Luther’s “Simul” Distinction in Lutheran Pastoral Care

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…” [Romans 4:5]

God justifies the ungodly. Who are the ungodly? The atheist? The lesbian? The abortionist? The pornographer? Christians? Many Christians ignore that they too are in the company of the ungodly who need justification by God’s grace.

Too easily we imagine that we at one time were among the ungodly, but now enjoy our own inherent righteousness, or “sanctification.” We behave as if that’s what keeps us right in God’s eyes. Far too many Christians, even those in the churches who bear Luther’s namesake, ignore the dual reality that the German reformer articulated in his famous dictum that we are simultaneously justified and ungodly: fully sinner and wholly saint at the same time.

For Lutheran pastoral care this means the key to the proper application of the “simul” distinction is acknowledging that the sinner cannot be rehabilitated by the Law, or good works. He can’t be coerced to do them by threats either. Death and resurrection is the mechanism by which God saves him. There’s no progress in holiness. There’s no ladder to climb. There’s no becoming less a sinner and more a saint. Every day the old man in Adam must die; the new man in Christ must rise. This is also key to understanding the proper function of the Law. It curbs, mirrors, and instructs the old man in Adam, the sinner. It does so to his death.

Distinct from this the new man in Christ needs no law. He needs no instruction. He perfectly knows and does the will of God because he has the mind of Christ. It is solely the old man in Adam who needs instruction. He needs to be shown what God’s will is for him. The Law must demand, coerce, and even bribe him to go along with God’s will. Why? Because, as Luther said in the Large Catechism, the old man in Adam is, “like a recalcitrant ass.”

Thus, to return to the thesis, the Latin phrase “simul iustus et peccator,” that a Christian is “simultaneously justified and a sinner,” is the hinge on which not only Lutheran pastoral care hangs, but Lutheran theology as a whole, especially as regards justification.

This formulation distinguishes Lutherans from the Roman Catholic and Reformed understanding of justification and sin in a particular way. For Lutherans, without this “simul” distinction pastoral care lapses into moralism. Salvation is reduced to a process of self-improvement in which God and man each contribute their fair share and man’s progress is measured against a scale of increasing holiness. To Lutherans this is totally unacceptable as it is incompatible with Scripture. It terrifies consciences because it doesn’t hold the old man in Adam and the new man in Christ in tension. Pastors then don’t treat the people under their care, as Luther wrote, “… according to the Divine reckoning,” that, “we are in fact and totally righteous, even though sin is present. So we are in fact at the same time and altogether sinners.” [Third Antinomian Disputation, 1538]

That’s the root of the Gospel. The good news about God’s justification of the ungodly in Christ. That, as Luther wrote, “Whatever sins I, you, and all of us have committed or may commit in the future, they are as much Christ’s own as if He Himself had committed them.” [Galatians Lectures, 1535]

This means there’s a difference when Lutheran pastors counsel a Christian “in concreto,” as distinct from, “in abstracto.” In the abstract, we may speak of the Christian as being a total sinner under the Law and a total saint under the Gospel. But in concrete reality it’s simply a both/and. Therefore, in this life, the “improvement” we pastors listen for and diagnose is nothing other than a death rattle, the daily death of the old Adam and the rising of the new man in Christ.


Comments

Luther’s “Simul” Distinction in Lutheran Pastoral Care — 27 Comments

  1. Pastor,
    How is this applied to the temporal? The Eternal, easy. The temporal doesn’t seem so much.

  2. One thing that I’ve discovered in just over 5 years in this Office is that a lot of pastoral ministry is waiting. When you get the call at 9 p.m. that your member took a turn for the worse, you go to the hospital, and you wait. Minutes turn to hours. You talk with the family, you wander the halls, you get some coffee and play a game of cards. You pray. You wait for death.

    The same is true of sanctification. It’s a lot of waiting for the old Adam to die. We are sinners at the same time justified, but both are not working their way toward the same thing. The sinner is working his way to the grave; the saint toward the resurrection. From baptism to committal, we are in that transitions phase as the old man and the new man are passing each other on the road.

    I think St. Paul is refering to in 1 Cor 7, when he says that the present form of this world is passing away. Right smack in the middle of his exhortation, he reminds the Corinthians that the old creation is heading toward the grave. That’s your old way of life, but for you who are baptized into Christ, there is a new life that has already begun. You won’t see it perfectly, but don’t be surprised if it peeks through every now and again and you happen to do a good work–it’s the power of God working in you!

  3. Dutch :
    Johan,
    who is good? no one.

    That’s the point.

    I agree that we all err and that we all need correction. If we take our Baptism seriously, most of the correction to which you refer ought to come from daily washing and regeneration.

