Simul Justus Et Peccator
Who could resist preaching on this text especially today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent? In the old Latin names this is Latare which means "rejoice." This Sunday was popularly known as "Rejoicing Sunday" or "Refreshment Sunday." This is a relatively happy Sunday in Lent. The penitential mood is lightened, purple is lightened to a rose color, rose-colored vestments were at one time worn. In the early church, on this Sunday, people studying the catechism were permitted to stay longer in the Divine Service and were taught the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. It was Latare, a Sunday of rejoicing. And the text before us is indeed a very happy one. However, you might not see that unless you know another Latin saying, simul justus et peccator.
This saying of Luther's answers one of the persistent problems of Christians. No matter how often you come to Church, how many times you receive Communion, how many times you're absolved, you remain a poor, miserable sinner. Feelings of guilt, of worthlessness, of despair creep over you because of this sense of sin. Self-esteem gurus can make you feel good about yourself but only for awhile. Positive feelings about yourself can make you feel better but only for a time. What's the answer? The phrase simul justus et peccator which our text illustrates so well. Let's look at this phrase in detail.
The last word peccator is Latin for sinner. You are a sinner 100% of the time. Every move you make, every breath you take is sinful. The sinful mind, literally the mind of the flesh, is always and ever hostile to God. If you doubt this, read what Paul says in the chapter before this. There Paul speaks of the struggle with sin going on in the Christian. Paul cries out, just as you have, "The good that I want to do, I don't do. And the evil I don't want to do is what I end up doing!" Paul's point is that we all, even Christians, have the sinful flesh with us all our days. The mind-set of all flesh is only and always death and hostility toward God. As far as our fallen flesh goes, our mind-set, our whole orientation, direction, and thought pattern is away from God.
This should cause some of you to sit up and take notice. Your problem is much deeper, darker, bigger, and serious than you've ever dreamed. It's not that every now and then your Christian mind slips back into unchristian ways. No, your sinful flesh always has a mind-set not just contrary but hostile to God. Paul says the mind of sinful flesh is death. It never, ever leads to life. It's always focused, fixated, and drawn to death.
Do you remember Morticia on the TV show "Adam's family"? She was always dressed in black and constantly made references to death. That's how our sinful flesh is. It sees everything in terms of death. The solution to suffering is death; the best a man can hope for is to die in his sleep; only the good die young; some babies are better off dead.
Not only is our sinful flesh focussed on death, Paul says it's hostile to God. Your sinful flesh considers God its enemy. It doesn't love God; it hates Him. It doesn't look for any thing good to come from God ever. It believes God is unfair and out to get you. Your sinful flesh constantly has a fist raised to heaven, shaking it in God's face, aching for a chance to get even.
This is how your sinful flesh always is and always will be. That's the most important thing you need to know. The mind-set of your sinful flesh is constantly one of death, and hostility toward God. Paul say, "It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Your death-fixated, God-hating flesh will never, ever be different. No matter how hard you try to make it better, you can't. No matter what you try to do to change it, you won't. Even in church, even right at this Communion rail, your sinful, death-loving, God-hating flesh is here 100% of the time. That's how come you have a hard time paying attention; that's how come you have some of the most vile, disgusting, shameful thoughts while sitting in church.
Can you see why guilt constantly plagues you? You are constantly, 100% of the time, as long as you are on earth, a peccator, a sinner who deserves punishment here in time and hereafter in eternity. Can you see why it's so easy for Satan and others to make you feel guilty? All they have to do is scratch your sinful flesh and it bleeds greed, lust, pride, hatred, worry, fear, and every other foul, revolting sin imaginable. So Luther was right when he continually referred to himself as a miserable bag of dung, a loathsome maggot sack. And St. Paul wasn't suffering from low self-esteem when he declared himself "the least of all the apostles," "a wretched man," "the chief of sinners." And Isaiah was right to call Jacob a worm, and David wasn't exhibiting psychologically destructive behavior when he called himself "a worm and no man." All of these spoke the absolute truth.
All of these, believers every last one, saints in heaven right now, agreed with St. Paul when he said, "I know that in my flesh dwells not one good thing." So the question is not, "Why do I feel so guilty all of the time,"but, "What is there in me that I should NOT feel guilty about?" If no good thing dwells within me, then only evil, wickedness, hostility toward God and death does. Why shouldn't I feel guilty?
Ah, but you're going to bring up the good things that we do, aren't you? Sure you can do that. You do give to charity; you do help the poor; you do love the unlovable and help the helpless. But your flesh ruins even these. Isaiah tells us that all of our righteous deeds are only dirty, stinking rags. In other words, not only should we feel guilty for our sinful flesh's love of death and hatred of God, but we should feel guilty for even our very best works!
