go.” Even if it doesn’t make any sense. What would it mean for the church to be known for our faith? For the works we do in the world: caring for the poor and the sick, loving our neighbors without limits, living-out the mission of God… somehow for it to be clearly known that these actions come from faith in the Gospel, not just from a desire to do good stuff.

The other thing that strikes me about this passage is Paul’s desire to be in-community with the Romans church. He wants to go to Rome and help them, yes… but it’s more than that. Rather, he says he wants to see them “so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (v. 12). Here’s the Apostle Paul, who in just a few verses is about to get everyone into trouble, admitting he needs to be strengthened by their faith as well. So much so that he proclaims himself a “debtor” (one who owes) to Greeks and barbarians (?!).

One of my greatest joys in this life of ministry is watching the faith of people grow. When my 2-year-old said “thank you, Jesus” when he received communion elements this week (We’re Nazarenes, so we serve communion to little ones) I literally laughed with joy. We pastor types spend our lives trying to open up spaces for folks to develop and exercise the faith that leads to righteousness. When it happens… it helps our faith, too. It runs deeper than more numbers or a notch in our gun belt or something (if it doesn’t we’re in serious trouble). God speaks to us… confirms His call… shows us the Kingdom… grows our faith… through the developing faith of our people. We really do need each other. Really.

Because the converse of that is also true: when our people fail, whether that failure is directed towards us or elsewhere, it tears us apart.

It’s as if Paul here has such a confidence in the Romans’ hunger for God he can’t wait to get there. It’s as if he just knows what’s going to happen. Their faith is about to explode all over the place, and he can’t wait to be a part of it.

“Jesus be the center of your church.”

Lord Jesus, may our churches be communities where pastors can’t wait to get at it, because they know the people are so hungry, so faithful, that sharing in the Gospel together is an intimate part of their own journey.