    I agree that we have a duty to admonish one another. But there is great risk in that duty because each of us is guilty and guilty, not just “in abstracto” but “in concreto”. There is great temptation to catalogue specific sins, especially those which we think we do not commit, as more important than other sins, especially those which we, ourselves, cannot avoid. And, in that temptation, there is great temptation to set ourselves apart from others. Thus, the sentence (borrowed from a sermon that I once heard) that I quoted above.

  4. From the main post: “There’s no progress in holiness. There’s no ladder to climb. There’s no becoming less a sinner and more a saint.”

    Compare Phil 1:9-11 (ESV):
    “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

    And 2 Peter 1:5-11 (ESV):
    “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

  5. Johan,
    We are both on the same page I think. My question is, where is the line where we in love, not condemnation, but rebuke, admonish, correct, & encourage? Church discipline, is not mean it is a loving & most concerning act, towards that individual. It is about as serious as it gets, for those it matters to. Not so much to those who don’t care about what effect it has on those around them. It’s why we’re told to do so. It’s why being an elder, is a huge responsibility. One of the worst acts a Pastor has to do. But abstaining, is so much worse.
    For those who are submissive, obedient, repentive, humble & contrite, it never gets that far. But for those who are not, & have a consistant history of it, they won’t care. We have a choice when confronted w/sin, repent or take the stand, “that’s my story & I’ll hide, lie or cheat to make to stick to it.” Abstaining from what the Word Itself is good for, because of what may happen or be done by a wayward child of Christ, is no excuse. We do far more damage in abstaining & allowing, than centuries of mistakes ever could. The world, I think calls that enabling.

  6. @Dutch #7

    I’m sorry, Dutch, but I do not have a clear answer regarding the “line” – just keenly aware that there is one and, because we are sinners, there is great temptation to cross it.

    The truth is that each one of us leaves church on Sunday morning – having been reaffirmed in our Baptismal covenant and having been nourished with Word and Sacrament – and we are going to continue many of the sins for which we have just been forgiven. In my opinion, we all need to be admonished, but I’m not convinced the “big stick” is the appropriate tool.

  7. Johan,
    As a simple member, I know more people who walk up to kneel at that rail & leave those doors, that don’t do that, than do.

    Most that do that, I know of, are or were raised LCMS.

    That isn’t a big stick, that is proper good, right, & true. We should be very concerned about those, sin is sin, but avoiding what is hard, isn’t helpful to them. We do far more damage not confronting than we will ever do, in doing so. In the past, it has turned many a hard & wayward heart, from more sinful error.
    Or don’t we teach that, there comes a time, that there is a line we cannot cross with them, anymore?
    If the lost world holds that stuff to account, how or what defense do we have & what example of Light & Salt have we become, if we abstain let alone refuse? Look at what our Lord said to Peter. Peter didn’t want to see his Lord, taken, hurt, & killed. What was Christ’s response?
    His mercy & justice, as in Micah 6:8 & all over Paul’s words, mirror the same thing. Saying yes is easy, saying nothing is easier yet. Souls perish for that.

  8. I, too, would like an exegesis of the aforementioned Bible passages, as well as Ephesians 2:10.

    Robert

  9. “Distinct from this the new man in Christ needs no law. He needs no instruction. He perfectly knows and does the will of God because he has the mind of Christ. It is solely the old man in Adam who needs instruction. He needs to be shown what God’s will is for him. The Law must demand, coerce, and even bribe him to go along with God’s will. Why? Because, as Luther said in the Large Catechism, the old man in Adam is, ‘like a recalcitrant ass..'”

    Certainly, the new man needs no external law, no coercion, no threat. Why does he do God’s will? Because the “mind of Christ,” who fulfilled the Law for us, means that the Law is being re-inscribed onto our hearts.

    Thus, the new man, regenerated solely by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, cooperates with the Spirit, hates and subdues his own sinful flesh, and rejoices–yea, even delights–in the Law.

    This latter aspect is what Gerhard Forde and his followers deny, Forde going so far as to equate any movement of the new man in obedience to the Law with the sinful flesh.

    Robert

  10. Hhhm, I think there is a problem with our typical understanding of the Christian faith. The thought is that it is mostly a “going up” somewhere. For some, either to heaven, or for others, to some kind of religious perfection.

    Christian faith is eroneously compared to climbing a ladder/staircase, e.g. “Jacob’s ladder.” In the middle ages it was common practice, as a symbol of struggle, for Christians to go to all kinds of extremes to reach “perfection.” In many ways this kind of symbolism is still present in our day. “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, every rung goes higher, higher.” Most people have this type of picture in mind when they think about the Christian faith.

