Luther on the Christian Life (7)

In chapter seven, Trueman deals with Luther’s view of righteousness in the Christian life. This question is one of the most important questions for the Christian life. How is a person righteous before God? What is the Christian’s righteousness? Basic to Luther’s understanding of righteousness is the distinction between alien and proper righteousness. Alien righteousness is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is called alien because it is not the believer’s own righteousness; it is Christ’s. God gives this righteousness of Christ to the believer by imputation (reckoning) so that the believer is judged innocent, as it were, it God’s court of law. Proper righteousness is the righteousness that becomes manifest in the believer’s life as a result of the believer’s Spirit empowered efforts to mortify the old man and do good works to the glory of God. In other words, it is the fruit of sanctification. Both kinds of righteousness are necessary for the Christian life.

The significant question for the Christian life is how these two kinds of righteousness are related. Luther’s answer is that Christ’s alien righteousness comes first. If he is to live well, the Christian must know that he is righteous in the sight of God. Recognition of Christ’s alien righteousness reckoned to the sinner is the antidote both for despair and for works righteousness. The believer who knows that he is clothed in Christ’s own perfect righteousness will not fear for his salvation, even when he beholds his own imperfection. Likewise, the believer will not strive to make himself righteous in God’s eyes by performing good works. He already understands that God has declared him righteous, and that nothing can be added to the righteousness of Christ. This understanding allows the Christian to live with assurance and to direct his life good works toward its proper goal: not earning salvation, but showing gratitude for salvation freely given. That is where proper righteousness fits. Living in the assurance of Christ’s righteousness, the Christian labors in love for God to do good works and keep God’s commandments.  The Christian does this to show His gratitude to God. Luther did not think that holiness in the Christian life could be reduced to the Christian’s ever-increasing sense of dependence upon Christ’s imputed righteousness. No, in the Christian life there is a genuine beginning of true holiness. The Christian makes progress in holiness as the Spirit sanctifies him. In this present life the Christian is always at once both righteous and a sinner.

Justin Smidstra

All that thou commandest us we will do

After Joshua received the word from the LORD that he was to lead the children of Israel across the Jordan and conquer the land of Canaan, he got busy right away.  He commanded the leaders under him (to the “officers of the people,” Joshua 1:10) to prepare themselves for the journey and battle that lay ahead. He said “Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals [food – JH]; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it” (vs. 11). Finally! After forty years of wandering aimlessly in a desert, living in tents, dying by the thousands, they were to enter into the promised land. They would be able to settle down on the plot of land given them by God, raise their families, and cultivate the earth.

                Naturally, they were excited, joyful over the prospect of God’s promise being realized. Note how they respond to Joshua:

And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and withersoever thou sendest us, we will go. According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses. Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage. (vs. 16-18)

What confidence they exhibit in Joshua! Over the course of the forty years the children of Israel had learned to submit to Jehovah. Don’t forget that the reason Israel had spent so much time in the wilderness was because they had failed to trust in the power of God to give them the land of Canaan, and they had desired the wealth of Egypt instead. Now they were ready to enter into Canaan, God had humbled them. In his commentary on these three verses, John Calvin says this:

Indeed, it is not so much to herald their own virtues [the Israelites – JH] as to extol the authority of Joshua, when they declare that they will regard him in the same light in which they regarded Moses. The groundwork of their confidence is at the same time expressed in their wish or prayer, that God may be present to assist his servant Joshua as he assisted his servant Moses. They intimate that they will be ready to war under the auspices of their new leader, because they are persuaded that he is armed with the power and hope that he will be victorious by the assistance of God [emphasis mine – JH], as they had learned by experience how wonderfully God assisted them by the hand of Moses.

                Do we trust God? Do we trust him to lead us to victory? Do we trust the officers that God puts over us and that God strengthens? Your minister, elders, and deacons were given to you by God, do you ever think about that? Now, that is not to say that we mayn’t be evaluating what they are doing and saying, so long as our evaluation is in light of the Scriptures; after all, we must be on guard lest a false prophet sneak into our midst. Nevertheless, it ought to give us pause before we criticize, demean, or gossip about those who hold offices in the church. What about in the home? Do you honor your father and mother? They have been given to you by God. They hold authority over you for your good. We need to remember that God uses the leaders he has put over us to lead us to victory! Ultimately, we already have victory in Jesus Christ. We are justified because of his death and resurrection. But Jesus Christ leads you to victory in your own struggles against sin, the world, and the devil. This is sanctification! One of the means he uses to sanctify you is the leaders he has put over you. Let’s be submitting to the leaders God has put over us, and thereby let God lead us to victory!