To be quite frank, Lutherans are not Antinomian. We are often accused of being such, and indeed, there are some among us who give the distinct impression that we are. It is in light of this that I invite the reader to attend to Luther’s identification of Two Kinds of Righteousness.

As Lutherans we rightly emphasize the Law/Gospel dichotomy, and we call upon theologians of every level to rightly distinguish between the two. Simply, the Law holds our sinfulness before our eyes. It shows our failings, faults, and shortcomings. In the Law we stand condemned. It does not only condemn, but it always condemns. When we are confronted with the problem of our sin we must also reckon with the fact that even our smallest sins are too much for us to bear. God then gives us his Gospel, which does away with that sin, purifying us and making us righteous.

And while this is theologically complete and accurate, it is not always practically understood. Or perhaps it becomes practically misunderstood or misconstrued. I do not propose a revisiting of that painful phrase “cheap grace,” for grace is always cheap (as inexpensive) to the recipient. Rather, I suggest that we might use the Two Kinds of Righteousness to better understand Sanctification.

It is too easy, apart from a Two Kinds of Righteousness (2KR) framework, to take a fallacious leap. For example, a) Scripture is clear that our works do not save us, but that b) God in His mercy has saved us; therefore c) I ought not to do good works for doing them might lead to works righteousness. In fact, I ought to d) sin with impunity, that I might be a walking testimony to the grace of God. It is simply false to take God’s gift of righteousness as license to indulge the sinful nature. 2KR is, in part, a helpful corrective to that kind of thinking.

Just as there are two kinds of sin, original sin and actual sin, there are two kinds of righteousness: alien righteousness and proper righteousness.

Alien righteousness is “the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith.” This is a phenomenal gift, for as Luther goes on to say,

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.”

The good that Christ did as well as his abstention from evil are credited as belonging to the one who has been given this alien righteousness.

Proper righteousness flows from this alien righteousness. It is called proper,

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 towards 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).”

The habitual “lazy Lutheran” move is to emphasize alien righteousness. Indeed, this is where God begins it. Yet to stress it to the exclusion of proper righteousness is to make a distinctly non-Lutheran (read: non-Christian) move. It runs the way of Antinomianism. It relegates all the sinner’s actions to the category of “Christian liberty.” As well, emphasis upon proper righteousness to the exclusion of alien righteousness is to toe the works-righteousness line.

My contention is that we must be more diligent in teaching 2KR right alongside the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. The 2KR framework provides a more complete working picture of Christian living. It fleshes out Law/Gospel in simple, practical ways. 2KR ought to be as much a part of our working vocabulary as Law/Gospel. We ought to be teaching it specifically and intentionally to our people, so that they, in turn, may live in terms of that doctrine. And not only that, but they would have a helpful lens by which to consider competing theologies.

As I have taught it to and employed it with my own members it has invariably been new information. It has been helpful to them, but it has been new. Just as with those who have been prevented from making confession and receiving Absolution because they didn’t know it was an option for them, this has been unwittingly withheld from them as well.

In a time when the Lutheran Church seems to be chasing after a great deal that is not doctrinally sound, I wonder what our congregations would look like if we were more diligent in letting our people in on the richness that is Lutheran theology…


4 Responses to 2KR

  1. A says:

    It is not only new to the people you are serving. I might add to your helpful suggestion of teaching two kinds of rightesouness, that it is our responsibility to also wrestle with people and help them discover what, in fact, this proper rightesouness looks like in their lives. We might even go so far as to transform our communities into places where people struggle openly with living faith.
    I don’t know if we need to use the vocabulary of two kinds of righteousness, but the framework can be taught. It is a struggle to teach and preach that the alien righteousness is a starting point for a life lived in service to neighbor and therefore God. The reactions that I have received mostly are of stunned disbelief that a Lutheran pastor (after all, we’re saved by grace) would even bring up the topic of works.
    Now I am on my soap box.
    The Church in America, and the LC-MS in particular, in my opinion has been marginalized – not because out theology has not “kept up with the times” and not because “we don’t worship in a certain way etc.” We have marginalized ourselves because we have only worried ourselves with the initial ontology of Christian-ness, and how that relates to me being happy and safe from being dead forever. We have removed ourlseves from the conversations about all things temporal (some might say earthly) in favor of this more spiritual, more important thing of how one becomes a Christian.
    Thanks for your comments on this. I have been working on this myself through Advent when the preaching has been centered toward those who are God’s people (alien righteousness) and yet not acting like it. See Malachi 3:1-7 and Luke 3:1-20.
    Luke 3:7 [John the Baptist] said therefore to the crowds, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'”

  2. OSC says:


    One of the things that I have heard my brother pastors complain about is a difficulty in preaching sanctification. Apart from a 2KR understanding, this would be a more daunting task. But within the framework it provides, sanctification preaching just makes more sense.

    I think the vocabulary is important. Or at least, I don’t know what a substitution would be that frames the understanding in the same way. But I agree with you that wrestling with what that proper righteousness looks like is a significant task that we have largely ignored (or paid lip service to it without really getting involved).

    It’s a huge deal–all the things that are caught up in that proper righteousness: vocation; confession and Absolution (the sure-fire way to mortify the flesh!); acts of service; Christian ethics (we don’t really need to fear this one); … The list goes on.

    Incidentally, this is also a helpful corrective to the whole issue of the church’s confrontation of sin. The church seems largely afraid to actually get a little dirty and muck about in people’s personal lives. We’ll deal with sin at a distance. We’ll rail about the evils, say, of internet porn, but we make practical assumptions that our members just don’t do that. We’ll talk all about the evils of homosexuality, because we’re confident that our members just aren’t gay. We’ll proclaim the sanctity of marriage, yet we ignore the couple who is in the midst of divorce. That is, we generally accept such things as normal and inevitable and play pick up the pieces afterward. Church discipline is the stuff of earlier generations, because we have marginalized ourselves. We’ve decided that there’s this whole aspect of the whole counsel of God that we’re just not going to touch.

    I’m frustrated right now, as you may be able to tell. We can probably talk about it later, but the gist is that team ministry doesn’t work where one confronts sin and one largely pretends it isn’t happening.

  3. Derek K says:

    I appreciate your note on pastors finding difficulty in preaching sanctification, corroborating discussion in the now Dr. DS’s class. Hearing someone say, “I struggle preaching sanctification” is almost always a tacit admission of “Law then Gospel” preaching, with sanctification sometimes shoehorned onto the end, and that preaching comes from a misunderstanding of both Walther and Caemmerer. Coram hominibus not only can but should be a major focus in Lutheran preaching. To do otherwise is to neglect the doctrine of vocation. Perhaps this neglect is also at the root of our having marginalized ourselves – we’ve made ourselves irrelevant to day-to-day living by talking about only alien righteousness.

  4. OSC says:

    Yeah. I have a well-worn copy of “The Tapestry of Preaching,” without which I’d be significantly disadvantaged.

    And yes, there’s enough out there that works to marginalize the Gospel and its preachers without the preachers contributing.

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