Category Archives: Lennart Pinomaa

The Simul and Vocation

Our vocational activity must be directed toward all men, in other words, toward the people of “this world.” We serve them in the love of Christ, and are rewarded with the same ingratitude that he received. But this is the only form in which the love of Christ can be real, for as soon as we limit our service to those who are in some way saintlier than the rest we narrow the circle of love and shut out the effective operation of Christ’s love. Thus in the cloister it is impossible to serve all men, for here the very purpose of works is changed; they are done in order to make oneself holy, and hence become acts of worship directed toward God rather than men. But, says Luther, faith alone is to be directed toward God; a fundamental error has occurred. Luther feels constrained to say that when God wants to save a monk he compels him to occupy himself with earthly things. Furthermore, in attaining to the duties of marriage and many other temporal tasks man becomes uncertain and helpless. Thus the way is paved for faith, for one is compelled to believe and trust in God.

In his vocation a person is active in behalf of his fellow men. Through such activity man distributes gifts of God’s love to others for their welfare. Thus vocation compels man to look to God and to take hold of his promises, and trains him in both love and faith.

The cross and the law collaborate to crucify man; the gospel gives him power to arise and live. Works are directed toward fellow men; faith is directed toward God. With faith thus directed from earth upward, why does love, which is part and parcel of faith, direct itself horizontally to fellow men? Some have attempted to show how love is born of faith. [Gustaf] Wingren states that Luther purposely never gives such an explanation. After all, we cannot say why God became man, and died on the cross. Just as all this is inexplicable, so is the fact that faith gives birth to love. God became man; that is the nature of God’s love. And faith becomes love; that is the nature of faith. Man receives the Holy Spirit when he believes the gospel of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit he loves his fellow men without duplicity and guile, and willingly shares their burdens. Love keeps no record of its works for it thinks only about the fellow man, and when it does good its deed appears as a gift and not a work. Love looks upon service to others as a privilege, not a duty. A person possessed by such love does not direct his attention to the love itself but to his fellow man. To be preserved, such love must constantly be given new life by faith. Without Christ and the Spirit man is under the law, and under the law vocation is enforced labor completely lacking in joy. The old man in us tries to be perfect and righteous in all that he does. The new man knows only on righteousness, the forgiveness of sins. The old man is under the law, the new man is in faith.

When the fellow man is again made central in ethics, the gospel of Jesus is revitalized. We recall what Jesus said about the separation on the Last Day. The righteous will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty…?” They had paid no attention to their works. They could not even remember having met a fellow man in distress. They had rejoiced in others and had  helped them without being aware of having done so.

Lennart Pinomaa, “Faith Victorious”, pages 169-170


Theology Is A Matter of the Heart, Not of the Intellect

To Luther theology was a matter of the heart and not of the intellect. From the beginning of his theological endeavor he valued experience very highly. He who has not experienced temptation and affliction, what does he know? Here we have one of the difficult problems of Luther’s theology: he insists on an experiential basis of faith, yet takes a stand against natural human feelings. Faith’s experience of reality does not stem from natural human feelings but contradicts them. The saving reality of Christ and faith in him are in contradiction to everything that natural man can experience on his own. They have to do with the reality of God, which is beyond human reason. Appropriation of grace is not the reception of an “infused quality.” It cannot be attested by psychic experience; it must be believed unseen. As such it is a most arduous thing (arduissima res). Confidence in God’s act and gift turned Luther against Karlstadt and the spiritualists. Luther’s theology and ecclesiastical reform passed between the Scylla of the objectivism and institutionalism of the Catholics and the Charybdis of the subjectivism and spiritualism of the fanatics.

Lennart Pinomaa, “Faith Victorious: An Introduction to Luther’s Theology”, pages 79-80

The Real Battle Line

Such a view of holiness, resting at it does on the Word and sacrament, placing primary emphasis upon objective factors and leaving the subjective spiritual signs on the periphery, can of course be looked upon as saltless and secular. But Luther’s sensitive and often anxious and tormented heart led him to view man’s relationship to God always from God’s side (coram Deo), with the result that man always found himself in the position of the judged. In his afflictions (Anfechtungen) one must place his confidence in the objective foundation of salvation, the Word and sacraments. Faith then becomes striving faith. Unless the knowledge of God’s judgment remains vital, this way of sanctification can easily lead into superficiality and worldliness. But in the final analysis the alternative is no better. Where the point of departure is man, his piety and the marks of faith, the state of condemnation before God becomes secondary. Man’s primary existence is then before men (coram hominibus) and his spirituality serves to exalt him above others. This has always and in all things been man’s goal. Success in the achievement of this goal is not to be confused with sanctification.

