“Simultaneously Saint and Sinner”
Dear Members and Friends of our ELS:
We are on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Next year, worldwide celebrations will give thanks to God for the remarkable accomplishments of His servant Dr. Martin Luther, who helped bring needed reform to a corrupted and burdened church. In our wider confessional fellowship (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference), we are making plans to observe a special trienniel convention with the focus on the Reformation. The location and date will be Grimma, Germany, June 29-July 2, 2017.
It was 480 years ago this October when Luther wrote an important defense for the doctrine of justification, the central teaching of the Bible. Luther’s “Disputation Concerning Justification” was conducted on October 10, 1536, as part of an academic exam for two men (Schenk and Motz) who were granted theological credentials at the University of Wittenberg.
The disputation by Luther deals especially with what seems a contradiction for the Christian faith: If sin is forgiven by Christ and if a believer is holding on to this credited “holiness of Jesus” for salvation, how does this agree with the reality that every Christian still has much sin daily? It is a question that needs a proper answer. Our sinful flesh and Satan work hard to have believers doubt that the forgiveness of sins by our God is real.
In his presentation on this critical question, Luther reminds us that faulty human reason takes us down the wrong path. We must appeal only to what the Word of God says:
Reason argues in this way: If you have been justified, you cannot be a sinner. But the argument is not valid. For reason does not know or understand the magnitude of divine mercy or how important it is and how effective faith is… We truly thank God, because his imputation is greater than our impurity. And sin, which in substance is not being removed, shall be imputed as having been removed and shall be absorbed by the goodness of God who conceals it on account of Christ who overshadows it, although it remains in nature and substance… On no condition is sin a passing phase, but we are justified daily by the unmerited forgiveness of sins and by the justification of God’s mercy. Sin remains, then, perpetually in this life, until the hour of the last judgment comes and then at last we shall be made perfectly righteous. For this is not a game or delusion, that we say, “Sins are forgiven by faith and only cling to us, because that newness of life has miraculously begun.” In short, the term “to be justified” means that a man is considered righteous. (LW 34:166-167)
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22).
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President