There will be a time in your walk with the Lord, where you ask yourself, “why am I still sinning if I’m a Christian?” When you understand Luther and his phrase, “Simul Justus/Iustus et Peccator,” you will then understand why, as a Christian, you will struggle with sin until you are called Home or Christ’s return (whichever comes first).
Let me preface before we go any further. It is troubling to have to preface this, but it is needed. There is a difference between willful sinning and a struggle/wrestling with sin. Believe or not, there are people who believe in sinless perfectionism. In brief, sinless perfectionism believes that Christians don’t sin..AT ALL. This theology is dangerous and damning. This theology is heresy.
Now that we have that out of the way. Here is a little history of this term explained by the late great giant of the faith, R.C. Sproul
Taken from the blog post from Nathan W. Bingham about an excerpt from a teaching series from Sproul, here is some of the transcript of it:
“Perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et peccator. And if any formula summarizes and captures the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously. Or, it means ‘at the same time.’ Justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et the past tense of the verb ‘to eat.’ Have you et your dinner? No, you know that’s not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he’s been stabbed by Brutus he says, “Et tu, Brute?” Then fall Caesar. And you too Brutus? It simply means and. Peccator means sinner.”
In summary, Simul Justus et Peccator means at the same time, saint and sinner or simultaneously righteous/just and sinner. How can this be so? Aren’t we set free from sin? Aren’t we righteous now? How can we be a saint and a sinner? How can we be righteous and a sinner at the same time? Well, Dr. Sproul explains in well in this same teaching excerpt:
“In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”
Raise your hand, Christian, if you still sin? Every hand should be up who is reading this. Have you believed in the Gospel and turned from your sin? Do you love the Lord? Do you try to obey His commands now that you are a Christian? That is because of Christ and what He did on the Cross. Jesus Christ came down to this earth, born of a virgin, and lived a perfect life. 33 years of perfection Christ lived here on this earth. Because He was perfect, He was the perfect sacrifice for those who would have and did believe in the Gospel. Once this happened, you were Justified. You were COUNTED as righteous in the eyes of God. The word COUNTED is important here and it goes back to the Genesis of history, ironically, in the book of Genesis.
After making the covenant with Abram (aka Abraham), God’s Word says, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). That word, counted in the Hebrew is chashab. It means to value and regard as well. Abraham wasn’t righteous, in and of himself, but he was valued, regarded, counted, as righteous by God because he believed in the promise. So was Abraham sinless? Did God change his mind after Abraham sinned? Absolutely not! Christians, we will see Abraham in heaven. Fast forward to Romans 4, where this same testimony of Abraham was reiterated by Paul to make a point: we are justified, not by works (which sinless perfectionism is), but by Christ alone through faith alone. What I want to point out in Romans 4 is that Paul used the same word counted here by referring back to the OT, you guessed it, Genesis 15:6.
When God counts those who believe as righteous, that doesn’t mean we are infused with righteousness, but when God looks at us, He doesn’t see us, He sees Christ and His righteousness. How arrogant and prideful does man have to be to think that they can obtain absolute righteousness and perfection in this sin-stained world? Now let me reiterate...grace is not a license to sin. You were never born-again in the first place when there is no regard or conviction about the sin you’re committing. The Holy Spirit is our helper (John 14:26) and convicts us of our sin (John 16:8).
There is no need for sanctification if we aren’t, as Christians, Simul Justus et Peccator. We would be just be justified and go about our life with no worries. See how silly that sounds? You might as well take out the whole New Testament because it is FILLED with commands to be sanctified:
- "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."~ 1 Corinthians 6:11
- "But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."~ Romans 15:15-16
- "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth."~ 2 Thessalonians 2:13
- “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”~1 Peter 1:1-2
- "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”~ John 17:17
I can go on and on pointing out Scripture that commands us to be sanctified. We need to be sanctified, being a Christian and all, because we ourselves aren’t righteous but we were counted righteous by God through Jesus Christ’s righteousness. This process is called imputation. For those whom God predestined, He has justified (Romans 8:30), sending His Son to the Cross, bearing the sins of those who will and would believe and in turn giving those same people, His righteousness.
To sum it all up, Christian, we are Simul Justus et Peccator. We are simultaneously just and a sinner. We have been redeemed and justified in the eyes of God because of what Jesus Christ has done on the Cross. But because we live in a sinful world and still inhabit a sinful body, we are to be continually sanctified and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. I will leave you all with this confession in The Scots Confession chpt. 15 “The Perfection of the Law and the Imperfection of Man”:
“We confess and acknowledge that the law of God is most just, equal, holy, and perfect, commanding those things which, when perfectly done, can give life and bring man to eternal felicity; but our nature is so corrupt, weak, and imperfect, that we are never able perfectly to fulfill the works of the law. Even after we are reborn, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth of God is not in us. It is therefore essential for us to lay hold on Christ Jesus, in his righteousness and his atonement, since he is the end and consummation of the Law and since it is by him that we are set at liberty so that the curse of God may not fall upon us, even though we do not fulfill the Law in all points. For as God the Father beholds us in the body of his Son Christ Jesus, he accepts our imperfect obedience as if it were perfect, and covers our works, which are defiled with many stains, with the righteousness of his Son. We do not mean that we are so set at liberty that we owe no obedience to the Law--for we have already acknowledged its place--but we affirm that no man on earth, with the sole exception of Christ Jesus, has given, gives, or shall give in action that obedience to the Law which the Law requires. When we have done all things we must fall down and unfeignedly confess that we are unprofitable servants. Therefore, whoever boasts of the merits of his own works or puts his trust in works of supererogation, boasts of what does not exist, and puts his trust in damnable idolatry.”