In Luther’s conception of holiness the issue is always faith, not works. To the very end man is in himself a sinner and under God’s judgment. The severe criticism to which Luther’s struggling faith was subjected in his own time has continued in later times. He has been accused of stopping at a halfway point. The fanatics and the Anabaptists accepted the Reformation because the Catholic church had not done full justice to faith; but they wanted to reform the Reformation because it had not permitted works to come to their own. In Pietism this new reformation broke out. but it was forgotten that Luther saw a more effective realization of holiness in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit than in all the emphasis upon works.

The difference between Luther and Pietism is greater than is usually thought. Luther’s “new” man is not the same as Pietism’s converted man. The latter is a psychologically new individual, awakened into life by conversion, whose goal is to reach full maturity in holiness. The “new” for Pietism is a psychological reality in man. The struggle for holiness takes place between two levels of life, the lower life of nature and the higher life of the spirit. In Luther’s view the situation is quite different. The “new” in the believer is for Luther not a higher nature or a new individual capable of sensible expression. The “new” in the believer is Christ’s alien righteousness. The total old self, our old state of being – conversion and holiness included – is solely our own and therefore flesh. Insofar as our works are concerned, it cannot be anything else. The struggle for holiness is carried on in faith and involves Christ, who is really present, and our total self. Included in this self are the higher as well as the lower capacities of the soul and impulses of the will. No level of our personality is so high that it would not in the final analysis be dominated by self. In sanctification it is precisely this self that is striving against God (homo incurvatus in se) and must be beaten down. Luther always viewed man from the total point of view; to him man is an indivisible entity. In the view of Pietism man is a divided being and the struggle between the old man and the new is a struggle between two psychological levels within man.

Because Luther does not see holiness primarily as a matter of works he has been charged, both in his own day and later, with passivity. Such a charge, however, is both shallow and unfounded. It is shallow because it is informed by a desire to make holiness perceptible to the senses, and a lack of confidence in God’s hidden work in the believer’s heart. It is unfounded because Luther’s purpose was to direct men into the struggle for holiness, the struggle of faith against the devil, sin, and the flesh. This warfare can be called daily repentance. Though the primary focus may be not on works but on the conscience awakened by God, more is involved than merely Christ and conscience. Daily repentance comes to expression – and inevitably so – as works, though not as works of law but as works of the new man, as obedience of faith, as love.

Lennart Pinomaa, “Faith Victorious: An Introduction to Luther’s Theology”, pages 71-73

Luther’s Theology of Pilgrimage

Luther feels that it is easier to visualize the Christian’s way when two truths are taken into consideration: 1) The Christian must not remain in his sins; yet in spite of this 2) the Christian remains a sinner. These two statements seem to contradict each other. The peculiar nature of the Christian faith is found, according to Luther, in this apparently irresolvable contradiction. He who lives in faith in God and Christ strives with all his powers to be free from sin. Yet he knows that there is sin in him. In fact, the more vital one’s faith the more clearly he sees the sin that still clings to him.

Already in the first lectures on the Psalms Luther notes that to the extent that man does not desire to become better he ceases to be good. He who is righteous, let him be righteous still (Revelation 22:11), and let him who stands beware lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Luther places much emphasis on Ecclesiasticus 18:7, which states that “when a man has finished, he is then only at the beginning.”

In Paul’s theology the man who in Christ has already reached the goal must continue with the race. The reason for this is that the Christian lives under the conditions of two ages (aeons). The old and new ages alike condition him. Likewise in Luther’s theology the Christian is ever en route, inasmuch as he is simultaneously righteous and sinful. Only the saints in heaven can relax and enter fully into their possessions. In Luther’s early evangelical theology Augustine’s influence was very strong, and so we find there statements which interpret sanctification as a progressive series of events. His later theology however shows a distinct aversion to all detailed scrutinizing of holy living. It is difficult to speak of progress, for there is no such thing as growth of the old man in holiness and perfection. The old man in us must be put to death daily and the new man arise, as the Small Catechism puts it. Our natural life is the life of the old man. No form of cure will make the old man into the new. It remains old to the very end. As Luther sees it, the Christian must judge himself once and for all. The new man lives in us only as the alien righteousness of Christ. This righteousness never changes into a part of my personality (ego). If in our quest for such change we turn our eyes upon ourselves, we become “self-righteous servants of the law.” The new in us is Christ himself. But under the conditions of this present life Christ does not control us so completely as to make it unnecessary for the old man to go through daily mortification. The new man never becomes a creature whom we might touch and see.

From a certain viewpoint Luther’s teaching placed all outward piety under suspicion. In any given moment piety can by, as [Regin] Prenter notes, an expression of the Spirit or of the flesh, according to whether the man in that particular moment is either Spirit or flesh. One cannot therefore speak of unambiguous growth toward genuine righteousness. Prenter is undoubtedly right when he says:

When Luther speaks about the progress of sanctification, he thinks of something entirely different. He thinks of the fact that man on the way between baptism and resurrection constantly and anew takes leave of himself to take refuge in Christ’s alien righteousness. In this refuge of faith in Christ, man is Spirit, new man, and all his past life is at once considered as flesh, as old man. In this manner the Spirit, who knows only Christ’s alien righteousness, is constantly struggling against the flesh, which wants to hold on to its own past life as an appropriation, its own righteousness. In the resurrection man shall be completely Spirit. Then the Spirit shall no longer struggle against the flesh. But on the way between baptism and resurrection man is Spirit and flesh (Spiritus Creator, pages 69-70).

