(Note: For a thorough and scholarly look at “simul justus et peccator” read Dr. Thomas Winger’s article “SIMUL JUSTUS ET PECCATOR: DID LUTHER AND THE CONFESSIONS GET PAUL RIGHT?” in the Lutheran Theological Review by clicking here.)
It seems to be fashionable within the last few years to refer to Luther’s phrase, “simul justus et peccator” (at the same time saint and sinner) as simply “The Simul.” Perhaps because I am getting older I am suspicious of fashion. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. I am really suspect of fashionable theology.
I’m not exactly sure what is intended when pastors talk about “The Simul.” Maybe it is simply shorthand for the full statement. Here, however, are a few things I know about “The Simul.”
“The Simul” (that we, as baptized Christians, are simultaneously saint and sinner) should not and cannot be used as an excuse for sin. While Saint Paul disclosed the reality that he struggled with his sinful flesh even as a faithful Christian, he also knew it was something from which he needed to be and had been delivered. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24–25, ESV)
“The Simul” should not lead to boasting about how great a sinner you were/are. We are to boast in Christ. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, ESV) I’m glad Christ could save a wretch like you, but it doesn’t really help me to know how “wretched” you were. Tell your father confessor your sins and let him bury them. We do not need to know how many drugs you took, or women you slept with other than your wife, to know how great Christ is. Such stories may seek to glorify Christ, but they attempt such glory in an odd sort of way – by extolling the miserable person He saved. When any one of us is led by the Holy Spirit to an honest confession, each of us knows “I am the worst.” Coming to the knowledge of that truth, by the same Spirit, leads to the joyful confession of “Thanks be to God for the salvation that comes (even to me) through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Tell me about Jesus, not about you.
“The Simul” does not exempt you from sanctification and good works. While we regularly and truthfully confess in the Divine Service that, “I am a poor, miserable sinner” that confession is neither your only reality nor your “greater” reality. The greater of the two realities in the life of a baptized Christian is saint. It may not feel like it. It may not look like it, but your greater and truer reality is saint. How do you know that? Because Christ is risen from the dead. His resurrection means your sin is forgiven and you are declared righteous before the Father. Saint is the greater reality because you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Saint is your eternal reality – the old is passing away, the new is come.
Because you are saint a lot of God’s Word is aimed at this greater reality. God’s Word declares you to be just. By the working of the Holy Spirit a new heart is created within you and a new man in Christ is born in you. Saint Paul exhorts the Colossians, who have died with Christ and been raised with Him to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5, ESV) Sin is to be put away in the life of the baptized Christian. Good works are to be worked. The fruits of repentance are to be borne.
Is the evidence of faith to be sought in your works? Well, if you hold to the paradox of “saint and sinner” then the answer must be “No and Yes.” No, do not seek the ultimate evidence of your saintly identity in your works. That certainty and proof is found only in Christ’s death and resurrection. Does progress mean you are more saintly? Does failure mean you are more sinner? No. Short of the resurrection you will be saint and sinner simultaneously. However, the other side of the paradox answers, “Yes, works offer proof that faith is living.” That is what Saint James proclaimed under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (See James 2:17.) That is what Paul Speratus teaches us to sing in “Salvation unto Us has Come” (See LSB #555, st. 9). That is what Luther preached, “… good works will naturally follow (faith). If they do not, faith is surely not present; for where faith is, there the Holy Ghost is and must work love and good works.” (Sermon for First Sunday in Advent, Church Postil)
You are declared right in Christ while you are a sinner. (That is who you are.) You will sin, even as you are holy and righteous in God’s sight through Christ, and by that same grace of God you will always be fighting your sin. (That is what it is like to live the Christian life.) That’s living in “the Simul.”