The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless. [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #6 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT (my highlighting)
In Eccles. 7:20, we read, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” In this connection, however, SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN INDEED SINS, BUT NOT WHEN HE DOES GOOD. THEY MAY BE REFUTED in the following manner: If that is what this verse wants to say, why waste so many words? Or does the Holy Spirit like to indulge in loquacious and foolish babble? For this meaning would then be adequately expressed by the following: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does not sin.” Why does he add “who does good,” as if another person were righteous who did evil? For no one except a righteous man does good. Where, however, he speaks of sins outside the realm of good works he speaks thus (Prov. 24:16), “The righteous man falls seven times a day.” Here he does not say: A righteous man falls seven times a day when he does good. This is a comparison: If someone cuts with a rusty and rough hatchet, even though the worker is a good craftsman, the hatchet leaves bad, jagged, and ugly gashes. So it is when God works through us.
MY COMMENTS ON THE RIGHTEOUS SIN IN DOING GOOD
Luther has had to resort to Ecclesiastes for his main supporting narrative here, a book concerning the vanity of life. A few verses earlier its writer (probably Solomon) advised: “Don’t be too virtuous, and don’t be too wise. Why make yourself miserable? (v17 God’s Word Translation). Yet it is true that those God regards as righteous are never entirely free of sin. What is not the case is that when the righteous do what is right, God regards them as sinning. For as demonstrated in the previous posts, it is everything that is not of faith that is sin (Rom14:14-23) – the context of that passage not being religious faith but whether one is being faithful to the dictates of conscience. And when the righteous do good, they do so in accordance with the promptings of conscience; delighting in their inner man (i.e. their spirit) in fulfilling God’s Law focussed as it is on love for neighbour. If religious they also seek to be faithful in their service to God -though Paul doesn’t mention that here, just love for neighbour (Rom7:22; Gal5:14).
One of the more emphatic examples of the latter in the New Testament are John the Baptist’s parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. Luke reported that “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Lk1:6). In terms of the unconverted, we have the example of Centurion Cornelius. He and his household were described as devout, God-fearing, generous and prayerful. This Gentile non-Christian’s good works and prayers had been acknowledged by God (Acts10:4). The case of Cornelius is the clearest example in the New Testament of a non-Christian who feared God, acted virtuously, and was accepted in God’s sight (Acts10:35).
If you have been following these posts it should be obvious by now that Luther’s paradoxical theses oppose sound reason and the teaching of Christ. The Latter sometimes went beyond reason (e.g. love your enemies) but never against it. For, after all, He is the incarnate Logos – the Word of God and principle of divine reason. But I am in the process of showing that Luther also seriously misunderstood Paul, as to a lesser extent did Augustine. Especially so in the areas of God’s Law, natural law (innate spiritual faculties), free will and the economy of grace. Both those theological collossi failed to distinguish between spirit (as a component of man), the spirit as opposed to letter of the Law and the Holy Spirit in the writings of Paul. Most crucially for Luther and his followers is their failure to recognize that the Holy Spirit is the Prompter and Facilitator but not the direct Agent in a vital component of Christian salvation – mortifying the deeds of the body so as to fulfil the spirit of God’s Law and be raised to eternal Life (Rom8 vv4&13). That requires the cooperation and self-discipline of believers themselves.
Both in this example and throughout Paul’s writings, my interpretation of this key issue of whether the apostle is referring to “spirit” (i.e. the human’s spirit referred to in Rom1:9; Rom8:16; 1Thes5:23; Heb4:12) or “Spirit” (Holy Spirit) always agrees with the casing of πνεῦμα/Πνεῦμα as it appears in the Textus Receptus [note 1], whereas that is rarely the case in Protestant translations. This can be verified in “Biblehub” Greek interlinear text – ignore the English translation “Spirit” or “spirit”, observe the Greek, whether it is πνεῦμα or Πνεῦμα. Romans chapters 7 and 8 are two key chapters. This can be summarized in two consecutive verses (Rom8:13-14). Again, ignore the Protestant translator’s English, observe the Textus Receptus Greek: The Holy Spirit leads (Πνεύματι v14); but it is our spirit that is actively involved in putting to death the deeds of the body (πνεύματι v13).
Note 1: It should be pointed out that the original New Testament text was written entirely in capital letters with no spaces or punctuation. So, whether the Greek word for spirit was a capital or lower case Pi is a scribe-based rather than genuinely textually based issue. But the point is that in all cases my interpretation is in line with the original Greek of the Received Text relied upon by the Protestant Reformers in their vernacular translations with regard to whether Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit or in some cases the spirit in the sense of fulfilling an aim or purpose (i.e. the spirit of the law).
The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]