The Theological Dictionary: Simul iustus et peccator

by Jono Linebaugh

 

“Simultaneously” is a crucial word in Christian theology; it describes life and reality in “the time between”—between Jesus’ first and second coming; the time after the announcement that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15) and yet the time during which we pray “thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10); the time after Jesus’ bodily resurrection yet before our bodily resurrection; the time after God’s judgment against sin on the cross and yet the time when we confess that Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” “Simultaneously” points to this time between the times—the co-existence of two “times” at the same time: the old age and the new creation are both present realities. This means that the Christian lives in two times: in themselves, they remain the old Adam in the old age; in Christ, they share the status of the second Adam (Jesus) in the age to come. Simul iustus et peccator is a way of identifying this double existence. It means, literally, “simultaneously just and sinner.” The point is not that everyone’s a little of each—that the line between good and evil runs through all people as the saying has it. “Just” and “sinner” are total rather than partial realities. The Christian, in him or herself, is totally a sinner while at the same time being, in Christ, totally righteous before God. In other words, Christians are fully human—real people with real problems and real pain. But Christians, at the same time they’re sinners, are fully and savingly loved (Rom 5:6-10).

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23 Responses to “The Theological Dictionary: Simul iustus et peccator”

  1. A. says:

    Fully human…. yet partakers of the divine nature!!!

    “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” 2 Peter 1: 3-5

  2. Egbert de Vries says:

    It is awesome to know that the work of the Holy Spirit is poured through and out of my sinful, broken body.

  3. John Thomson says:

    Hi Jono

    While understanding the point you make I submit that it is not how Scripture invites us to think. When Paul writes to Christian churches he does not address them as ‘the sinners in Christ in…’, nor as ‘the saints who are sinners in…’, but as ‘the saints in Christ in…’. Believers, for Paul, are always saints and never sinners. In 1 Tim 1 he speaks of himself as ‘the chief of sinners’ but this is a designation based on his pre-conversion behaviour.

    For Paul, the word ‘sinner’ is a status word; it designates a position before God. In similar fashion Paul designates post-Pentecost believers as ‘in the Spirit’ and emphatically not ‘in the flesh’ (Roms 8). They are not ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’. These designations for Paul are mutually exclusive; if you belong to one you cannot belong to the other. They delineate identity. If any is in Christ he is new creation.

    Now, of course, we are are still in this world, the flesh is still active, the old still plagues and sin still indwells; the point you make. However, while Paul will allow that the flesh is in us he will not allow that we are ‘in the flesh’. We may be in the world but we are not of the world. We may sin but we are not sinners for ‘sinner’ is an identity word, a category word.

    For Paul this distinction is important for all sorts of reasons, not least for reasons of sanctification; his basic appeal is ‘be what you are’. A ‘sinner’ is someone in the flesh and enslaved to sin. The believer, however, is not enslaved to sin. He is justified from sin and a slave of righteousness. Sin indwells and wishes to gain ascendancy. The flesh seeks to assert itself. However, both are pretenders, they have no real or rightful authority for we do not belong to the age/world/domain where they have authority. To realize this is the heart of Christian living.

    I submit that when we begin to think of ourselves as ‘sinners’ we immediately begin to excuse sin something Scripture will not allow. Thus for reasons of biblical accuracy which have more than merely semantics at stake I think ‘simul iustus et peccator’ is a regrettable expression.

    • Jono says:

      John,

      Thanks for this thoughtful reply. The content is constructive and the tone sets the bar for a “comment conversation.”

      I agree that “sinner” is an identity word and that it is misapplied if it is used to describe or name the Christian’s identity—their person. Before God, identity is not a both/and (sinner and righteous); it is an either/or (sinner or righteous). The basis of this difference is not anthropological (what I do or don’t do); it is strictly and solely Christological: to be in Christ is to be righteous before God. Paul does something unprecedented (in comparison with early Jewish literature) in that he designates all people outside of Christ with the identity “sinner” (Rom 5:8, for example). But even more novel and scandalous is his corresponding claim that it is precisely “sinners” who are, in Christ, identified as “righteous” (Rom 3:23-24). So, to use your words, while “the old still plagues and sin still indwells,” this does not define Christian identity coram deo. On this I think we agree.

      In this light, it’s important to clarify that “simul iustus et peccator” is NOT a description of our Christian identity; it is NOT a description of who we are before God. What it is, however, is a description of the both/and that characterizes the Christian life as lived. The pastoral payoff here is that it enables us to affirm (without crossing our fingers) that in Christ—at the level of identity—the Christian is 100% righteous before God while at the same time recognizing the persistence of sin. If we don’t speak in turns of two total states corresponding to the co-existence of two times then the undeniable reality of ongoing sin leads to the qualification of our identity in Christ: some sin must mean not totally righteous. This is acid at the very foundation of the peace we have with God on the other side of justification. To say “simul iustus et peccator” is thus not to say that “sinner” is our identity; it is to say that while we remain sinful in ourselves we are, in Christ, totally righteous.

