For the believer, consequently, genuine and divine punishment good: the Pauline wasting away of the old outer nature like the cocoon from which the new life of the butterfly will someday emerge.Luther’s true Christian penitent, sorry for sin but not for sin’s punishment, gets to die with Christ so that out of these ruins the Holy Spirit brings newness of life by the purification of desire.The 95 Theses primarily attack the false security that is placed in one’s own pious works, including the “childish” work of buying salvation in the form of indulgences—bribes, really.
There are good reasons for this discomfort, including the inequities of our systems of justice and the tyrannies of our petty moralisms.
There are also bad reasons for it, including the loss of personal agency and responsibility in our culture.
” Surprisingly, for Luther divine punishment is for our good.
It may be understood as reparative rather than retributive when endured in solidarity with Christ, whose sacrifice once and for all satisfied retributive justice at the cost not of the offender but of the offended.
Luther was familiar with canon law, which had distinguished the guilt of sin from the punishment of sin.
Guilt ruins the relationship of Creator and creature so that God alone can (and does) restore the relationship by the grace of forgiveness through the merits of Christ obedient to death, even death on a cross.
At the same time, the indulgence preachers’ emphasis on escaping punishment obscured the significance of Christ’s cross as a reparative form of punishment.
True preaching should not magnify punishment to make auditors fear it; rather, it should magnify sin to make penitents hate it.
It would not mean, I venture, a booster shot for habitual anti-Catholicism, nor would it remotely endorse “cheap grace” as the remedy for ecclesiastical profiteering.
Hearing and understanding the Theses in their original sense, I propose, would entail a willingness to be shaped by the cross of Christ, as expressed in Luther’s opening statement: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt.