The New You

04.10.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 4 of 7 - The New You

Here is a conversation I once had with a Lutheran-styled pastor.*  It is not the only one of its kind.

Me: I am just struggling to trust God that he will provide.

Pastor: That makes sense.  You actually mean, you don’t really want to trust God.

Me: No, I really do.  I desperately want to.

Pastor: No, you are depraved and want your own way.  Not Christ's.  You need to realize that you don’t seek God.  You are not faithful and your desires are turned against him.

This brings us to a less clear, but very important critique of some who are of the Lutheran camp.  I say “some,” because I believe this is a common mistake as much as anything else.  But it has happened often enough - especially within the Lutheran camp - that I feel it should be addressed.

Luther spoke often of the “alien righteousness” that is necessary for our salvation.  Every good Christian should agree with this doctrine.  It means that there was a righteousness, different from our own, that championed our standing with God.  This is clearly taught throughout Scripture.  But follow Luther for very long and he sometimes seems to imply that all righteousness remains alien.  Whether or not this is explicit Lutheran teaching, echoes of it seem to pop up every now and then among those who hold to a more Lutheran form of salvation. 

For years I could not put my finger on this.  Then, studying for a sermon on Romans 1:16-17, I read the following in Douglas Moo’s commentary.

Luther viewed this righteousness [of God] as purely forensic - a matter of judicial standing, or status, and not of internal renewal or moral transformation. (Romans, pg 71)

Did you catch that?  According to Luther, the righteousness of God doesn't change us.  This belief is based in the previously posted definition that justification does not transform your personal merit (it does not make you a good person), it just declares you righteous because of Jesus’ own merit.  On this, Reformed and Lutherans agree.  But if you have a justification-centered view of the Christian life, then this is where you stay... You stay untransformed!  All good merit still belongs to Jesus.  You are evil, the good in you is still alien.

When a pastor is making this mistake, he is basically preaching to his people as if they are all driven by their flesh in everything they do.  You will hear them have to qualify certain hymns that speak of our faithfulness or our desires for good, they may even qualify Scriptures that suppose the Christian is capable, willing, and desirous of doing good.  I have heard people misuse Keller’s book The Prodigal God this way.  They will assume that we as Christians are always acting as the Older Brother or the Younger Brother.  Such thinking leaves out the possibility that Christians have indeed been transformed and, though sometimes faltering in the flesh, are maturing and being more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ.

So, what is the problem with this?  First of all, it ignores one of the clearest verses on how we are to consider each other as Christians.  2Corinthians 5:16-17 says that since we are a new creation, we no longer consider each other according to the flesh.  When I preach, I am expecting that the Christians in my church want to hear it.  I am expecting that the Spirit is indeed transforming them.  The alien in a Christian’s life is not righteousness; according to Romans 7:17 the alien is now sin!

We have been transformed.  The categories of Total Depravity (as outlined in places like Romans 3) are not true us anymore.  We do seek God, we do understand!  In fact, we believe that the image of God has been restored in those who believe so that we can now please him with our works. 

We do still sin, and there are definitely plenty of times we don’t want to please God.  While on earth, we must daily fight our flesh and make the choice to live according to the restored image of God in us (Col 3:10) rather than walk according to the flesh.  Once glorified, there will be no choice; we will act according to the Spirit in all that we do.  But, even as we wait to be perfected, the Christian is not totally corrupt.  Righteousness is no longer alien.  The Christian is a new creation.  The Christian has been transformed.  We need to learn to think that way about our people and ourselves. 

We must always remember the depth of God's great love to send his Son to pay for our sins. But we must also never forget that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is now breathing life into our mortal bodies. You are now different. You are new

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Luthern theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).