Reason #2,539 why I love Lutheran Theology

Lately, I’ve been reading Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent, where he just trounces on Rome’s view of concupiscence and original sin, and what remains in the regenerate. Page after page he demonstrates how the Papalists have skewed the meaning of the Scriptures. The question is basically this: is there still sin in the regenerate after baptism? Chemnitz argues from Scripture, and also relying heavily on St. Augustine, yes–the remnants of the old nature remain in the baptized, though this stain of sin is not counted against them. There is still much weakness in the regenerate person, who has not completely shed his old skin. The papists were asserting that the Church, and her members, no longer have the stain of sin. Chemnitz, along with other Lutheran teachers, disagreed on the basis of clear passages of Scripture. In one place, Augustine quips, “The Pelagians dare to say also this, that a righteous person has no sin at all in this life and that in such persons it is true already in the present time that the church has neither spot nor wrinkle; as if that were not the bride of Christ which throughout the whole earth says what it has learned from Him: ‘Forgive us our debts.’

Indeed! Why would the Lord have instructed the disciples to pray, “Forgive us our debts,” if it were true that the Church and her members this side of glory were already perfected? Would Jesus have us lie, by confessing our sins, which were not really sins, since we have already put on our full glory? But why does this matter? Why does it matter to me, a poor Christian at that? Why does it matter to the person sitting in the pew? How does it affect our preaching, and our pastoral practice? 

For the believing Christian who struggles with his or her weakness, this teaching is of the utmost comfort. We can look at St. Paul’s own struggle with his old nature in Romans 7 and say, “Yes–that is how it is with me! I hate the things that I do and say. I know they are contrary to the holy life that God would have me live. I want to be free of them. But yet I do them anyway. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But what of those Christians who are taught to think that if they commit sin after baptism (or conversion, depending on your ‘flavor’ of Christianity) they are not truly Christians, or that they must not be regenerate? If they take this teaching seriously, they must live in utter despair. It is hard enough for me, a Lutheran who believes that there is a new and an old nature in Christians, to live in the freedom of God’s grace. I cannot imagine how I would live my life thinking that every false move, every sin committed out of weakness, was a death blow to my faith and salvation. 

In our preaching and pastoral practice, this also helps us know how to comfort the one who falls into sin, but hates and despises the very sin itself. We don’t comfort them by saying, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter since you are baptized.” But we can say: this is bound to happen. You are not entirely pure yet. You have not fully put on glory. It is not you who is doing it, but sin living in you. Confess it. And receive the absolution of the Lord, and come soon to the holy Supper, where your life may be hidden with Christ in God. You are free. Go in peace. 

Of course, we would deal differently with someone who was obstinate, someone who stubbornly insisted either that what he or she was doing was not sinful, or that they saw no need to turn from it. That is not repentance. That is not humility before God. That is willful disobedience. It is quite a different thing from the one who sins out of weakness, though he or she strives diligently to avoid such sins. 

I love this teaching. I love it because I know very well my weakness. I see and feel it every single day. I must constantly pray: “Take away my love for sinning,” as the hymn says. I love being a Lutheran, because the Biblical teaching is maintained that though we are baptized, reborn, and renewed by the Holy Spirit, this renewal is not yet complete. It is still waiting to come to full glory, which it will do only when we put off this flesh in death. Perhaps this was one of the most important teachings that was recovered in the Reformation: that regenerate man is simul justus et peccator, at the same time saint and sinner, free and in bondage. AT THE SAME TIME!  If nothing else, it is an explanation of our frequent lapses into sin. It gives the Christian the ability not to excuse or justify his or her sin, but to say, “Yep, still have a sinful nature.” When we ask ourselves, “Why? Why do I continue to have these evil desires?” We can answer: “It’s simple. Your flesh is still impure. The weakness of the mortal nature remains. You will not perfectly overcome sin this side of glory. But you must continue to strive against it.” 

Thanks be to God for the Lutheran Reformation. Thanks be to God that Luther did not go as far as the Reformed and throw the baby out with the bath water. We still have the Sacraments. And we have the true comfort and teaching of the holy Gospel. God be praised! 

