Pastor Wayne Derber
Phone: 815-570-2088 (home) 815-508-3435 (cell)
“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3b
Dear Friend in Christ,
This year has been the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. In my letter in each monthly newsletter this year, I wrote about an important teaching of Martin Luther. This month I am writing about Luther’s understanding of alien righteousness.
Just in case any of you might be wondering, Luther’s understanding of alien righteousness has nothing to do with the goodness of space creatures from another planet. Sorry to disappoint the sci-fi fans among us! One definition of the word “alien” is: “unlike one’s own; strange; not belonging to one.” When Luther wrote about alien righteousness he was describing the reality that “our” righteousness really is God’s and never belongs to us. This righteousness is always alien to us.
We all try to be good, but fall short. We often sin and make mistakes. It is impossible for us to achieve righteousness on our own. God’s Word tells us that “there is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). We can only receive righteousness from God through faith. God’s Word further tells us that: “he (God) himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Luther put it simply: “We are considered righteous on account of Christ” (Luther’s Works, 34, 153). He also wrote: “This is a peculiar righteousness: it is strange indeed that we are to be called righteous or to possess a righteousness which is in us but is entirely outside us in Christ and yet becomes our very own, as though we ourselves had achieved and earned it” (Luther’s Works 24, 347).
The clothing that we wear covers us, but it doesn’t really become a part of us. It is similar with God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness covers us, but it doesn’t really become a part of us. It always remains alien to us. In the book of Revelation, God’s Word states about those people in heaven that “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). The words of a familiar hymn puts it this way: “When he shall come with trumpet sound, oh, may I then in him be found, clothed in his righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before the throne! On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand” (ELW #597). Yes, we are “clothed in his righteousness alone!” This is Luther’s understanding of alien righteousness.
In Christ, Pastor Wayne