Luther’s sermon and tract refers to the first kind of righteousness as an alien righteousness as it originates outside of the believer and is imputed through repentance, faith and baptism into Christ. It is set opposite original sin, which is imputed to all humans through descent from Adam. As in Adam, we are all sinners, so in Christ believers are all seen as righteous. This alien righteousness is the root of the second kind of righteousness which Luther calls proper righteousness.
Proper righteousness is that righteousness, which is exhibited by good works of the Christian motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit and hence is the fruit of alien righteousness, which is its root. As Luther says, “it is not that we alone work it, but that we work with that first and alien righteousness.” Because Christ is “in us”, we act out in the world that which Christ acts in us. It is proper in that only through faith in Christ are good works truly “good”, because He alone is “good”. This is sanctification, God working in and through those who are his.
Hence philanthropic good works of the unbeliever are excluded. For apart from faith, no one can rightly fulfill God’s law, as it is only through faith in Christ alone that we are rightly related to God. The moralist who lacks faith, breaks the first commandment, trusting in his good works as a means of impressing God, yet is guilty of violating the first requirement that God has which is to believe in the one whom he has sent. (John 6:29)
This proper righteousness consist of three aspects, self-denial towards self, love towards neighbor and humility and respect (fear) towards God. As Luther says “it hates itself and loves neighbor; it does not seek its own good but that of another.” In this sense it “crucifies the flesh” and “works love”. This aspect of our sanctification is most neglected in modern times. We do not hear many sermons on self-denial and crucifying the flesh. Rather the reverse is true today. We hear of Christians demanding their rights with respect to the flesh. This is most evident with respect to sexuality, where Christians demand that the church accommodate their individual sexual tastes and bless their living out whatever it is they please with regard to the flesh. Yet, Luther here reminds the faithful that the call of Christ is the call to deny oneself and follow, not to indulge and enjoy. The second aspect of love toward neighbor applies to friend and foe alike. We are called to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Only one in Christ can do this, for it is entirely unnatural to love an enemy. It is entirely unnatural to take on another person’s shame as if that shame were your own.
Yet this is what Luther posits. He argues that each person should “conduct himself as if his neighbors weakness, sin and foolishness were his very own”. In the same way that Jesus emptied himself of divinity and took on human weakness, sin and shame, so the believer is called to empty himself of self and take on the neighbor’s shame, ministering to him in love, being Christ to him.
Only in this way does the Christian minister to the world and exemplify humility and awe towards God.
The words of Jesus empower us: “As the Father sent me, so send I you”, Amen.