Larry Kirkpatrick

A Positive Place on the Web for the Third Angel's Message

Come Lord Jesus 4: When Lutherans Decided to Improve Luther

How many have heard of Martin Luther?


Philip Melanchthon?

Martin Chemnitz?

In the book The Great Controversy, Ellen White wrote,

The great doctrine of justification by faith, so clearly taught by Luther, had been almost wholly lost sight of; and the Romish principle of trusting to good works for salvation, had taken its place (The Great Controversy, 253).

Some have tried to make this statement support the idea that justification is merely forensic, merely counted, and that even Ellen White agreed with that idea. Some Adventists who are trying to change our understanding of the sanctuary and of the message Heaven has called this church to deliver, some who have been considered our best historians, are among those pushing the church in that wrong direction.

But something interesting happened along the way. What Luther taught on justification by faith in the 1520s is not what Lutheranism taught on justification by faith in the 1570s. And how did this happen? Few non-Lutherans have heard of the man Lutherans call “the second Martin”: Martin Chemnitz. But that “second Martin” may be the single individual most responsible for today’s popular understanding of what it means to be justified, both, in our denomination and many others. Even great men of God can make mistakes impacting others long after they have passed from the scenes of history.

We’ll return to Chemnitz in the latter part of this presentation.

The Argument of Romans Four

But let’s start where we should start; let’s have a Bible study about justification. Turn with me to the fourth of Romans. There, Paul makes Abraham his premier example of righteousness by faith. The argument has three stages:

(1) verses 1-8 answer whether Abraham was justified by faith or works; (2) verses 9-12 show us that the same principle applies to all believers; and (3) verses 13-25 speak of God's promise to Abraham and show that it is only because of Jesus that you and I can be considered Abraham’s descendants and receive the promise of justification by faith.

Romans 4:1 and "Imputed"

Let's look at the first eight verses.

Follow Paul's thought starting at the first line. A question is asked. Not, What did Abraham discover about justification, but, What did Abraham discover about the flesh? If he was justified by works then he has something to boast about, something he himself has contributed. However tiny his contribution might be, if it is personally meritorious, that would undermine the gospel.

In contrast to our being saved by our own works, Paul points readers to Genesis 15 and Abram. Abram has no heir. He asks that God make Eliezer of Damascus his heir. God tells Abram to step outside and look up. Abram does, and God tells him Eliezer will not be his heir but rather an as-yet unborn son. Abram’s descendants will be numerous like the stars above. Abram doesn't understand exactly how that can be but he trusts God that it will be. And so, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3 NKJV). The Genesis narrative continues with God entering into covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:6ff). Although we’ve only started into Romans four, already we come to a critical question: How here to best understand the idea translated “credited,” “imputed,” “accounted,” “reckoned”? Nearly all teachers say that God declared Abram to be righteous, while they propose that in actual fact he was not righteous. Their theory is that God declared an unrighteous man to be righteous.

Does that interpretation match the story Paul points to in Genesis 15? The Genesis narrative does not focus on what Abram is missing but what Abram possesses. Abram realized that by means of his own human power he was incapable of producing a son to be his heir. But when, as commanded, he stepped out of his tent under the stars, something was present in him. “Abram believed God.”

If we think of the idea of “credit” as commonly understood in our consumer culture, we will likely focus on absence. We think of credit in terms of our making a purchase based on a promise about something we don't possess. At Genesis 15, where Paul points us, we are told what Abram actually possessed. This believing and trusting attitude Abram had toward God was reckoned, credited, imputed--somethinged--to him, as righteousness.

When we are credited, say, to buy an automobile, we are being trusted for something we do not have. We borrow money. We do not have the money. We have something in place of the money. We buy the use of a quantity of money now, by promising to pay all of the money back, along with additional money we call interest, later. We are able to purchase “on credit” because of our “credit score.” The credit score is a number, a prediction of our ability to pay back the credited amount along with added interest. The score indicates higher or lower risk. The higher the risk to the lender, the more you must pay the lender to purchase on credit. You would prefer not to pay that much, but if you do not possess the funds, you may be willing to borrow them at the high rate.

What is actually happening in Genesis 15--and in Romans four--is that what Abram does have is highlighted. Although his aged human body was unable to father children, on a totally different basis--his trust in God--he was faithful. That is to say, that in God's calculation, Abraham is--actually--righteous.

