Two kinds of righteousness


The following is an extract from our seminary-level module ‘Doctrine in Historical Perspective’, which students will cover in the 2019/20 academic year.  Buy it here.

‘Two Kinds of Righteousness’ is a sermon that Martin Luther preached in 1519. Luther talks first about ‘alien’ righteousness. He means ‘from outside’. The righteousness that enables us to stand before God does not come from within us, but is Christ’s righteousness, which is ours if we are in Christ by faith. Luther then speaks of ‘proper righteousness’. The word ‘proper’ in English can mean ‘genuine’. But this is not how Luther is using it here. In fact, the first definition of the word ‘proper’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘own’ (think of the English word ‘property’). By ‘proper righteousness’ Luther mean a righteousness that belongs to us, which is a property of our character and actions. Luther’s point is that proper righteousness (our right behaviour) flows out of the alien righteousness that is ours in Christ. It is not that we do right and so are declared right with God. It is the other way around. We are declared right with God and so we then begin to do right.

As with the previous post from ‘Doctrine in Historical Perspective’ (found here), as you read this extract, identify the main points of Luther’s doctrine of justification

An extract from Martin Luther, ‘Two Kinds of Righteousness’

There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds.
The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in 1 Cor. 1:30: ‘whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’ In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me … shall never die.’ Later he adds in John 14:6, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ 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.’ Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his – for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh [Gen. 2:24] – so Christ and the church are one spirit [Eph. 5:29-32] …
Therefore everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also. Even Christ himself, therefore, who says he came to do the most sacred will of his Father [John 6:38], became obedient to him; and whatever he did, he did it for us and desired it to be ours, saying, ‘I am among you as one who serves’ [Luke 22:27]. He also states, ‘This is my body, which is given for you’ [Luke 22:19]. Isaiah 43:24 says, ‘You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.’
Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it ‘the righteousness of God’ in Rom. 1:17.  For in the gospel ‘the righteousness of God is revealed...; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’ Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3:28, such a faith is called ‘the righteousness of God’: ‘We hold that a man is justified by faith.’ This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more …
Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone – while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ – is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone. Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow. For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.
The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, 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 neighbour, 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 neighbour), and devoutly (relating to God).’
This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type, actually its fruit and consequence, for we read in Gal. 5:22, ‘But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ For because the works mentioned are works of men, it is obvious that in this passage a spiritual man is called ‘spirit.’ In John 3:6 we read, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ This righteousness goes on to complete the first for it ever strives to do away with the old Adam and to destroy the body of sin. Therefore it hates itself and loves its neighbour; it does not seek its own good, but that of another, and in this its whole way of living consists. For in that it hates itself and does not seek its own, it crucifies the flesh. Because it seeks the good of another, it works in love. Thus in each sphere it does God’s will living soberly with self, justly with neighbour, devoutly toward God.
This righteousness follows the example of Christ in this respect and is transformed into his likeness. It is precisely this that Christ requires. Just as he himself did all things for us, not seeking his own good but ours only – and in this he was most obedient to God the Father – so he desires that we also should set the same example for our neighbours.
We read in Rom. 6:19 that this righteousness is set opposite our own actual sin: ‘For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.’ Therefore through the first righteousness arises the voice of the bridegroom who says to the soul, ‘I am yours,’ but through the second comes the voice of the bride who answers, ‘I am yours.’ Then the marriage is consummated; it becomes strong and complete in accordance with the Song of Solomon 2:16, ‘My beloved is mine and I am his.’ Then the soul no longer seeks to be righteous in and for itself, but it has Christ as its righteousness and therefore seeks only the welfare of others …
Tom Olyott