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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7 Responses to Reason #2,539 why I love Lutheran Theology

  1. Pastor Bakker says:

    This is awesome stuff…love Chemnitz because I love the Truth!

  2. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Isn’t it though? Every time I delve into the Examination, or anything by Chemnitz, I am struck by his grasp of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Truth in general.

  3. teechrlady says:

    Not sure where Mr. Martin Chemnitz gets his information but the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states:

    1) 405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

    2) 978 “When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them. . . . Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil “

  4. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Chemnitz was getting his information from the decrees of the Council of Trent, which argued that the baptized have been made the beloved of God. Therefore God dos not hate anything in the regenerate, but they are innocent, spotless, pure, harmless. And consequently the concupiscence which remains in the regenerate does not have the nature of sin.

    It seems that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has taken this thinking over to modern times, because it does not indicate that the concupiscence that remains in the regenerate is truly sin before God, but merely a weakness. Scripture still says that the Spirit wages war against the flesh, and does not give us any room to think of concupiscence as being something other than sin. That has been one of the differences from the beginning. The desires that remain in the baptized after regeneration are not harmless, though they are forgiven and redeemed. They are sin.

    Also, it is obvious that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not view Original Sin in the Scriptural sense, that is the fallen nature of Adam, which not only corrupts our nature (though we would not say that our nature IS sin, since God created it), and it also is that inherent rebellion against God. The Catechism confuses forgiveness with renewal. Yes, we were fully forgiven, but then the Catechism goes on to say there “remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them.” I think that is basically saying what the Council of Trent said. Don’t you?

  5. teechrlady says:

    Okay, I’m no theologian, nor do I have the schooling you do, so I can only research little bits here and there.

    It’s easy for me to see the “innocent, spotless, pure, and harmless” when I think of a little baby or even a grown sinner who is newly baptized. They’ve been “cleansed” and until they sin, they should remain in that state. I guess I don’t see your connection with concupiscence actually *being* sin. I may have a temptation to eat a whole chocolate cake, but as long as I don’t act on it, there’s no sin. Same goes for all types of sin.

    The way you make it sound is that people are inherently bad and there’s no room (or hope) for us to be better. I look at great saints and know that isn’t true.

    How pleased must the Lord be every time we deny ourselves even though we were tempted. Concupiscence can’t be sin itself.

    So if my thinking sides with Trent, then I’m completely cool with that.

  6. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Jesus did say that a diseased tree bears bad fruit. It is the inherited sin that corrupts our nature and produces in us “bad fruit” (evil thoughts, words, desires, and deeds). It’s all sin though. It’s all damnable in God’s sight. If it weren’t, then there would not have been a need for Christ to “empty himself and become obedient to the point of death.” Your words actually sound like those of the disciples: “Who then can be saved?” Well, the more sin abounded, grace abounded all the more says the Apostle. The great saints were conceived and born with original sin, just like everyone else. And they too fought and struggled against their old nature throughout their lives. Just look at St. Augustine and his “Confessions.” The point that the Lutherans were making was this: in baptism guilt of sin is removed completely. That is to say, there is nothing in us that has not been redeemed and forgiven by the Lord in Christ’s blood. Christ’s blood has touched us in Baptism, and so every bit of guilt that we have inherited from Adam and that we have added to it is cleansed. But it does not follow from that that we are completely and perfectly renewed in this life. The renewal is something that happens gradually, from baptism until death, when our flesh is finally done being mortified. Until that time, we battle our sinful nature, and seek to “put to death the deeds of the flesh.” If those things weren’t sinful before God, then why would we need to put it to death? This is why as Christians we continually need to be refreshed and renewed by the Holy Spirit through the holy Word and blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Because we continually fail in our walk with Christ, and because we often give into the weakness of our old nature, we need to always pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.” If it was not sin, but only weakness, then we would have to pray, “Forgive us our weakness.” Though, we might pray that too. 🙂

    Thanks for following up!

  7. fws says:

    teecher lady:

    Try this:
    To know what Original SIn is , we first need to know what Original Righeousness was.
    What is it that you think Original Righeousness was? We all, even pagans, long to return to that state of Innocence. How is it that we are to go about returning to that state of Innocence and have paradise restored?

    Penny for your thoughts Ms Teecher

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