Jesus plead, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We are to evaluate things not as they appear to our limited vision, but as they are in their true relation. LOGIC is the study of valid forms of reasoning. As a noun, it originates in a Greek word, LOGIKN. The verb relatated to LOGIKN is LOGIZOMAI. LOGIKN is the concept of valid forms of reasoning, and LOGIZOMAI as a verb, means to engage in the act of valid reasoning. The inspired writer uses LOGIZOMAI 11 times in Romans chapter four.

Romans four is about how things truly stand, how certain relations actually are. Four times in this chapter (vv. 3, 9, 18, 22), Paul will quote from this history of Abram in Genesis 15. Genesis 15 is about what Abram actually possesses. This is why God is able to say that Abram believed God and it was computed to him as being righteousness.

But we have been told something different. We have been told that we aren't righteous, that we are merely counted as righteous. We are told that do not have righteousness, so God credits us, accounts us as having it, in contradiction to what the actual facts are. As this works itself out in the teaching we are discussing, what is meant by them is that we not only don’t have righteousness, but that we don’t have faith in any respect equivalent to it. There is, allegedly, a deficit, and God makes up this deficit, giving to us His abundant gift.

That would be true if it were only our own innate goodness that were under discussion. But Abram was not alone, and we are not alone. God looked at Abram's actual belief in Him, and He said, Abram, you are righteous. God gave him the opportunity to believe and Abram acted on the simple faith he possessed. Across the years of his life, he grew stronger in believing in God. And all along the way, God considered it to be what it actually was. Abram believed, and God renamed him Abraham. And God LOGIZOMAIED it to him as righteousness.

Wage or Gift?

Look at verses one and two, and tell me, did God give Abraham salvation because of Abraham's works? Verse four shows that if this were the case, Abraham would have something to boast about. Someone who works receives wages for work done; no gift is involved. You agree with your employer to work for eight hours at fifteen dollars an hour. You do eight hours work as agreed. You receive 120 dollars in wages. You earned that 120 dollars; it is due you.

Abraham is not saved on the basis of any labor he does, nor that he ever did. Abraham is saved as a gift given from God. Abraham was actively trusting in, actually believing in, God. God saw this was true. He saw that Abraham possessed faith and He recognized the fact. God has determined that no one will be in the kingdom on the basis of their own works. He saves according to our faith not our works. Friends, several times in the gospels Jesus tells people flat out that their healing has occurred “according to your faith, or that “your faith has saved you?” (Matthew 9:22, 29; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Did Jesus misunderstand justification?

Grammars and Greek

The most up-to-date Lexicon of the Septuagint was authored by Takamitsu Muraoka in 2009, titled A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint. Muraoka offers nine distinct meanings for this word according to its use in context. Muraoka's list does NOT contain terms like “impute” or “reckon”; the fundamental core idea of the word in its variations is to calculate, think-through, and properly conclude. Muraoka is correct; nothing in Romans four suggests that Paul is saying that God considers a man to be other than he actually is. On the contrary; the essence of LOGIZOMAI is to calculate and process something and to arrive at a correct conclusion. Muraoka's listed meanings:

  1. to calculate and determine the quantity of
  2. to devise, scheme
  3. to exercise the mind and consider
  4. to give thought to and take notice of
  5. to reason, consider
  6. to deem, consider
  7. to come to the realisation, conclusion
  8. to put down
  9. to regard and treat as belonging to the category of

Abram believed, and his faith, God said, was righteousness. Be clear; we are not hinting even remotely that one earns his own salvation. But when we trust God, we do what God says in the power that God provides. We say yes to God, and He gives His power; which is only to say faith works by love (Galatians 5:6).

Then there is BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, third edition, Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich, F.W. Danker, the ultimate Greek Lexicon. The BDAG entry on Logizomai suggests four distinct uses:

  1. to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, freq. In a transf. sense (a) count, take into account. (b) as a result of a calculation evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider
  2. to give careful thought to a matter, think (about), consider, ponder, let one's mind dwell on
  3. to hold a view about someth., think, believe, be of the opinion

My point is only that the most highly respected scholars and top experts in the language, agree in their lexicons, and do not fall in for using the kinds of expressions we are used to hearing.

Argument from Psalm 32

But Paul continues his argument. He does not limit himself to Abram/Abraham. He offers another example in verses 6-8. He reminds us what David said concerning the blessing God gives to the person whom God calculates is righteous. Paul quotes Psalm 32:

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account (Romans 4:7, 8).

Consider the Hebrew in the first two verses of the 32nd Psalm. See the parallelism? Forgiven sin is covered sin, and vice versa. Covered sin is sin that is removed. At Romans 4:8 Paul quotes this same passage. Paul says that sin is not LOGIZOMAIed, not calculated, to this person.

