Luther on Romans 4.7

Lectures on Romans (Library of Christian Classics (Paperback Westminster))

Lecturing on Romans 4.7, Luther said that we need keep two things in mind to rightly understand Paul’s words.  For now, I’ll note just the first one.  Stay tuned for number two at a later date.

 1) “The saints are intrinsically always sinners, therefore they are always extrinsically justified; but the hypocrites are intrinsically always righteous, therefore they are extrinsically always sinners.”

Now, this of course shows the simul that we confess: Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners.  But there is a lot more to it than just simul.

First of all, Luther is careful and precise with his language; he is not slipping up, nor is he being unclear or ambiguous with his words. 

Note the intrinsic and extrinsic language above.  Christians are always intrinsically sinful.  In other words, “there is nothing in us that gives us reason for hope.”  We are not good within when we’re declared righteous by God through faith in Christ.  We’re not sanctified then declared righteous (justified).  Luther explains: “Therefore, our righteousness, too, is not of our own making and it does not lie in our power.”  We are justified extrinsically — outside of ourselves — only by virtue of the fact that God reckons us so.  In case this is still unclear, Luther explains it with one sentence.  “Inside of you there is nothing but perdition, but your salvation is outside of you.”  What a great gospel summary!

Concerning the hypocrite, or unbeliever, it is just opposite.  Luther is more than brilliant here.  Intrinsically hypocrites are always righteous, but extrinsically they are always sinners (i. e. unrighteous).  Luther is using language the same way Mark/Jesus did in Mark 2.17 (c.f. Luke 5.32).  To be perfectly clear, Luther defines his terms in this context.  “Intrinsically means as we are in ourselves, in our own eyes, in our own estimation, and extrinsically how we are before God in his reckoning.”

Even early on, Luther was on the “right track” when it came to the gospel and salvation (these lectures were delivered in 1515-1516).  Also, we can learn much from the Reformer’s clear use of theological language.  Luther was not ambiguous!

All quotes taken from Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans trans. Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), 124-5.


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2 thoughts on “Luther on Romans 4.7”

  1. Hey Shane~

    Great stuff; check out the ongoing discussion of Gaffin’s position versus Horton’s at



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