    In a certain sense such pictures, if they are properly interpreted, are helpful. After all, it is true that we must all seek to make some kind of progress in the Christian life. The problem with the concept of the ladder is that it sends us off in the wrong direction. It makes us concerned with works of subjective pietism. We get involved in the task of ascending to heaven, when, for the sake of our neighbor, we should be seeking, like our Lord, to come down to earth, in order to learn what it means to be a Christian here. For the sake of our neighbor. This whole “down to earth” thing is an important key to understanding Martin Luther’s theology. We do not do justice to what Luther attempted to say when we use the idea of the ladder.

    This is surely the significance of him leaving the monastery. Luther was turning his back on the piety of the ladder, of the erroneous belief that the Christian life must be seen and understood as the task of ascending, or climbing the ladder, to heaven via special spiritual exercises. Luther was quite opposed to a theology based on the concept of climbing the ladder. We can look upon his work as a phenominal attempt to reverse directions and to base our faith completely on a God who came “down to earth”, who dwelt among us, for our sake. For the sake of the neighbor. We ought to foster a Christian life which is likewise “down to earth”, which is where God comes to us and serves us weekly with His true body and blood, with more focus on the neighbor, who is here with us on this earth, and less focus on self.

  11. From the main post: “There’s no progress in holiness. There’s no ladder to climb. There’s no becoming less a sinner and more a saint.”
    The post by Pr Richard, How Do we View Christianity? Two Ways: Plan A and Plan B, should help answer any questions with the above quote.

  12. There’s an undercurrent in much of these kinds of conversations that might well lead people to think the Law is “bad” and the Gospel is “good.”

    The Law is good and perfect and, as Rev. Baker says, the New Man in Christ delights in it. It is as sweet as honey to his mouth.

    Let’s be careful not to set up an almost Manichean view of the distinction between Law and Gospel.

  13. Why is it “bad” to be shown our sin? Why as a Christian would I ever think that it is “bad” to be reminded of my need to repent — it’s how we start off our services at Church. We confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” Is that not a true and accurate confession where we speak what has been revealed to us by God’s Law? Or are we supposed to view ourselves in terms of “growth” so that our Confession becomes “Oh, God, I thank you that I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be…” As Paul confesses that he still is the chief of sinners, I don’t think so. Paul so rarely even mentions his own works positively, and then, whenever He does He quickly adds that it was not him who did this… but Christ.

    See, the distinction isn’t Law=Bad and Gospel=Good… the distinction is this. The Law Kills, the Gospel gives life — and both of these are good. The new man delights in both of these — as a Christian I delight when the Law prevents my sin, reveals my sin, shapes me — even though this is all a killing of the old man.

    The problem comes in when we start associating growth and improvement with the “Law”. The Law gives no growth (at best sinful man derives a false and misleading dream from it). Rather – the Gospel, Christ Jesus Himself, gives growth.

    Consider Ephesians 2:10 — “For you are His workmanship, created in…. Christ Jesus… for good works which He prepared before hand that you should walk in them.” My works, that good which I do were not and are not created by the Law, but they are created by Christ — they flow from Him and not from the Law.

    So yes – let there be love. Let there be kindness and joy. Let there be virtue. But these are merely fruit given to us by and through Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. The focus must be upon the Gospel, the Gospel must predominate — and if we seek our growth as coming from the Law, what have we don’t to Christ but make Him a pretext – repentance a mere stage to pass through before we get to the real work of showing forth our own righteousness?

  14. Pastor McCain #15,
    Thank you for saying that! I have never understood how that happens or why anyone would ever endevor the try. Why do some do that?

    Even in the OT, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Joseph, & David (my favorite fyi) etc, even their err’s are written there. As leaders, husbands, fathers, children, look at them & their err’s.
    David’s followed his “house” to the Cross (the spear that pierced Christ’s side, so I was told). And look at the horrid earthly consequences. They happen in the NT, to many also.

    The 10 Commandments still stand fast & firm. We teach it to every child & every Sunday. Kids get punished & lovingly corrected at home, when they err, why not when we become adults?

    Thanks for saying it Pastor McCain. If ya can explain why, I be most grateful & thankful.

  15. Eric:

    Compare Phil 1:9-11 (ESV):
    “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

    And 2 Peter 1:5-11 (ESV):
    “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

  16. Philippians 1 is a wonderful passage that has nothing to do with sanctification stepping up a ladder.

    The specific clause in v 9 is better rendered, “And this is what I am praying, that your love still more and more would about in knowledge and all insight…”

    So the verb isn’t reflexive; love itself isn’t abounding more and more, but it’s abounding more and more in knowledge and insight. That is to say, love is refined by knowledge of Christ, and the insight that love is not the means by which a Christian obtains holiness. Rather the righteousness of Christ planted in the Christian unto holiness and produces the fruits of love.