In Bible times it was common practice to quote a few lines from longer passages to stand in for the whole passage. Space in written communications was limited. Writing materials were costly. Hebrew and Greek manuscripts did not put spaces between words; the words are completely run together. Spacing between words is a modern convenience. Individually numbered verses were first used in Stephens’ Greek New Testament in 1556. In Bible times, passages were referenced by quoting phrases from the longer text. The hearers then understood what passage was being referred to.

Paul quotes only the first lines; he does not include in full the second clause of the parallel thought as seen in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” We can all see that the parallel structure contains a single, whole idea. Parallelism is a primary feature of Hebrew biblical writings. The last part of the second verse completes the whole thought.

Paul is not writing about a new, merely forensic forgiveness. When God forgives sin, that sin is removed completely. Paul is not speaking of any divine declaration that would disagree with reality. In Psalm 32 there is no deception, no deceit or twistedness in the person whose sin has been forgiven.

Indeed, if you watch how Paul develops the argumentation in Romans chapters 1-3, you see that he berates fellow Hebrews for their hypocrisy, because they knew what it was right to do and wrong to do, and they did wrong anyway. If there is no possibility even of doing right, then how can Jew or Gentile be condemned? But the fact is that every person living under his own power goes astray and turns to his own way, and thus becomes guilty before God. But God offers to change us, as He changed Abram, so that in our own lives, we will seek God’s promised victory, and it will be to us “according to” our Jesus-powered faith. The effect of God's forgiveness is that sin is actually removed; the forgiven person is actually restored; Re-creation occurs inside, there is an internal effect, a change in the person. Paul is communicating the whole thought expressed in David's Psalm. The Bible argument Paul uses in Romans four never suggests an imagined "legal" status separate from a "factual" status. Remember the promise that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6).

This is why Revelation 22:11 says, when the judgment has been completed, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” This is because an unforgiven person is still unforgiven and has not been cleansed from unrighteousness, and a forgiven person is actually forgiven and has received cleansing from all unrighteousness.

Romans 4:9-12

Moving now to verses 9-15, When, Paul asks, was righteousness calculated to Abraham? While he was circumcised or uncircumcised? Abraham believed God, and afterward received the sign of circumcision. God was intentional in keeping distinct the sign of circumcision from the process of calculating righteousness.

And so Abraham is the father of all who believe, whether Jewish or not. And so, who does God calculate as being righteous? Those “who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.” Abraham believed before he was circumcised (v. 12). The truth is that those who do the works of the Father are His, and those who do not do the works of the Father are not His (John 8:39-44). The righteous does righteous things; the unrighteous do unrighteous things. Who our Father is is made apparent by what we do.

Romans 4:13-25

We looked with some care at the impute/reckon/credit portion of Romans four, and have just suggested a correction to a substantive misunderstanding. But there is more! Several important themes repeat in Romans four: blessing, promise, believing, and works.

Consider the theme of promise. The main point of Romans four is not imputation--whatever meaning you give to it--but the faithfulness of God's promise.

In 13, the promise to Abraham and to the descendants of Abraham was never through the law, but through righteousness by faith. Righteousness by faith is nothing new; it has always been the divine plan. Verse 14 makes it clear that to be saved by observing the numerous specifications would nullify the promise. Salvation must be by faith to be in accordance with grace.

Abraham believed God that he would have offspring even though he himself was unable to produce offspring. He was very old. His wife was long past menopause (vs. 19). Verse 20 says that in spite of these indisputable realities, Abraham's belief in God kept increasing. Eventually, his faith was such that he was “fully assured that what God had promised, He was also able to perform” (vs. 21). At this point in Paul's argument--watch this--he quotes Genesis 15:6 again: “It was also credited to him as righteousness.”

Romans four is actually very simple. It is teaching us to actively trusting God's promise.

At verses 23 and 24 we see that, what God did for Abraham, He plans to do for us. See how in 24 and 25 it is all connected with Jesus: “It shall be imputed [computed] for us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

The Father raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus who? Jesus who was delivered over to be crucified because of our sins, yours and mine, and who was raised in order that we might be made just, that is, made righteous. What--what exactly--does Romans 4:3 say? Abraham believed--and it was logizomaied to him as righteousness. Romans 4:5: the faith of the believer in Jesus is logizomaied as righteousness. Romans 4:6: righteousness is logizomaied to the believer apart from works. Romans 4:8: the Lord does not logizomai sin to the man whose sins are forgiven [and in whose heart is no guile]. Romans 4:9: faith was logizomaied Abraham as righteousness. Romans 4:11: righteousness is logizomaied to those who believe.