In the evaluation of holiness all that is outward must be suspect. No visible piety or concrete act as such guarantees that the mind or attitude itself is holy. On the contrary, with progress there is regress. In becoming better the Christian becomes worse. To reach the goal is to start all over again. Luther was quite aware that all this made no sense to man’s wisdom, to the “sophists.” That the Christian is simultaneously a sinner and a saint is contrary to reason. The human ideal is that life be altogether without sin. As a demand this ideal drives men into despair.

Lennart Pinomaa, “Faith Victorious: An Introduction to Luther’s Theology”, pages 67-69

Repentance – Daily Warfare

The phrase “righteous and sinful at the same time” (simul iustus et peccator) implies continuous warfare rather than peace and rest. This insight must have come to Luther early, for it appears already in his lectures on Romans. Repentance is not merely release from the burden of conscience, and the reception of peace. It signals enlistment in the service of God (militia Dei), war against the devil and against the sins which beset us. He who is unwilling to engage in this warfare cannot be numbered among the soldiers of Christ. The carnal man differs from the man of the Spirit in being totally flesh. He knows no conflict, for God’s Spirit does not dwell in him.

In Luther’s treatise On the Councils and the Churches (1539) [Luther’s Works, Volume 41] there is a paragraph in which he stresses the unity of repentance, forgiveness of sins, and the new life. He describes the antinomians who preach “finely” and “with real seriousness” about the grace of Christ, forgiveness of sins, and other parts of the second article of the Creed, but who avoid like the devil the third article, which deals with sanctification and the new life in Christ, feeling that men must never be frightened or saddened but must always have comfortingly proclaimed to them the grace and forgiveness of sins in Christ. Luther sees in this the granting of the premise but the denying of the conclusion. The result is that Christ is taken away and his work destroyed at the same time that he is being loudly hailed. “For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life” (LW 41:114). Christ’s atoning work has as its purpose to make us new. The gift of the Holy Spirit means not only that we have forgiveness of sins but also that we forsake sin.

Luther’s underscoring of the necessity of sanctification during the so-called antinomian controversy can easily make it appear that he was willing to compromise his view that the works of the law are altogether useless before God. Perhaps the new life can be brought forth by legal compulsion after all.

But no such compromise was involved. Once he had reached clarity in the matter, Luther never taught anything else except that the Holy Spirit alone makes Christ a gospel for us. Without the Holy Spirit’s operation Christ is for us only a law and our life is mere imitation and not the new life of the Spirit. Were the law enough, one might suppose that the intention of God’s commandments is to induce the ungodly to perform God-pleasing works. But Luther emphasizes repeatedly that God’s commandments aim to awaken faith. Only in faith, that is, in right relationship to God, can man do God’s will.

Theologians at various times have handled this matter in one of two ways. Some have seen the purpose of the law to be simply obedience. They express it with the simple equation: law – imitation. Over against this interpretation we say with Paul and Luther: law – knowledge of sin – despair – justification – new life. However, none of these is in man’s power. Emphasis upon the law can easily lead to legalism. The Holy Spirit must apply the law to man in his conscience, and when that happens man becomes afflicted and distressed. Where this affliction (Anfechtung) leads him cannot be determined in advance. In it man faces the possibility of falling into utter despair without finding freedom of the Spirit and new life in Christ. Spiritual affliction places man before completely new possibilities. God or Satan may be its cause. If Satan gains access into the conscience with the message of God’s judgment, the outcome is despair. If the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals God’s judgment and man submits to it, the outcome is grace and freedom. but it is not a simple matter for one to find the way from God’s absolute demands to Christ. As in justification man is transferred from servitude under the law to life under grace, so in sanctification he experiences continuous renewal. Day by day and moment by moment the sanctified new man is born in affliction and in submission to judgment. Mortification of the old man in us and vivification of the new is simultaneously justification and sanctification. If the substance of sanctification is something we produce, then, says Luther, it is indeed and simply something which is our own; it is not the “new” which God gives, but the old which serves no good purpose. The “new” of the new life is born again and again in justification, and its “parents” are God’s judgment and man’s affliction. All other forms of the “new” are imitations, expressions of bondage to the law, which itself is never “new.” To imitate is to work with copies, but God has created each individual as an original. In judgment and justification he makes us into the new originals he wants.

Lennart Pinomaa (1901-1996), “Faith Victorious: An Introduction to Luther’s Theology”, trans. by Walter J. Kukkonen, pages 65-67