Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Explanation of Saint and Sinner (Simul Iustus et Peccator)

A friend posted the following on her facebook page. It got me thinking. First the post:
"going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car"~ thanks Mrs. Baldree for this one...Mrs. Baldree was my childhood Sunday School teacher and you didn't have to ask her if she was a Christian, you knew by the way she treated others and how she acted without ever casting judgment on others....a shining example for so many Sunday Christians out there

I want to focus on the bit about how she knew her teacher was a Christian. That she knew it by the way she treated others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus states:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 ESV)
We WILL be known by our love for one another. This sentiment is absolutely true. However, I believe the sentiment of acting right (in the case of the earlier statement, how the teacher acted without ever casting judgment on others....a shining example for so many Sunday Christians out there) is an utterly false understanding of what makes one a Christian. The notion that Christians at church or anywhere are a bunch of hypocrites is completely false. But this is what we have been taught either at church or out in the world. "They say they are a Christian, but they sure don't act it!" The very essence of being a Christian is understanding that we are completely incapable of doing good. Paul writes to the Ephesians (chapter 2, verses 4-5) that God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were DEAD in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. It is by grace in which we have been saved -- made alive.

Our righteousness as Christians is not found in our love for one another. Loving others and other good works are not what makes us in right standing with a holy God. It is Christ and Him crucified for our sins.

Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is His, and His alone. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land. It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin, this is called simul iustus et peccator: simul, simultaneously; iustus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. This literally translates – simultaneously righteous and sinful. It is a term that I believe was termed by Martin Luther during the Reformation of the 16th century.

Martin Luther recognized that even in a state of regeneration the believer still lives in the world and still in fact does commit acts of sin. The doctrine of "simul iustus" is not an excuse for lawlessness, or a license for continued sinful conduct; rather, properly understood, it comforts the person who truly wishes to be free from sin and is aware of the inner struggle within him. This is not to deny that the Christian may ever "improve" in his or her conduct. Instead, Luther was wanting to keep Christians from either relying upon or despairing because of their own conduct or attitude.

This concept is evidenced as Paul writes in Romans, Chapter 7. Notice that he speaks in the PRESENT tense, as he is currently a believer in the death and resurrection of Christ, but still struggles with sin.

Paul writes:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. . .
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:15-20 ESV)

There is no attempt to redefine sin to make it anything less than what it is. Rather there is a stark recognition of the dialectic of the Christian's acceptance before God and the fact that he still sins. Luther's phrase to describe this condition was that the state of the Christian between regeneration and ultimate glorification is simul iustus et peccator, at once just (or justified) and sinner. This is not a condition that will ever be transcended in this life. Rather, the believer must always rely on the finished work of Christ for his or her acceptance before God.

John wrote in 1 John:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1 John 1:5-2:2 ESV)

Christ did not come to make us better people. Nor to be a good example of how someone should live. He came to make dead people alive again. This is the gospel. THE GOOD NEWS! As the old hymn aptly states: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness! Amen!

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