Simul justus et peccator – the Latin phrase commonly translated as: “Simultaneously saint and sinner” or, more precisely, “simultaneously justified and sinner” is an important phrase that every Lutheran ought to know. It speaks to the reality of human life and to how what Luther would call our old nature (the old Adam or old Eve within us) struggles against our new nature (the nature that’s clothed in the purity of Christ in Holy Baptism, symbolized by the wrapping of the newly baptized in a white garment, or robe, or, as we do here with babies and children, a white blanket. And so Luther would say: Even though the old Adam or old Eve is drowned to death in the cleansing flood of Holy Baptism, and the new Adam or new Eve is born, as a baptized person joins with Christ Jesus in his death and resurrection, in our daily experience, we still struggle to live as faithful followers of Jesus.
This idea of the “simul” – the nature of living as those who are justified by Christ in Holy Baptism and yet who have to daily struggle to be faithful followers of Jesus – kept coming up for me as I studied this week’s readings.
James, in speaking about the power of the tongue, asks in verse 11 of chapter 3: Can a spring pour forth both fresh and brackish water? And I think he fully expects the answer to be “no.” And that’s all well and good as a general rule, right? I mean, we should be careful about what we say. Regardless of the old children’s rhyme, we know words really can hurt. So, how about a little reality check here?
The fact is that we’re all brackish at times, but that doesn’t disqualify us from speaking things, or doing things, or simply being, of value. After all, today we mark the 3rd annual God’s Work Our Hands Day, and there’s power in that little tag line that we use as The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. God does God’s work with our hands. That is, with our real hands! Not with some imaginary, perfect hands, but with the same hands with which we, at times at least, do harm to our neighbor, blind ourselves to the needs of others, withhold help from someone in need. And there’s no sense in pretending this isn’t the case. I mean, God already knows the truth, and God’s the only One to whom we have to answer in the end. But God chooses to do God’s work with our hands, and so, in answer to James’ question about whether or not the same spring can produce fresh and brackish water, I want to say: “Uh… yes… yes it can, as a matter of fact. Not because I suddenly have the capacity within myself to change, or to do or to even desire to do good, but because I’m baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and God is working in and through and even, at times, in spite of me.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about him, who people think he is. And also, afterward, who the disciples think he is. And, no surprise here, but Peter answers for the group. And, again, no surprise here, but right after saying something really good and really faithful: “You are the Messiah”, Peter turns right around and puts his foot in his mouth, rebuking Jesus for teaching that he will soon suffer, die and after 3 days, rise again. Peter’s offense is so bad, his flip flop so severe, that Jesus calls him Satan!
And there’s the simul, right? Peter, who could be so spot on, can also miss the truth by a mile and a half right after it! Peter, like the rest of us, is caught in the simul. The old Adam is stubborn! He doesn’t want to let go! He doesn’t want to die! And so we have to continually remember and cling to a deeper truth than the truth of our own experience. Our experience is one of flip-flopping and being at least as inconsistent as Peter. Our experience is of, maybe even more often than not, choosing our own way, choosing our own betterment, choosing our own advancement, choosing our own advantage before the betterment, advancement, advantage of our neighbor. Our experience is of choosing to do our own work with our hands, rather than allowing God to lead us along the way of Christ, because, quite frankly, the way of Christ is not an easy way. The way of Christ is the way of the cross.
Jesus calls the crowd with his disciples and teaches them the way of the cross.
- If you want to follow me, you have to take up the cross.” because that’s the only road Jesus walks.
- If you want to live, you have to die to self-advancement, and live for betterment of others.
- If you want to save your life, you have to lose it for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of the good news.
There simply is no other way to be a follower of Jesus, than to be a cross-carrying follower of Jesus…
Now, just to be perfectly clear, the “simul” is still an active part of our cross-carrying, too.
There’s not some magic force at work here that, once we say we’re going to take up the cross and follow Jesus, all of a sudden we’re going to do so perfectly. No. Jesus says in verse 37 of Mark 8: “What can they give in return for their life?” And the intended answer, certainly the Lutheran answer, is short and simple: “Nothing! Christ has done it all!” And it’s at this point that Christians throughout the ages have gotten the most nervous, you know, because if we start to say too clearly that we don’t have to and, in fact, simply cannot do anything to earn, or even participate in or contribute toward, our salvation, then people are just going to go out and live wildly sinful and self-centered lives. And, well, that might very well be true! But all that really proves, if people do actually respond to God’s saving grace by living wildly sinful and self-centered lives, is that the gospel truth was true after all!
We are captive to sin, we are dead in sin, and completely unable to free or save ourselves. But thanks be to God in Christ who died to destroy death and rose to restore life and who, through the waters of Holy Baptism, joins us to his own dying and rising, killing off the old Adam or Eve in us and bringing to life a whole new being – a new Adam, a new Eve, made alive with and in Christ!…
Today we rejoice in this wondrous saving work of God as we come to witness the miracle of God’s saving work in action right here and now as Amelia Clare is brought to the font where we’ll all make promises together before God – parents, sponsors, assembled people of God – even as we realize that, no matter how hard we try, no matter how earnest our intent, we’re going to mess up! And Amelia, like the rest of us, will grow to experience the “simul.” She will have moments of faithfulness and moments of failure, and that’s ok, because, we’re not the only promise makers here today! God is here, and God promises forgiveness and salvation for Amelia and all the Baptized!
And so we can say with the prophet: The Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Lord God helps me!