The Spirit of the Lord, §4.1: Simul iustus et peccator

First, the overly sharp and simplistic separation between the spiritual and the physical dulls us to the fact that sin and guilt are not just internal, psychological dispositions or spiritual symptoms of our spiritual bondage; sin is rather a term that refers to the entirety of our being. As the Calvinist position states (quite rightly), we are “totally depraved”—meaning sin infects every part of our being, not that we are incapable of doing any good. No part of our being—inner or outer—is free from sin’s grasp. Our bondage to sin is total, and likewise our liberation from sin and our corresponding bondage to righteousness is total. When we are made new, it is not as if we are now in bondage to God inwardly but still in bondage to sin outwardly. Our whole being is in bondage, either to God or to sin—or, rather, both to God and to sin. We are not partly new and partly old; we are simultaneously new and old. As Luther rightly put it, we are simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously justified and sinful.

While Luther used the language of “inner” and “outer” in speaking of our present state as simul iustus et peccator, he did not mean a physical dualism between mind and body. That is, he did not mean the words literally—as if the “inner” part of a person is justified but the “outer” part is sinful—but metaphorically. “Inner” refers to that part of the human person which transcends biology, which already even now corresponds to God’s righteousness through faith alone. “Inner” is thus a reference to our invisible analogical relation to God in Jesus Christ—a relation established by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) according to the word alone (solo verbo). “Outer” refers to the visible reality of the human person who remains caught between Christ and consummation, between reconciliation and redemption. The outer human person is not merely the body but the state of being-not-yet-perfect, the condition of hope and expectation for the moment when “we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51). The inner person is passively established through faith in the event of Jesus Christ as that event existentially encounters us in the word of grace; the “outer” person is passively perfected through the eschatological event of Jesus Christ as that event redeems and glorifies us by “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The reconciled inner person is the product of the triumph of grace in Jesus Christ pro nobis; the redeemed outer person is the product of the triumph of grace in Jesus Christ pro omnibus. The terms “inner” and “outer” are thus different ways of expressing what Barth calls the tension between the “old” and the “new” person.

We might also relate “inner” and “outer” to the words “vertical” and “horizontal,” or to the more specific Latin terms, coram deo and coram mundo—before God and before the world. But here we must be careful, for we might easily be led into the same spiritual-physical dualism to which inner-outer language is prone. To avoid this trap, we must remember that our vertical relation is one that engages our entire being, just as our relation to the world and others involves our whole identity. If we think of “vertical” in terms of worship and “horizontal” in terms of ethics, it should be readily apparent that both terms demand a sense of the whole person in relation to the Other—whether that other be God or the world. To use terms like inner-outer and vertical-horizontal is, therefore, simply a way of speaking about the human person’s relation to what is outside oneself—privileging, of course, the God-human relation—without losing the requisite tension between “already” and “not yet.” Dialectical tensions like the inner-outer distinction is not a tension between equals; the God-human relation is not equal in significance to the human-human relation. Instead, the “inner” precedes and conditions the “outer,” just as worship precedes and conditions ethics. Thus, the “inner” person or the “vertical” relation is central and indispensable to the fulfillment of the “outer” person and the “horizontal” relation. The “inner” correspondence to God makes possible the “outer” correspondence to the “inner” person; that is, who we are in relation to others (coram mundo) must correspond to who we are in relation to God (coram deo). The establishment of new humanity thus moves from “inner” to “outer,” from vertical to horizontal, from invisible to visible, from identity to reality, from Christ to creation, from new creation to new heavens and new earth, from “God with us” to us with God.

Finally, if we are “in Christ,” we are dialectical pilgrims on the way (in via) from inner correspondence to outer correspondence, from completion to consummation. Our being simul iustus et peccator does not mean our being is static; our being is dynamic in accordance with the living, dynamic God who came to us in Jesus of Nazareth, who sustains and sanctifies us by the Holy Spirit, and who will come again to judge the world in grace. We are beings-in-becoming who are being brought into conformity with the being-in-becoming of the triune God. We are creatures in the process of becoming the new creation God definitively established in Jesus Christ. On one hand, we are already new, but still old; already alive, but still dead; already extra nos, but still incurvatus in se. On the other hand, we are old but becoming new; dead but becoming alive; incurvatus in se but becoming creatures who are extra nos in Jesus Christ.


a. steward said…
Hey, I had a comment all typed up that was going to just shock you in it's profundity and incision, but, you know, safari will quit on you. More likely it just wouldn't have made any sense.
Basically I said kudos, and then asked whether you find the insight that has been recovered by the finish school useful. What does it mean for the believer to be in present union with Christ? Isn't that what the event of grace initiates, so that the believer's being is then constituted not just in anticipation of the future, but in present relationship with Christ? I.e., what do you mean in saying that our dynamic being is sustained by the Spirit in the present tense?
WTM said…
The finish school has not recovered the notion of union with Christ - this has always been present in the tradition and, indeed, played an important role in Calvin no less than Luther. What the finish school has recovered is a rather Osiandrian notion of this union, a notion that is frought with danger (read Calvin's treatment of Osiander in Institutes III).

Basically, the difference has to do with what kind of righteousness we receive in our union with Christ. Is it the essential righteousness of Christ's divine nature or is it the acquired righteousness of Christ's human nature? The finish school goes with the former, while Calvin, Melanchthon and Augsburg went with the latter.
D.W. Congdon said…

I agree with WTM on this. The Finnish school is not only offering a very sketchy and selective reading of Luther (controlled by ecumenical interests rather than a faithfulness to the Reformational instincts of Luther himself) -- but, more importantly, it's just bad theology!

Now that doesn't mean we can't sustain a strong emphasis on union with Christ. Indeed, Calvin already accomplished this! But we need to see the ontology of the person in union with Christ in terms of temporal (eschatological) multivalence: the being of believer is established in the perfect tense work of Jesus Christ who is the sole mediator between God and humanity, in the present tense work of the Spirit who brings us into conformity to Christ, and in the future tense work of God in bringing us into correspondence with our actual being in Christ. Here and now we remain simul iustus et peccator, but "then" (in the eschaton) we will be what we are "now" only in Christ.