Martin Luther described a Christian as “simul justus et peccator,” one who is simultaneously just and a sinner. Today, R.C. Sproul teaches that the church, though filled with flawed people, consists of those who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and consecrated to a holy destiny.
How can anybody look at the church and call it holy? The secular world does not consider the Christian church holy, not with all the scandals that have marked the track record of the religious community. They laugh. They laugh us to scorn when we say the church is holy. “Holy church? It’s more like an unholy fellowship.”
Well, again, we must go back to the Protestant Reformation, and even to Augustine before it. But for a moment, let’s stop at Luther and Luther’s famous citation that a Christian is one who is simul justus et peccator. The Latin simul—we get the English word from it simultaneous or simultaneously. Justus simply means “just” or “righteous.” And et we all know is the past tense of the English verb “to eat”—at least, the way my grandmother used it. My own grandmother used to always ask me, “Have you et lunch yet?” And I’d say, “Et my lunch?”
Now, you remember from Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, when Caesar gets stabbed and he falls dead at the base of the statute to whom? Pompey statue, right? And the knife goes in and he’s: “Ah! Help me. Et tu, Brute?” Then what’d he say? What’d he say then? What’d he say then? “Hurry up. I’m dying up here. Come on. I’m dying here at the base of Pompey’s statue.” “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” “And you too, Brutus?” It just simply means “And.” All that, just for that little word? “And.” I go through this so that you’ll remember these things.
Simul justus, “at the same time just.” Et peccator, that’s the Latin word simply for “sinner.” We call little sin what? Peccadillo. If we say that somebody’s perfect or pure, we would say they are impeccable, right? So, Luther is saying that a Christian is at the same time just and sinner. What does he mean? Well, he means by that that the way in which you are just and the way in which you are righteous is through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. So that when God looks at you, He sees the merit of Christ. He has covered your nakedness. He has clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus. So that the moment you have faith, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to your account. And you are at one and the same time just; you’re just or righteous by Christ’s righteousness. But what else are you? You’re still a sinner. Christians still sin.
And if the church is made up of Christians, why do we call it holy when in fact the church is nothing more than a fellowship of sinners? It’s the only institution I know of in this world that absolutely requires that you be a sinner to join it. And if you ever find a perfect church, don’t you join that one. Why? You’ll ruin it. Because it won’t be a perfect church anymore—as soon as you join it, as soon as I join it. There is no such thing as a perfect church on earth. Now, it is the purpose of Jesus, at some point in the future, to present His bride without wrinkle and without blemish to the Father.
I’m looking and I’m seeing a lot of wrinkles. Easy does it, but I’m seeing a lot of wrinkles out there. I look in the mirror, and I see wrinkles and I see blemishes. The bride of Christ is dreadfully marred and corrupt and polluted in this world. Yet, the church as a body—even as its members—is always in the process of being sanctified. And the church is holy, it is called. In fact, the people of God in the New Testament are called the_ hagioi_, which means not “the bunch of old hags,” but it comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “holy.” And the church of the _hagioi _were the saints. And the word saint means “holy one.” Not “perfect one” but one who has been set apart by God. One who has been consecrated. You see, if you have the mark of baptism in your soul, you were holy before the Lord, because God has marked you with an indelible mark. He has set you apart from common things. And from this world, He has given you that sign and the symbol of the washing of regeneration. The sign of being made holy.
The church is holy because it has been consecrated by Christ. The church is holy because it is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Because if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives in you. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the tares, but He does dwell in the wheat. And so, insofar as the invisible church is present in the visible church, to that degree at least the church is holy. And the church is also said to be holy because its destiny, its vocation, and its mission are holy.