“The Simul” is not an excuse

(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.”

SinnerSaint-300x300“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.”

About Pastor Bruce Timm

Pastor Timm serves Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. He is married to Valerie and they have four children - three "mostly grown" daughters and one son at home. Pastor Timm was ordained in Lutheran Church - Canada in 1988 and served in the LCC until 2001 when he began serving Redeemer. He "enjoys" maintaining the fleet of cars he owns for his children, exercising his second amendment rights, and discovering the delights of single malt beverages from Scotland. He is a Saint Louis grad, but is regularly confused with graduates of Fort Wayne. He takes that as a compliment.


“The Simul” is not an excuse — 7 Comments

  1. Thank you, Pr. Timms.

    As I read your piece, I couldn’t help but recall some of what the late great Robert Preus had to say on this matter:

    To Luther the paradox simul justus et peccator is not an ontological description of man as righteous and a sinner, nor a statement about the old and new man, but a simple affirmation of two biblical assertions concerning man, the assertion of the law that man is a sinner and under God’s wrath and the assertion of the gospel that man is righteous and God is at peace. Both assertions are true in fact, ontologically. The second verdict, however, or assertion, takes total preeminence over the first by virtue of the principle of solus Christus. Christ is Lord! He is Lord of the Scriptures, of all doctrine, theology, and “everything.” (See LW 27:156)

    Robert Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession”, fromDoctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture, pp. 282-283.

    I especially appreciated this point of yours:

    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.”

    This is a true paradox! As much as we rightly inveigh against the “fruit-checking” of American evangelicalism, devoid as it most often is of an anchor in the assurance of the Gospel (through Word and Sacrament), our own Confessions have this to say on the matter:

    “And since the Holy Ghost dwells in the elect, who have become believers, as in His temple, and is not idle in them, but impels the children of God to obedience to God’s commands, believers, likewise, should not be idle, and much less resist the impulse of God’s Spirit, but should exercise themselves in all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, brotherly love, and give all diligence to make their calling and election sure, in order that they may doubt the less concerning it, the more they experience the power and strength of the Spirit within them. For the Spirit bears witness to the elect that they are God’s children, Rom. 8:16. And although they sometimes fall into temptation so grievous that they imagine they perceive no more power of the indwelling Spirit of God, and say with David, Ps. 31:22: “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before Thine eyes,” yet they should, without regard to what they experience in themselves, again be encouraged and say with David, as is written ibidem, in the words immediately following: “Nevertheless Thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto Thee.”

    Thank you again, and God bless you as your labor in Christ’s vineyard.

  2. Thanks for this. I especially like how you say that luridly recounting one’s sins when one was unrepentant “extols” the sinner. It’s not a contest, but I suppose some people think it is as far as demonstrating just how fallen they were/perhaps-still-want-to-be. (I can only assume the latter because why wallow in the memory of those sins that have been forgiven? I can understand wanting to remember what has tempted you in the past so as not to give in to it again, but constantly recounting it at every moment seems self-indulgent to me.)

  3. 1. I love the artwork. Where did you get it?

    2. Dr. Thomas Winger’s in-laws are members of our church. He was just here visiting on New Year’s Eve.

    Thanks, Bruce!

  4. I think it’s just shorthand.
    I use the term “The Simul” and I don’t see that I believe anything different about it. One of my mentors Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn used it and I don’t think he had a deviant theology.
    Good article, though.

  5. I ran into the Army Chaplain I credit with first introducing me to Christ, many years afterwards. He was unaware of the impact he had on me as a young man by his preaching and spirit-led life, and I was able to share with him how I came to Christ and left a life of sin. A fine reunion, but I felt like it was a bit ruined when he began to pester me about the details of the life I left to seek Christ, instead. I guess my sinful life didn’t really measure up to what he expected, consisting more of “moral” sins such as pride, deceipt, and self-worship than debauchery and mayhem. It was then that I began to wonder along these same lines.
    As far as being uncomfortable with fashion… it isn’t because you are older, it’s because you are conservative. We laymen are looking to you and loyal pastors with whom you share this temperament to prevent our synod from sliding, first into error, and finally into heresy. Keep the faith, Brother.

  6. “Luther’s immeasurably high regard for Christ will not allow him to say that we are equally saint and sinner, for Christ always outweighs sin. Only in this sense can the Christian be called “partly sinner” and “partly saint”. Otherwise, Luther in his later years insists on the paradoxical language of totality. These words from his 3rd Antinomian Disputation (1538) may be regarded as vintage Luther: “For this is true, that according to the divine reckoning we are in fact and totally righteous, even though sin is still present. … So we are in fact [at the same time] and altogether sinners” (WA 39I:56313-5644).4”


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