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…