Reformation Relevance: Two Kinds of Righteousness

According to the great Luther biographer Martin Brecht (Martin Luther, His Road to Reformation, Page 229), the first sermon Luther preached after his Reformation breakthrough in 1519 was titled “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” It was based on Phil. 2:5-6: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped … .” Here’s an excerpt from that sermon. — Editor

There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds.

The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith, as it is written in 1 Cor. 1[:30]: “Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” In John 11[:25-26], Christ himself states: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me … shall never die.” Later he adds in John 14[:6], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant. Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say: “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.” Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his — for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh [Gen. 2:24] — so Christ and the church are one spirit [Eph. 5:29-32]. Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ [II Pet. 1:4]. Paul writes in II Cor. 1[:3]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

This inexpressible grace and blessing was long ago promised to Abraham in Gen. 12[:3]: “And in thy seed (that is, in Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Isaiah 9[:6] says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” “To us,” it says, because he is entirely ours with all his benefits if we believe in him, as we read in Rom. 8[:32]: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” Therefore everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also. Even Christ himself, therefore, who says he came to do the most sacred will of his Father [John 6:38], became obedient to him; and whatever he did, he did it for us and desired it to be ours, saying, “I am among you as one who serves” [Luke 22:27]. He also states, “This is my body, which is given for you” [Luke 22:19]. Isaiah 43[:24] says, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.”

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.’ ” …

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 toward 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 [i.e., of a spiritual man, whose very existence depends on faith in Christ] 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 [I Pet. 2:21] and is transformed into his likeness (II Cor. 3:18). 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.

Excerpted from Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer: I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, Vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, ©1999), 297-300. Used with permission.

Posted March 7, 2017

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