Dr. Hutchinson’s recent reflections on Augustine caused me to notice something similar in Augustine’s On Marriage and Concupiscence, which I had stumbled across quite independently. The same notion of simul iustus et peccator applied to sanctification appears there, but it also seems to press further, making the Protestant distinction between justification and sanctification perfectly intelligible. Indeed it seems to be more than a mere anticipation, but in fact an articulation of the same doctrine in different words. A few excerpts will help me to explain.
Augustine taught that the presence of concupiscence in the regenerate was not sin. That it still tended towards sin, however, and that it was still very much a real presence in the believer’s life, constantly tempting him, was as puzzling in Augustine’s day as it would be for thinkers centuries later. How could this not be sin, and how could it be true of the regenerate or “righteous” man without making him a sinner? Augustine’s explanation is intriguing:
Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin. Although its guilt is now taken away, it still remains until our entire infirmity be healed by the advancing renewal of our inner man, day by day, when at last our outward man shall be clothed with incorruption. (On Marriage and Concupiscence 1.28)
What we see here is that the guilt of the concupiscence is “taken away” because it is forgiven. The concupiscence, considered in itself, is still a wrong, and it still affects the human nature (and is still passed down through childbirth), but it is not counted as sin against the believer.
Expounding the Apostle Paul (and sounding very much like Luther!), Augustine affirms that even while sin in present in the believer’s sanctification, it is not imputed to the believer as sin and thus does not condemn him:
But the apostle pursues the subject, and says, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin;” which must be thus understood: “With my mind I serve the law of God,” by refusing my consent to the law of sin; “with my flesh, however,” I serve “the law of sin,” by having the desires of sin, from which I am not yet entirely freed, although I yield them no assent. Then let us observe carefully what he has said after all the above: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Even now, says he, when the law in my members keeps up its warfare against the law of my mind, and retains in captivity somewhat in the body of this death, there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. And listen why: “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” says he, “hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” How made me free, except by abolishing its sentence of guilt by the remission of all my sins; so that, though it still remains, only daily lessening more and more, it is nevertheless not imputed to me as sin? (1.36)
We see here at least the beginnings of a distinction between justification and sanctification, though those exact terms are not used. Notice that, for Augustine, the regenerate believer still wars against sin, and that sin is still very much present after his conversion. Still, the believer is not condemned, nor is there a “sentence of guilt.” The “law of the spirit” has made the Christian “free” by remitting sins, and that remission is forensic, not dependent upon actual inherent righteousness.
Augustine continues this line of thought while explaining how concupiscence is transmitted to the offspring of Christian and counted as sin in those offspring until they are regenerated. The explanation is consistent with what we’ve seen above:
Until, then, this remission of sins takes place in the offspring, they have within them the law of sin in such manner, that it is really imputed to them as sin; in other words, with that law there is attaching to them its sentence of guilt, which holds them debtors to eternal condemnation. For what a parent transmits to his carnal offspring is the condition of his own carnal birth, not that of his spiritual new birth. (1.37)
Notice that the offspring have the law of sin, and it is really imputed to them as sin. They have the sentence of guilt and condemnation, and this is because they have the actual sin in their nature.
Augustine even appeals to something like a dual nature in the regenerate, using the image of olives and olive oil:
For, that he was born in the flesh, although no hindrance after the remission of his guilt to his fruit, still remains hidden, as it were, in the seed of the olive, even though, because of the remission of his sins, it in no respect injures the oil—that is, in plain language, his life which he lives, “righteous by faith,” after Christ, whose very name comes from the oil, that is, from the anointing. That, however, which in the case of a regenerate parent, as in the seed of the pure olive, is covered without any guilt, which has been remitted, is still no doubt retained in the case of his offspring, which is yet unregenerate, as in the wild olive, with all its guilt, until here also it be remitted by the self-same grace. When Adam sinned, he was changed from that pure olive, which had no such corrupt seed whence should spring the bitter issue of the wild olive, into a wild olive tree; and, inasmuch as his sin was so great, that by it his nature became commensurately changed for the worse, he converted the entire race of man into a wild olive stock. The effect of this change we see illustrated, as has been said above, in the instance of these very trees. Whenever God’s grace converts a sapling into a good olive, so that the fault of the first birth (that original sin which had been derived and contracted from the concupiscence of the flesh) is remitted, covered, and not imputed, there is still inherent in it that nature from which is born a wild olive, unless it, too, by the same grace, is by the second birth changed into a good olive. (1.37)
Though the metaphor becomes mixed, it is still intelligible. Christ transforms the olive into pure oil, but the original seed of the olive continues to be passed down naturally. Each generation needs a regeneration in order to become oil, and this involves the remission of sin through the grace of Christ. The “wild olive” which Adam brought upon the whole race continues to inhere in human nature, being passed down naturally through childbirth, and so the children of believers also need to be changed into good olives by the second birth.
This cycle, of course, continues, with each generation:
Blessed, therefore, is the olive tree “whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;” blessed is it “to which the Lord hath not imputed sin.” But this, which has received the remission, the covering, and the acquittal, even up to the complete change into an eternal immortality, still retains a secret force which furnishes seed for a wild and bitter olive tree, unless the same tillage of God prunes it also, by remission, covering, and acquittal. (1.38)
This is true because the nature of the old Adam remains in all human nature until the resurrection of the body. Believers enjoy a new nature, from their new birth, and this provides “remission, covering, and acquittal.” It does not, in and of itself, provide actual sinlessness. That must wait for the complete sanctification which occurs at the consummation:
There will, however, be left no corruption at all in even carnal seed, when the same regeneration, which is now effected through the sacred laver, purges and heals all man’s evil to the very end. By its means the very same flesh, through which the carnal mind was formed, shall become spiritual,—no longer having that carnal lust which resists the law of the mind, no longer emitting carnal seed. For in this sense must be understood that which the apostle whom we have so often quoted says elsewhere: “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” …In short, on whom but on the baptized shall be bestowed the very felicities of the kingdom of heaven; where the Church shall have no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; where there shall be nothing blameworthy, nothing unreal; where there shall be not only no guilt for sin, but no concupiscence to excite it? (1.38)
This eschatological understanding of sanctification is reminiscent of the “already/not-yet” paradigm common to later Reformed theology, but what is especially important for our purposes is noting how the concept of “guilt” relates to it. For Augustine, the guilt is removed even now, in the already, whereas the fact of concupiscence remains until the last day, the not-yet.
Possessing this “already” status through the new birth in Christ is precisely what the Protestant (or “Lutheran”) understanding of justification achieves. The distinction between it and sanctification is not intended to devalue or reemphasize actual righteousness in the believer, but it is meant to show the ground of the believer’s forgiveness and acceptance before God.
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.