Faith Is Like A Wedding Ring By Which The Christian Becomes Joined To Christ In Marriage

As faith responds positively to the promise, it embraces this promise and clings to the one who made the promise.  Here Luther likened faith to a wedding ring by which the Christian becomes joined to Christ in marriage.  Luther declares, "Christ and the soul become one flesh" (Eph. 5:31-31).  Commenting on Galatians 2:20, he writes, "Faith must be taught correctly, namely, that by it you are so cemented to Christ and he and you are as one person, which cannot be separated but remains attached to him forever and declares, 'I am as Christ.'  And in turn Christ says: 'I am as that sinner who is attached to me, and I to him.  For by faith we are joined together into one flesh and one bone'" (Luther, Lectures on Galatians).  Christ is not only the "object" of faith but is himself present in faith. "The believing heart holds fast to Christ just as the setting of a ring grips the jewel: we have Christ in faith" (Althaus, Theology of Luther, 231).  Faith does not leave Christ outside as if he were merely someone to think about or believe in, but embraces him, saying, "He is my beloved, and I am His" (Luther, Theses on Faith and Law, 1535).

By creating faith and joining us to Christ, the Word of God effects what Luther would call a "wonderful" or "joyous exchange!"  In developing the marriage metaphor, Luther drew on German law to develop the idea of an exchange that takes place between Christ and the believer.  German law distinguished between that which belonged to a person, was that person's own, and that which one possessed or used (as in "Possession is nine-tenths of the law").  He pointed out that in marriage everything that properly belonged to the groom now comes into the possession of the bride, and everything that properly belonged to the bride now becomes the possession of the groom.  This union effects an exchange.  So also with Christ and the Christian.  "It follows that everything [each has] is [thereafter] held in common, the good as well as the evil.  The believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own" (Luther, The Freedom of the Christian, 1520).  Everything that belonged to Christ now belongs to me, and everything that belonged to me now belongs to Christ.  So in the promise Christ declared, "Your sin is min, and my innocence is yours."  By receiving the promise, faith hides nothing and holds nothing back from Christ.  It replies to Christ, "My sin lies on you and your innocence and blessedness now belong to me" (Althaus, Theology of Luther, 213).  The Christian is thus joined to Christ by a faith that clings to the Word and now accepts that Christ is totally responsible for us.  This means "our sins are now not ours but Christ's, and Christ's righteousness is not Christ's but ours" (Luther, Explanation of the Ninety-five Theses, 1518).  Only in faith are Christ and a human being so joined together, so made one, that in God's judgment the human person participates in Christ's righteousness (Althaus, Theology of Luther, 231). 

For Luther; the good news of this happy exchange was that a person was not required (indeed inasmuch as one was enslaved to sin) to purify oneself in order to become a worthy bride for Christ.  Instead, Christ binds himself to a sinful creature.  Luther drew on the example of Hosea, whom God told to marry a prostitute to illustrate that in word and faith one who is holy joined himself to those who are unholy.  As a sinner Luther rejoiced that the rich and divine bridegroom Christ "marries this poor wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness."  This means that her sins cannot now destroy her since they are laid on Christ and swallowed up by him.  As a result she has the righteousness of Christ her husband, which she may boast is her own and which she can confidently display alongside "her sins in the face of death and hell" (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520).  In the joyous exchange, the believer gains clarity and certainty that God is no fiction and that the promise made "to all who believe" is not a lie (Stephen Ozment,  A Mighty Fortress, 84).

Andreas Osiander
In other words, the gospel does not require a person to become internally "like" God or ontologically "like" God in order to be united with him. . . . [as is the] case of the "ontological" association of God and the believer [where] the person disappears into God by being absorbed into God's divine being, so as virtually to lose one's individual identity as a human creature.  Luther's cementing together of Christ and the sinner [on the other hand] does not blur the distinction between the Creator and the creature.  But in the early 1550s the Lutheran reformer of the city of Nuremberg, Andreas Osiander, taught an ontological transformation of a person by contending that the believer is united with the divine nature of Christ.  Osiander maintained that the essential righteousness of Christ's divine nature, his righteousness as the Second Person of the Trinity, becomes the believer's righteousness before God.  By being united to Christ, sinners are transformed by his eternal divine righteousness, which swallows up our righteousness (as a drop of milk in the ocean), thereby transforming us into pure brides.  In this way, Christ joins himself to a pure bride.  The obedience of Christ and the death of Christ were in the end of little consequence in Osiander's exposition of justification.  Some recent explanations of Luther's doctrine of justification sometimes veer in Osiander's direction by interpreting a few of his statements in a way that brings him into accord with an Eastern Orthodox view of salvation by "divinization," also called theosis or theopoiesis.  These views ignore the radically different metaphysical base of Luther's understanding and that of the Eastern church, and they ignore Luther's understanding of the dynamic, re-creative nature of God's Word.

Luther opposed both the view of salvation by psychological transformation and the view of salvation by ontological transformation (both of which make sense only in a Platonic, spiritualizing frame of reference).  He held that the verdict of justification does not come at the beginning or end of a movement (toward becoming increasingly righteous); instead it establishes an entirely new situation.  The joyous exchange is thus not a substantial exchange but a relational exchange.  It puts me in a different set of relationships, which are the critical things, whether it means substantial change or not (Althaus, Theology of Luther, 213).  Luther held that the Christian is a person who, to use his famous dictum, is simul justus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and sinful).  The Christian is righteous by God's re-creative pronouncement and the response of faith in Christ (whose righteous obedience is reckoned to the believer) and sinful by virtue of one's fallen human psychological disposition and imperfect performance (as a fallen human being) (Ozment, History of the German People, 85).  In his usual way, Luther expressed it succinctly and elegantly: "Though I am a sinner in myself, I am not a sinner in Christ" (Luther, Commentary on Psalm 51).

Excerpt taken from: Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther's Theology (Baker Academic, 2008), 45-49.

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