Sinners to the Glory of God!
I am at the same time a righteous man and a sinner—simul iustus et peccator, as Luther put it. God has declared that I am perfectly innocent on account of Christ, but to be perfectly honest, I am always a mess.
I suppose it’s become sort of faddish lately in some Lutheran and Evangelical circles to boast about being a sinner. “Sin boldly!” But I have to admit that being a sinner is miserable.
Living in between the constant tension of being completely righteous and completely sinful at the same time is awful. The Spirit wars against the flesh, and the flesh wars against the Spirit, and there’s a lot of suffering that goes on as those two moral enemies wage war.
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re like, “What in the world is he talking about?” But anyone who has passed from darkness to light knows this struggle to some degree.
Have you ever stood in God’s presence, and trembled at his words?
Have you ever looked at your best works and realized that they are nothing—less than zero?
Have you ever searched beyond your actions and looked deeper into your affections and motivations?
What is it, or who is it, that you really fear, love, and trust above all things?
Melanchthon gets to the heart of the matter in his 1521 Loci Communes:
No matter how good God is, you do not love him unless you think that he is useful to you and your plans.
Yep, that’s it.
It’s amazing how a single sentence can wreak havoc on all our “best works”—like when that single Jenga piece is removed and the whole tower collapses.
Self-interest corrupts all the good things God gives—my marriage, my parenting, the pulpit I preach from, and even my prayers. Even my repentance has an eye for its own self-advantage, and my faith on a good day is a bruised reed and a faintly burning wick.
This may sound self-defeating and dismal, but it's not. It's just sobriety. Reality. Learning to tell the truth about ourselves.
Luther cuts to the quick:
It is certain that a man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
So, yes, although I am righteous, I am always a sinner in this age, and though I am always a sinner in this age, I am, and always will be righteous.
But wow… being a sinner really—for lack of a better term—really sucks. Or, millennial that I am, I suppose I could say about being a sinner—“I can’t even.”
However, if I am inevitably always a sinner in this age, I might as well be a good one (which seems like a contradiction in terms).
What I am not saying is that we should answer Paul’s question, “Shall we go on sinning, that grace may abound?” in the affirmative. No. Never. God help us. In fact, I would say that one of the saddest things about my own church body is the lingering antinomianism (anti-law) and aversion to holiness that erodes the foundations of our life together and the health of our congregations. My prayer is that in days to come faithful pulpits will put it to flight with sound biblical exposition.
Nevertheless, if I am to be a sinner, I will be a good one. I will be a sinner to the glory of God. And here’s exactly what I mean.
The glory—and by glory I mean the heaviness, the weightiness, the “wow-ness”—of the Gospel is this:
When I sin, God’s grace in Christ forgives and heals—and God gets ALL the glory.
When, by God’s grace in Christ, I make progress in holiness—God gets ALL the Glory.
All in all, over and over, at every point, God gets the glory for my forgiven failures and my feeble victories.
My whole point in this post is summed up better in the words of a song by King’s Kaleidoscope called “Felix Culpa.”
But all that haunts me, all that leaves a stain
Only sings the sweetness of my Savior’s grace
A fortunate fall, my sins are stories of grace to recall
A fortunate fall, I glory in my sins forgiven.
Isn’t it true that we will love, adore, and glorify Jesus forever as we realize that he saved us from so much? That he saved real sinners, and not pretend ones? Will not the intensity of our worship increase forever as we realize that wherever our sin abounded, his grace abounded all the more?
And not only that, whatever good was worked in us during this life—whatever progress we made—and ultimately the perfection of holiness given to us in the resurrection and renewal of all things—won’t this serve as a second grounds for loving, adoring, and glorifying Christ forever?
Like Augustine once prayed, “Lord, give what you command.”
God does. He gives what he commands to sinners, and then he gets the glory. He rewards what he gives, and we glorify him forever for what he worked in us in spite of ourselves.
I can’t help but end with these words:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Pastor John Rasmussen—Our Savior Lutheran Church—South Windsor, CT