The phrase, “simultaneously justified and sinner,” or simul iustus et peccator (simul for short), is a statement or confession concerning the Christian life in this world. While the saying is simple, unpacking its implications can take some time due to the number of doctrines which support it. Below is a look at both what is meant by claiming the simul as a confession, as well as an exploration of the doctrines this phrase confesses. I aim to provide a simple introduction to a topic which, all too often, has been sadly misunderstood.
It’s important to make the distinction between confession and doctrine to fully understand what being simultaneously justified and sinner means. For Christians, the word confession has two meanings. The first is a profession of faith or belief; the second is the admitting and repentance of sin. In both senses of the word, confession requires an acknowledgment of certain truths or realities. Historical confessions include the catholic creeds such as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, publicly presented documents like the Augsburg Confession or Westminster Confession of Faith, and teaching documents such as catechisms. Confessions are meant to be exclusive. Simply put, confessions in this sense are made up of doctrines or teachings.
Following this principle, the simul makes several affirmations and rejections on the doctrines of sin/original sin, justification, and sanctification, to name a few.
By virtue of a confession’s affirmation of a particular doctrine or doctrines, they simultaneously include positive statements and exclude any antithetical teachings to what is confessed. For example, when one confesses with the Apostles’ Creed that Christ was truly God and truly man who rose from the dead, he or she also rejects the teaching that Christ remained dead and all the implications that carries toward his nature as the God-man. Following this principle, the simul makes several affirmations and rejections on the doctrines of sin/original sin, justification, and sanctification, to name a few.
The Simul and Sin:
The confession of simul takes a very serious stance on sin. It does not shy away from the Biblical reality that sin has totally corrupted humanity and the world (1 John 1:9; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 8:22). It is a confession that the human creature cannot by his own power or will cease being sinful. This is explained in detail by the Formula of Concord, “The damage is so indescribable that it cannot be recognized by our reason but only from God’s Word. The damage is such that only God alone can separate human nature and the corruption from one another.” (Formula of Concord I:9) Miraculously, we are justified by Christ despite this total corruption. However, justification is not a second chance to be perfect, nor is it a removal of our humanity. In this life, the Christian remains wholly a sinner in his nature and will. The simul rejects the teaching that original sin is erased in this life, and that salvation is a cooperative effort between the believer and God. In this way, the Christian life is lived in constant tension which the Apostle Paul describes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Rom. 7:18). However, this tension doesn’t negate our righteousness in Christ.
The Christian life is lived in constant tension
The continual proclamation of God’s words of law and gospel is meant to drive us away from faith in ourselves and instead to rest all hope in the gospel of Christ. As the Apostle Paul declares, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:24-25).
The Simul and Justification:
The simul also radically proclaims that the Christian is justified. This one word, justified, serves as a declaration that forgiveness, life, and salvation belong to you by grace through faith on account of Christ alone. Furthermore, the simul confesses that justification occurs in and for sinners. As the Apostle Paul proclaims, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Justifying faith in Christ cannot be earned, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Likewise, the simul rejects that justification is merely a clean slate or a second chance to live a blameless life. Such rejection excludes any notion that sinful creatures can contribute anything to their salvation or earn any righteousness before God. It is a renewed affirmation that Christ alone is our refuge. Justification is pure comfort that all the blame we have incurred past, present, and future is taken to the cross with Christ and crucified. As a result, just as Christ is raised to new life, we who are joined to him will also rise (Rom. 6:4). In Christ, we are justified.
The Simul and Sanctification:
By its confessions on justification and sin, the simul establishes that Christians cannot do anything to make themselves sanctified or holy. As such, the simul has at times been criticized as a doctrine for antinomians or as an excuse against preaching the law or doing good works. In reality, the simul has the exact opposite purpose and function. The simul proclaims that Christians need God’s law. The Formula of Concord following Paul from Romans 7 cited above states, “Therefore, in this life, because of these desires of the flesh, the faithful, elect, reborn children of God need not only the law’s daily instruction and admonition, its warning and threatening but often they also need its punishments, so they may be incited by them and follow God’s Spirit, as it is written, 'It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statues.'” The law drives sinners away from themselves and to God. God does not receive us through his law but through the gospel, which produces faith. By the gospel, we receive the Holy Spirit, who produces good works through the hands of the justified. The law gives knowledge of goodness but does not produce it. So where the law is preached, and goodness is neither found nor produced, the gospel must be proclaimed in order for the goodness of Christ to be received. The simul is not an attack against sanctification or good works but instead is a confession that these are not a product of our own will, knowledge, or strength but are a gift of Christ through us to our neighbor that they too might trust in him for all things.
We do not face this paradox by explaining away our sin our watering down our justification.
Luther describes the simul, “thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God. None of the sophists will admit this paradox because they do not understand the true meaning of justification” (LW 26:232). We do not face this paradox by explaining away our sin our watering down our justification. Instead, we face it with the full strength of the gifts of God. The truth is that Christians do not stand alone but need the Church. For the Church is not a building but is the proclamation of the Word of God and the administration of his gifts of absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sin. The simul is, therefore, a great act of confession and absolution. In it, we recognize our sin and receive back the sure reminder that we are justified and belong wholly to Christ. Though the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh assail us, they cannot snatch us from his hand. Thanks be to God that we are not left in our sin alone but are given Christ and his gospel. Our relationship with God is not defined by the terror of sin and the law, but by grace. Through Christ crucified, we are restored and reconciled to God the Father. The cross daily bears our sin so that we are inseparably tied to Christ, and we stand as heirs before God our Father.