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The Feast of St. Martin

Martin Luther, that is, the great reformer of the church. We commemorate his life and teaching this day, and it seems fitting that we emphasize his foundational teaching, the justification of the sinner only by faith in Christ. Here is a portion of Dr. Luther’s famous Two Kinds of Righteousness:

Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.  Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1:17; For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed…; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3:28, such a faith is called “the righteousness of God”:  “We hold that a man is justified by faith.”  This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ.  On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he.  It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him.  This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam.  It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.

…Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.  Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow.  For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.

The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness.  This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works, in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Gal. 5:24, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear towards God.  The Apostle is full of references to these, as is all the rest of Scripture.  He briefly summarizes everything, however, in Titus 2:12, “ In this world let us live soberly (pertaining to crucifying one’s own flesh), justly (referring to one’s neighbor), and devoutly (relating to God).”

This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type, actually its fruit and consequence, for we read in Gal. 5:22, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  For because the works mentioned are works of men, it is obvious that in this passage a spiritual man is called “spirit.”  In John 3:6 we read, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  This righteousness goes on to complete the first for it ever strives to do away with the old Adam and to destroy the body of sin. Therefore it hates itself and loves its neighbor; it does not seek its own good, but that of another, and in this its whole way of living consists.  For in that it hates itself and does not seek its own, it crucifies the flesh.  Because it seeks the good of another, it works love.  Thus in each sphere it does God’s will living soberly with self, justly with neighbor, devoutly toward God.

This righteousness follows the example of Christ in this respect and is transformed into his likeness.  It is precisely this that Christ requires.  Just as he himself did all things for us, not seeking his own good but ours only—and in this he was most obedient to God the Father—so he desires that we also should set the same example for our neighbors.

 

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. 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 Institute.

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