Martin Luther preached at St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany, from 1512 to 1546. One sermon in particular stands out. It was preached on March 28, 1518, right in between the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and the Diet of Worms in 1521. The title is “A Sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness.”
The first righteousness that Luther preached on is what he called an “alien righteousness.” Luther did not mean that it comes from outer space; he meant that it comes to us outside of ourselves. The Latin expression is extra nos, meaning “outside of us.” We cannot produce this righteousness. We are dead. We are sinners. So Christ had to obtain this righteousness for us. In fact, Luther said, “It is through faith in Christ that Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that He has, rather, He Himself becomes ours.” This is very reminiscent of what Luther says in thesis 37 of the Ninety-Five Theses: “Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the benefits of Christ.” That’s a wonderful expression. In Latin, it is participatio omnium bonorum Christi—we participate in all the benefits of Christ. We have Christ Himself; we have His righteousness. Luther says this is a great bargain because what we bring to the table is our sin, while Christ takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. It is imputed to us. Luther said: “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, who trusts in Christ is attached to Christ, is one with Christ, and has the same righteousness as He.” This is a glorious righteousness, and it is the first righteousness that Luther talked about.
The second kind of righteousness is one that we do produce; it is the fruit of the first righteousness. It is very important for us to grasp this point. Sometimes Luther is said to have taught antinomianism, meaning he denied the place of God’s law in the Christian life. Luther is sometimes accused of simply preaching the gospel and never telling people that they need to live obedient lives. This sermon refutes such an accusation. In it, Luther stressed that once we have been redeemed and we have the righteousness of Christ, we have an obligation. The text for this sermon is Philippians 2, where Paul exhorts us to have the mind of Christ. Paul tells us that Christ took on the form of a servant. For Luther, that’s the second kind of righteousness—we respond in love and obedience in God and love for our neighbor. And how are we able to love our neighbor? We are able to do so because of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us and because Christ has provided us with an example. The example is that we are to be servants.
That’s Luther on the two types of righteousness preached at St. Mary’s Church in 1518.