We could ask of the Lutheran conception, just in what way have I been “saved” if being justified and saved means simply, in itself, being “acquitted”? (Of course, Luther does state that there is a concomitant sanctification. We will treat that in another post. It turns out that what he affirms about sanctification is very little. God does not so transform us that we really can act as his sons in a stable manner, that we really can obey his commandments as we ought, and so come to that good vision. But right now, we are focusing on justification itself.)
Just what goods accrue to one who is “declared innocent”? Well, the “punishment” is no longer threatened. That is the sum total of the good. But if the justified sinner (Luther’s expression, which means justified but still mortal sinner) is indeed not interiorly transformed by the justifying decree, just how is “not being punished a boon”? Is the sinner still a person who is torn up inside, choosing to do evil while wanting to do good? Yes, says Luther. Is the sinner still violating the law of God and thus rebuked by his own conscience? Yes, says Luther. Is the sinner still someone who does not lovingly cleave to God in a stable way? Yes, says Luther, for that is the definition of sin. But supposedly the sinner is “not punished”. Now, no one who does not cleave lovingly to God in a stable way can indeed “delight in God”. And “delight in God” is the joy of heaven. Therefore, the justified sinner that Luther gives us is not fit for heaven. He is fit for anything but heaven. Now, I call that punishment. I call not being fit for heaven the same kind of suffering that the damned in hell suffer. (Those in Purgatory – another post to come – await with hope the joyful vision, but the languish in the agony of not seeing their beloved.) Thus, if the sinner is till not ordered within his own house, if his conscience thus rebukes him, if he is not ordered to God lovingly, if he thus cannot delight in the goodness of God for God’s sake, then in what way is he “better off”? I suppose that the “fires” of hell will not touch him. But he seems not to have gotten what all hearts long for – eternal beatitude with God! Thus, I call him still, as such, punished.