Reformation, Luther, Justification

Luther was a Dirty Hesher

Luther was a Dirty Hesher

In the next couple post, I will examine the two great giants of the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). There is much in between them and Augustine to ponder, such as how Via Moderna shifted the focus of justification from state to status.[1] But, it was these two men that had that had the biggest affect on the Reformed doctrine of justification. This is why it is important to have at least a basic understanding of how they viewed this subject.  Right now,  I will specifically explain Luther’s view on the matter.

To understand Luther’s view of justification, one has to realize that his view grew and changed through out his life. Carl Trueman believes that the most significant changes happened from 1515 until 1520. He comments on how Luther’s first major formulation of justification can be seen in his commentary on Romans 4:7.[2] Here Luther likens justification to a doctor pronouncing an ill patient healthy based on the fact that he, the doctor, is capable of restoring that man to health. Is the patient healthy at that moment? No, but he is declared healthy because in the future he will be in that state because of the sure capability of the doctor. Likewise, Christ can declare us currently justified based on the fact that he can and will cause us to be justifiable. Our status changes because of faithfulness of the good doctor. It is interesting; in Luther’s early view there is a mix of both status and state with in an eschatological rubric. Our status is declared right with God based on Christ’s capability to make us right in the future.

This view dramatically changed in the next five years of his life as his theological view points matured. For Luther, status and state became bifurcated under two different kinds of righteousness. This can be seen in his sermon Two Kinds of Righteousness, where he distinguishes between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. Alien righteousness is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to us when we have faith in Him. He writes that, “this righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.”[3] Just as Adam’s sin destroyed humanities status before God, so did Christ’s life and death give us a new status before Him. The second righteousness, that is proper righteousness, is a product of the alien righteousness. When a person experiences the first one then he is transformed and seeks to crucify the flesh, love his neighbor, and most importantly love God. It doesn’t accomplish anything before God but it accomplishes much before man.

For these two forms of righteousness he uses the analogy of marriage. In the marriage relationship, which Jesus has with the Church, they share all things. The Church receives His righteousness and He has taken her sin. Furthermore, Luther writes, “Through the righteousness of the first arises the voice of the bridegroom who says to the soul, ‘I am yours,’ but through the voice of the second comes the voice of the bride who says, ‘I am yours.’ Then the marriage is consummated…. Then the soul no longer seeks to righteous in and for itself, but it has Christ as its righteousness and therefore only seeks the welfare of others.”[4] For Luther, justification is entirely received from the work and person of Christ; sanctification is reactionary and is the product of being loved by Christ.

As we can see, Luther’s understanding of justification radically shifted within a short period of time.  At first, he believed justification to be a current declaration of ‘righteous’ based on Christ’s ability to make a person so.   Then, he shifts to a purely external form of righteousness based on union with Christ.  This righteousness has a freeing affect, allowing a person to love his neighbor without selfishness.

[1] Carl Trueman notes how voluntarism changed problem of sin from ontology to the relationship between God and Man. Hence the focus on status. Carl Trueman, edited by Bruce L. McCormack, “Simul Peccator et Justus”, Justification in Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 81.

[2] Carl Trueman, Ibid., 75.

[3] Rev. Martin Luther, Two Kinds of Righteousness, paragraph 3.

[4] Ibid, paragraph 9.

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One response to “Reformation, Luther, Justification

  1. Thank you; this information was great. Blessings!

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