    This passage is actually quite supportive of the original post, because the verb “abound” is used, especially by St. Paul, in an eschatalogical sense (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament), which is supported by Paul’s writing of the “day of Christ” in v 10 (also v 6). The mystery of the Gospel is that these qualities exist in full right now for the Christian (v 11), but there is still anticipation for the last day when they will no longer be hidden under the outer shell of sinful flesh.

    Furthermore, St. Paul gives a wonderful example of how to come to such an end. It’s not by moral exhortation, but by prayer. St. Paul is praying them to love’s increase in knowledge and understanding.

  17. Again, who is arguing for more sin? Indeed, even in Peter, isnt he calling for the fruits of, not the law, but the fruits of the Spirit? All this is from Christ and the Gospel.

  18. I’m convinced that those who love to talk about good works operate with a secret list of good works they think other people should be doing. It’s our inner Pharisee in action. I’m guilty of this in my own approach to pastoral care of Gods people.

    On the other hand, I could preach and teach the Ten Commandments all day and not come close to identifying all the ways in which the people I serve love their family and friends and neighbors and coworkers. They certainly know better than I do what they should be about each day.

    So I preach he Law to kill them, the Gospel to raise them, and let the Holy Spirit work in them while He laughs at our endless discussions of abstraction.

  19. Mark B,
    That isn’t always true & it isn’t really fair to say. Christ asked we do & miss or bypass certain things. That widow, w/her 2 mites, wasn’t thinking about anything else. The publician, wasn’t either. Wasn’t it Paul that said Faith w/o works (mind you….not for our own intents or purposes) is dead? We do what we do, simply because Christ asked us to. That’s it. He asks us to, daily.
    Those who may mention those, are not keeping score or may be a Pharisee, it may be simply because He asked of thee. That means us both. Boast no, refer when required to evangelize & bear witness to Him? You bet, every time.

    Speaking about them does not always mean using them in pride or boast. No, we don’t do that nor should we. However…graced & granted, we do what Jesus asks us to do. Remembering that & sharing it, is not always boast. Otherwise many here, for many a decade, would be the Pharisee in the parable with that Publician.

  20. @Carl H #6

    I don’t see how those verses support the idea that we are progressing in holiness, unless you see virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love as comprising holiness. Rather, I see faith in Christ as the thing granting perfect holiness, i.e., receiving the donated, alien righteousness of Christ; everything that is added thereunto is good, yes, and hopefully even increasing. It’s good to increase in virtue. Virtue is its own reward, and virtuous Christians serve their neighbors well. But virtue and holiness are not the same thing.

  21. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    There’s an undercurrent in much of these kinds of conversations that might well lead people to think the Law is “bad” and the Gospel is “good.”

    I would not agree with the suggestion that the Law is “bad” and that the Gospel is “good”. But, I would agree that there is an undercurrent in these kinds of conversations that might lead people to think that some other people express themselves in a way that creates the impression that they are better able to keep the Law than lesser Christians.

  22. Johan, I’ve read the second sentence in your post, twice, and I still don’t understand why you said that.

  23. @Johan Bergfest #24

    Johan,
    (I’m not copying that sentence.) I translate it as, “some of us here come off as Pharisees, more or less.” It’s possible that all of us, one time or another, may be interpreted that way, by others.
    Which is not the same thing as the individual actually believing he is that good…….

    It’s possible I misunderstood you?

  24. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    Johan, I’ve read the second sentence in your post, twice, and I still don’t understand why you said that.

    Quite simply because I have read a lot of posts in various conversations on this board in which people, if challenged, would rationalize their word choice as “speaking the truth, in love”. Yet, their word choice makes it impossible to hear the love. And, in response to Helen, yes, some folks here come across as pharisees, at least some of the time. And, yes, there is a difference between coming across as a Pharisee and actually believing that one is better able to keep the Law. I’m not suggesting that anyone here is in that second category. That is part of the reason that the second sentence reads a little convoluted and the very reason that I chose to not use the word, “pharisee”.

    Quite honestly, I think there is a very simple approach to resolve this issue and I have made this suggestion more than once in other conversations. I believe that Christians – people who confess Jesus as Lord – have much more in common than we have differences. I also believe that what we have in common – our Baptism, our call to be one in the Body of Christ – is that which comes from God. On the other hand, that about which we argue is heavily tainted by our inability to fully comprehend God’s wisdom. Moreover, the manner in which we talked about our differences is influenced by our own sinful nature. Thus, I have suggested reframing these kinds of conversations by first acknowledging what we hold in common and working out from there. Instead, we tend to define issues and define one another based on the matters in dispute. When we do the latter, it is too easy be bear false witness to what we believe about salvation, by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.

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