Luther On The Ontological Association Of God And The Believer

"In the case of the case of the 'ontological' association of God and the believer, 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) (Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 1535).  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).  Or to put it another way, 'In myself outside of Christ, I am a sinner; in Christ outside of myself, I am not a sinner (Luther, The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests, 1533)."

"Luther's simul justus et peccator means that in this life a person is a sinner in the eyes of the law, the world, and oneself, while at the same time completely a saint in the eyes of God on account of Christ.  We should not take Luther's simul to mean that a person is partially a sinner and partially righteous, as if one could quantify it in terms of percentages.  That would be to think of the Christian in terms of oneself, in terms of a person's progress upward on a spiritual continuum, whereby one's sinfulness gradually diminishes as one grows in righteousness either psychologically or ontologically.  But Luther does not consider the human person substantially, in terms of some 'empirically verifiable endowment in the creature' (Forde, Forensic Justification and the Christian Life, 116).  He views the human person relationally and holistically.  Thus for him, imputed righteousness 'as a divine judgment brings with it the simul justus et peccator as total states' (Forde, Forensic Justification and the Christian Life, 116).  The Christian is simultaneously completely and totally righteous in the eyes of God, even as the believer is completely and totally sinful when considered in and of oneself.  This double character of a totus-totus existence remains through all of life up to the very moment Christ raises us from the dead.  Because we are both - completely and simultaneously - until death, there is a constant psychological movement between the two poles.'

Excerpt taken from: 
Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther's Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 48-49.

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