The focus, all the way through, is not on what the believer does not have but on what he actually possesses. He is believing in God, and God boils the whole matter down to the fact that the person is righteous, has been made righteous, because of Jesus. The promise to Abraham is a living reality affecting you and I in this moment in time.

Circling Back to Chemnitz

As I mentioned near the beginning of this message, this is quite different from the commonly held view. Where did the commonly held view come from? I asked you about Luther, Erasmus, Melancthon, and who? Chemnitz!

Let's turn to the handout.


1483 Birth of Luther

1497 Birth Philip Melancthon

1516 Erasmus’ translation of the Greek New Testament (REPUTATUM to IMPUTATUM)

1517 Luther’s 95 Theses

1518 Luther calls Philip Melanchthon to professorship at Wittenberg

1521 Diet of Worms (“Unless I am convinced by Scripture… I cannot and will not retract”)

1521 Luther excommunicated by pope Leo X

1522 Birth Martin Chemnitz

1530 Augsburg Confession (principle author Philip Melancthon) Justification forensic

1531 The Apology of the Augsburg Confession

1545-1563 Roman Catholic Church Council of Trent

1546 Death Martin Luther (health had been in decline for 20 years)

1560 Death Philip Melanchthon

1577 Formula of Concord (principle authors Martin Chemnitz and Jakob Andrea)

1580 Book of Concord

1586 Death Martin Chemnitz

Martin Chemnitz. Martin Chemnitz is “the second Martin.” What Luther taught on justification by faith in the 1520s is not what Lutheranism taught on justification by faith in the 1570s. What Lutheranism “is” today, and has been for hundreds of years, was settled and codified in 1577 with “The Formula of Concord,” among whose chief theologians who contributed to that understanding was Martin Chemnitz. Alister McGrath, in his epic study on the history of justification by faith, Imagio Dei, writes:

The Formula of Concord not only marked the ending of an important series of controversies in the Lutheran church immediately after Luther’s death; it also marked the victory and consolidation of of the critique of Luther from within Lutheranism itself. Luther’s concept of justification, his concept of the presence of Christ within the believer, his doctrine of double predestination, his doctrine of servum arbitrium—all were rejected or radically modified by those who followed him. (McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 248).

What happened? Luther’s close associate was the younger Philip Melancthon. Luther’s health was poor and declining by the close of the 1520s. Emperor Charles V called upon the princes of the free territories to explain their religious convictions. A group of Reformers worked to write up the important statement, but Luther had been declared an outlaw after the Diet of Worms, so he could not go to Augsburg. Melancthon went instead, and continued to work on the document.

Article IV of The Augsburg Confession states that “To justify means ‘to declare righteous.’” The idea traces historically to this document, and increased sharply in theological importance from that time. McGrath reminds us,

“Whereas Luther consistently employed images and categories of personal relationship to describe the union of the believer and Christ… Melancthon increasingly borrowed images and categories from the sphere of Roman law” (McGrath, 238).


“Luther does not make the distinction between justification and sanctification associated with later Protestantism…” (Alister McGrath, 227).

Luther’s strong emphases on union with Christ in justification slipped to the background as the idea of an only counted righteousness increased. Luther’s health was poor and declining after Augsburg. He suffered from vertigo, fainting, Meniere’s disease, deafness, ringing in the ears, a cataract, and other ailments.

Luther died in 1546 and Melancthon 14 years later. Various controversies continued in the church. Finally, in 1577 Martin Chemnitz and others prepared The Formula of Concord, codifying Lutheranism once and for all. While agreeing with Luther in many things, the Formula quotes him selectively. It overrides Luther’s own view on justification. And so, “The great doctrine of justification by faith, so clearly taught by Luther,” in just one generation, was significantly modified. And this modified viewpoint is today the prominent understanding of justification in Protestant Christianity.

Ellen White writes,

The great principle so nobly advocated by Robinson and Roger Williams, that truth is progressive, that Christians should stand ready to accept all the light which may shine from God’s holy word, was lost sight of by their descendants. The Protestant churches of America,--and those of Europe as well,--so highly favored in receiving the blessings of the Reformation, failed to press forward in the path of reform. Though a few faithful men arose, from time to time, to proclaim new truth and expose long-cherished error, the majority, like the Jews in Christ’s day or the papists in the time of Luther, were content to believe as their fathers had believed and to live as they had lived. (The Great Controversy, pp. 297-298).

Much remains for us to do. God is giving His church finishing truth. He will finish the Reformation. To be justified, as the Bible teaches it, is to be made righteous.


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