To the faithful saints of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, greetings in the name of the Risen Lord, Jesus the Christ.
As we come to the final core Lutheran teaching that I wish to highlight in my letters to you all, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the core teachings that have led us to this point. We started at the most appropriate point a few months back in talking about how we are only justified by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. This is a teaching that becomes abundantly clear when we read Scripture through the lens of Law and Gospel; the law pointing out our sinfulness and the gospel pointing out God’s faithfulness. The gospel message of God’s love for us through Christ is brought then to our level through the means of grace; the physical elements that allow us to experience God’s grace and love first hand. This then led us to our topic last month in which we found that God’s grace is found in the most unexpected place: the cross. For the cross is the place where God came down to us, in order to give us the free gift of his grace. And so we now turn to the last core teaching of Martin Luther which now describes our role in God’s grace.
According to some faith traditions humanity is separated into two categories. People are either a saint, one who obeys God’s will, or they are a sinner, one who disobeys. Martin Luther saw a problem with this theology. If a person is either a saint or a sinner, where saints come under the grace of God, and sinners do not, through their obedience, or lack thereof, to the will of God, then there really is no hope for anyone. In Luther’s opinion, formed by Scripture, no human being would then ever rightfully be called a saint. It is as the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Remember back, then, to Luther’s theology of justification by grace through faith, where we are told that we do not receive God’s grace by what we do, but instead by what Christ does. This tells us then that the only way we are seen by God as saints is through the cross of Christ, where God came down to us instead of us trying to climb our way up to God. However, if we are all now saints because of Christ, what then do we say about sin. For as we all know all too well, sin is still very much alive and well in our world. Enter in Luther’s teaching of being simultaneously a saint and a sinner.
Since our righteousness only always depends on God’s grace, the definition of a saint then changes in Luther’s understanding. Instead of a saint being one who obeys God’s will, a saint is a forgiven sinner. And since, as Paul wrote, all have sinned, there is no one that can be called a saint without the cross of Christ. Paul then goes on to say in verse 24 that those sinners “are now justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
The truth is we can do nothing but be sinners. Being sinful is built into our DNA; it is part of what it means to be human. Since that is the case, since humanity can do no else but to sin, Martin Luther gave us these words in a letter to his friend Phillip Melanchthon, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for [Christ] is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” What Luther meant by this was that a person should not be weighed down by the fact that they can do no other than to sin, but instead should cling to the fact that their sin has already be forgiven through the blood of Christ.
In Luther’s mind there was no distinction between a person who is a saint and a person who is a sinner. Every sinner is a saint, and every saint is a sinner. We are always both sinners and saints at the same time.
This understanding gives us the ability to realistically face and understand the cruelty and evil in this world. Yes, bad things happen, preciously because humans are sinful. But while humans are sinful, God’s grace is bigger than any sin, and covers them all with God’s grace, mercy, and love.
If there is only one thing that you were able to take away from these letters on Lutheran Theology it is this: we as Lutherans always want the action on what God does, did, and will continue to do over against what we do to earn God’s grace. If left to ourselves to earn God’s love, we would surely fail and there would be no hope for us. But thanks be to God that God did everything for us through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I hope you all have a safe, and fun filled summer!