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Luther on Christ’s Taking-On Sin

March 4, 2008

Martin Luther replies to the claims of the ‘sophists’ who say “But it is highly absurd and insulting to call the Son of God a sinner and a curse [in reference to Gal. 3:13]!” Luther says,

“If you want to deny that He is a sinner and a curse, then deny also that He suffered, was crucified, and died.  For it is no less absurd to say, as our Creed confesses and prays, that the Son of God was crucified and underwent the torments of sin and death than it is to say that He is a sinner or a curse.  But if it is not absurd to confess and believe that Christ was crucified among thieves, then it is not absurd to say as well that He was a curse and a sinner of sinners.  Surely these words of Paul are not without purpose: ‘Christ became a curse for us’ and ‘For our sake God made Christ to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:21) … He is, of course ,innocent, because He is the Lamb of God without spot or blemish.  But because He bears the sins of the world. His innocence is pressed down with the sins and the guilt of the entire world.  Whatever sins I, you, and all of us have committed or may commit in the future, they are as much Christ’s own as if He Himself had committed them” (Martin Luther, 1535 Lectures on Galatians 1-4, p. 278). 

In this section Luther has been arguing for the particularity of sin in Christ’s person.  Christ can be said to have paid the debt for his sin but not without qualification.  Christ paid the debt for sin, which was his own,  because he took on the sin of the world.  The universal took on the particular.  He was sinless, yet he became sin – particularly and universally.    Luther goes on to explain the universality of Christ’s person.  In other words Christ had particular sin because of the universal sin which he became. 

“When Arius denied this [the divinity of Christ] it was necessary also for him to deny the doctrine of redemption.  for to conquer the sin of the world, death, the curse, and the wrath of god in Himself – this is the work, not of any creature but of the divine power … Therefore to abolish sin, to destroy death, to remove the curse in Himself, to grant righteousness, to bring life to light (2 Tim. 1:10), and to bring the blessing in Himself, that is, to annihilate these things and to create those – all these are works solely of the divine power.  Since Scripture attributes all these to Christ, therefore He Himself is Life, Righteousness, and Blessing, that is, God by nature and in essence” (Ibid., p. 282). 

According to Luther Christ was guilty by association.  He was guilty because he was “counted among transgressors.”  In his person Christ was sin because he took on sin in a universal sense.  Because Christ was the One, the divine Son of God, he could take on universal Sin in order to make an end of all sin.  One must be cautious with this information to remember that the Bible puts a stipulation on the nature of this redemption – it is in his person.  Because Christ is the One who became Sin and abolished it in his person only those who are engrafted into his person receive these benefits.  And because it is in his person, which is divine, it is sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind. He has made provision for all in his person.

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