So what's the solution to our nagging guilt? Not the peccator, but the rest of that Latin phrase: simul justus et peccator. The phrase means simultaneously saint and sinner. At the same time Christians are sinners, they are also saints. 100% of the time you are 100% saint. How can this be? How can we who are 100% sinner be at the same time 100% saint? Shouldn't it be 60/40, 30/70, or 50/50? This is a matter of miracles not mathematics. God sent His only Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, like our sinful flesh in every way but without sin. He sent Him to be a sin offering. In the Old Testament, the sinner brought the priest an animal, placed his sins on the animal by confessing them, and the life of the animal was offered in place of the sinner's. In the New Testament, God placed on His Son all of our sins and offered His life on the cross in place of ours. God reconciled Himself to fallen mankind by offering His Son in place of the whole stinking group. God covered the sins of mankind which stank to high heaven with the sweet smelling blood of His Son.
But how does this reconciliation, this covering come to us? By the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and gives it to you. The Holy Spirit brings to you all the merits of Christ. His mind-set of life not death; His loving rather than hating God. The Holy Spirit poured these merits over you in your Baptism. He puts them on you in Absolution. He gives them to you in the Body and Blood of Christ. As for your sins, the Holy Spirit brings the sweet, forgiving blood of Christ to cover them. See the waters of your Baptism red with the blood of Christ. See the Word of Absolution placing that blood over you. See in Communion the blood of Christ being given to you for the forgiveness of your sins.
The Spirit gives us the perfect goodness of Jesus Christ as well as His blood to cover our sins, so we stand before God without condemnation. Did you hear that blessed fact in the first part of our text? There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus because the Spirit has set us free from sin and death.
Yes, we have this sinful flesh till the day we die. It constantly churns out death and hatred, but the blood Christ shed on the cross, through the Spirit working in Word and Sacrament, covers our sinful flesh completely. For the sake of that blood, God forgives us. But don't think God is some feeble old man unable to see the death and hatred of our sinful flesh. He sees it, but for Christ's sake, He forgives it. He says, "Because of My Son's perfect life and innocent death in place of sinners, I'm putting away their sins. I'm not holding them against them. I will not condemn those who are in Christ even though they still have their wicked flesh."
No condemnation to those in Christ. No condemnation for the lewdness, the lustfulness, the greediness, the spitefulness, the hatefulness that steadily bubble forth from our wicked flesh. No condemnation for the stain that our sinful flesh puts on our good works. For Christ's sake, God forgives, covers, doesn't acknowledge that stain. As Scripture says, He doesn't deal with us according to our sins or reward us according to our iniquities. It's like when your kids had a stinky diaper; you didn't deal with them based on that. It's not that you liked it, but because of your love for the child, you overlooked the smell. Because of God's love for us in Christ, God overlooks our sinful stench. We are His dear sons and daughters in Christ, and so He loves everything we do. Is everything we do perfect? Of course not. Is everything your child does perfect? No, but because they are your child, you in love and grace overlook the imperfections and even the dirty diapers.
Your sinful flesh constantly bubbles forth stuff that you can feel guilty over, but you don't live there. You live in the Spirit of Christ where all your sinful shortcomings are constantly being washed away in the flood of Jesus' blood. So how come you still feel guilty? Because you can't make the distinction between sinful flesh and God-given spirit. They're all knotted up in you, aren't they? When you look inside, you don't see a part labeled "sinful flesh" and another labeled "God-given spirit." You simply see you, and at times your sinful flesh stinks so badly your eyes burn with tears and you can't see the God-given spirit at all.
But that's not how it is with God. He can and does make a distinction between the sinful flesh that will never please Him and the God-given spirit that always does. God tells us in Hebrews 4 that His Word is so sharp that it can make a division between what can't be divided. God can distinguish between your sinful flesh that only hates Him and loves death and the God-given spirit that only loves Him and hates sin. He chooses to look only at the saint wrapped as it is in the blood, sweat, and tears of Christ.
For us it's always a jumbled mess, so the only way to avoid living in constant guilt is to believe that you are simul justus et peccator, to believe that at one and the same time you're 100% sinner, you are also 100% saint. And then believe for Christ's sake that God wants you to forget you're a sinner. Pay no attention to that fact. Overlook, forgive, cover it up, the way God does for Christ's sake. God wants you by faith to make the distinction that He does in reality. The highest honor we can pay to God is to believe what He says not what we see. While you can only see that you are 100% sinner, believe what God says that you're also at the same time 100% saint. Then, wonder of wonders, believe that for Jesus' sake God only sees the saint. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent IV (3-10-02) Romans 8:1-10