      This pastoral pattern is reflected in 1 Corinthians. In themselves, the Corinthians are anything but sanctified saints: they are quarrelling and creating factions around various Christian leaders; they are taking one another to court; sexual immorality is rampant and in one case nearly unheard of; the bodily resurrection is being denied; worship is chaotic. But writing to these people in the face of this sin, Paul addresses them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2). The possibility of this kind of speech is anchored in a distinction between who the Corinthians are in themselves and who they are in Christ, and like you, John, I think it is this confident and creative “calling”—this naming of a person or people in terms of who they are in Christ—that is the catalyst of change. To call a person by their “new name” is to summon them away from faith in themselves—away from the sin and death that defines the old age and them in the old Adam—and to summon them to faith in Christ—to the salvation and status that defines the new creation and the Christian as one whose identity is “hid with God in Christ.”

      Jono

    • Chris Rookus says:

      Amen John! This is something for YEARS I have wrestled with and can’t get away from the identity as saint over sinner. I believe Paul charges the saints he’s written to, to LIVE in the Freedom (Gal 5) not in bondage. I believe this is more than just living in action, but in mind and heart as well. I believe the awareness of His grace in our identity as saint/redeemed/righteous, is not to take advantage of that grace, but to live in the freedom He worked for.

      I am no Greek, Hebrew or Latin expert. But I know the freedom I live in. It has not caused me to sin. It has caused me, compelled me to live and give the grace He’s given me. The more aware I am of who I am in Christ, the more I desire Him. The more I desire Him, the more I look to Him and live like Him.

      That’s my simple response and simple thanks.

      In Grace – Chris

    • Paula Sevier says:

      A-men to this!

    • Paula Sevier says:

      Right on!

    • Mike G says:

      John, You are right.

      hamartōlos – sinner

      Thayer Definition:
      1) devoted to sin, a sinner 1a) not free from sin 1b) pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked.

      Sinners is a term used in Scripture only of the unregenerate – John F. MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 250.

      Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

      1 Peter 4:18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

      Luke 6:32-34 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

  4. John Thomson says:

    Jono

    Many thanks for an irenic, clear and clarifying response.

    John

  5. […] response to my “Theological Dictionary” post on Simul iustus et peccator , a reader questioned whether I was suggesting that “sinner” is an appropriate term to describe […]

  6. […] famous phrase Simul iustus et peccator–simultaneously justified and a sinner (you can read it here). One reader questioned whether “sinner” is an appropriate term to describe Christian […]

  7. Brad says:

    Hi Jono,

    Can you clarify how the truths of being “regenerated,” being a “new creation,” having a “new heart with God’s law written on it,” relate to the truth of “Simul iustus et peccator”? I think I have always thought that when God regenerated me, made me a new creation, and gave me a new heart etc, He actually changed my nature and who I am. But it sounds like you are saying that being “Simul justus et peccator” doesn’t change us in ourselves, but it just adds us to Jesus’ account.

    Blessings,
    Brad

  8. ben sadler says:

    Great stuff! I’m a Lutheran pastor in Orlando. I believe this is the essence of good preaching. When I look at a text, I ask myself, “How does this text show or imply my fallen state? what is the specific sin that continues to excite my sinful nature?” Then I ask, “How does this text show or point me to Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection.” In another words, how do I apply the law and the gospel, to sinner/saints?

  9. […] famous phrase Simul iustus et peccator–simultaneously justified and a sinner (you can read it here). One reader questioned whether “sinner” is an appropriate term to describe Christian identity. […]

  10. […] do away with the law if you can fully and finally banish sin and death. The Christian, remember, is simul iustus et peccator (“simultaneously right and sinner”), and the ministry of the Word is therefore always the […]

  11. Liberate says:

    […] our sinfulness is banished. The present is the co-presence of the old age and the new creation: simul iustus et peccator. New creation in the “now” isn’t about a suffering- and sin-free existence; it looks like […]

  12. Nick D says:

    This has to be my favorite phrase. Because I’m simul iustus et peccator, I can be honest with God about my sinfulness as a Christian, I don’t have to explain away my sins – including the willful ones. As Tullian’s put it; “the gospel allows us to be okay with the fact that none of us are okay.” He saves me in spite of me. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

  13. Mike G says:

    In the Gospels the term sinner is used in two ways – to describe the individual who is opposed to God and His will, and by Jesus’ opponents to describe those outside of their group to whom Jesus offers the gospel of salvation.

    From the standpoint of Jesus, a person was a sinner as long as he or she remained opposed to the will of God.

    Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.

  14. LIBERATE says:

    Hey all –

    For those interested in whether or not the term “sinner” is useful in describing Christian identity, check out Jono’s further discussion of the topic here:

    http://liberatenet.org/2012/10/16/theological-dictionary-called-righteous/

  15. Aart Hilberts says:

    When Jesus ripped my eyes open to Grace, I realized any “good” thing I did in regard to the law was 100% the Holy Spirits work in me because if any of my obedience to the law came from me,that would necessarily mean there was some good of my own that Jesus did not need to die for. That would mean if I even had 1% righteousness that led me to a righteous deed, I would not need all of Jesus Holy work and righteousness. If I use less than 100% of Christ Holy righteousness then there was some of Christ blood that went to waste. When my eyes were ripped open to Grace, there was a immediate release of tension between law and Christian living!!

  16. […] “Simultaneously” points to this time between the times—the co-existence of two “times” at the same time: the old age and the new creation are both present realities. – Tullian Tchividjian […]

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