Simul Justus Et Peccator                                                    By Jack Kettler


In this study, we will seek to understand how justification happens. The Latin phrase (simul justus et peccator) will be the springboard to help us understand the doctrine of justification. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.


“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)


Definitions from two sources:


simul justus et peccator:

“Latin for “at the same time just and sinner,” a formula Martin Luther used to communicate “the objective reality of justification by faith alongside the Christian’s continual struggle against sin.” *


simul justus et peccator:

“‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  Et’ simply means ‘and.’ ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.” See endnote 5



“Simul justus et peccator”—“Simultaneously righteous and sinner”


Scripture teaching


“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)


Barnes' Notes on the Bible on Romans 4:5 get this exactly right:


But to him that worketh not - Who does not rely on his conformity to the Law for his justification; who does not depend on his works; who seeks to be justified in some other way. The reference here is to the Christian plan of justification.


But believeth - Note, Romans 3:26.


On him - On God. Thus, the connection requires; for the discussion has immediate reference to Abraham, whose faith was in the promise of God.


That justifieth the ungodly - This is a very important expression. It implies,


(1) That people are sinners, or are ungodly.


(2) that God regards them as such when they are justified. He does not justify them because he sees them to be, or regards them to be righteous; but knowing that they are in fact polluted. He does not first esteem them, contrary to fact, to be pure; but knowing that they are polluted, and that they deserve no favor, he resolves to forgive them, and to treat them as his friends.


(3) in themselves they are equally undeserving, whether they are justified or not. Their souls have been defiled by sin; and that is known when they are pardoned. God judges things as they are; and sinners who are justified, he judges not as if they were pure, or as if they had a claim; but he regards them as united by faith to the Lord Jesus; and in this relation he judges that they should be treated as his friends, though they have been, are, and always will be, personally undeserving. It is not meant that the righteousness of Christ is transferred to them, so as to become personally theirs - for moral character cannot be transferred; nor that it is infused into them, making them personally meritorious - for then they could not be spoken of as ungodly; but that Christ died in their stead, to atone for their sins, and is regarded and esteemed by God to have died; and that the results or benefits of his death are so reckoned or imputed to believers as to make it proper for God to regard and treat them as if they had themselves obeyed the Law; that is, as righteous in his sight; see the note at Romans 4:3.  (1)


“Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” (Romans 4:6)


Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Romans 4:6 is superb:


Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man,.... the apostle having instanced in Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, cites some passages from David, king of Israel, a person of great note and esteem among the Jews, in favour of the doctrine he is establishing; who in a very proper and lively manner describes the happiness of such persons:


unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works. This righteousness cannot be the righteousness of the law, or man's obedience to it; for that is a righteousness with works, is a man's own, and not imputed; and indeed is not a righteousness in the sight of God: nor does man's blessedness lie in, or come by it; no man is, or can be instilled by it, nor saved by it, or attain to heaven and eternal happiness by the means of it; but the righteousness here spoken of is the righteousness of Christ, called the righteousness of God; and is better than that of angels or men; is complete and perfect; by which the law is honoured, and justice is satisfied. This is freely bestowed, and graciously “imputed” by God. Just in the same way his righteousness becomes ours, as Adam's sin did, which is by imputation; or in the same way that our sins became Christ's, his righteousness becomes ours; and as we have no righteousness of our own when God justifies us, this must be done by the righteousness of another; and that can be done no other way by the righteousness of another, than by imputing it to us: and which is done “without works”; not without the works of Christ, of which this righteousness consists; but without the works of the creature, or any consideration of them, which are utterly excluded from justification; for if these came into account, it would not be of grace, and boasting would not be removed. Now such who have this righteousness thus imputed to them, are happy persons; they are justified from all sin, and freed from all condemnation; their persons and services are acceptable to God; it will be always well with them; they are heirs of glory, and shall enjoy it. (2)


Simul Iustus et Peccator from the Monergism web site:


To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.


How is the Christian to see himself in this world? “Simul iustus et peccator” – “At the same time righteous and a sinner.” Justification is forensic. In Christ, we are declared, counted or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ (an “alien righteousness”) to our account. Christ's righteousness ascribed to the redeemed individual without their personal merit. We are declared righteous in Christ, it is imputed to us -- it is counted as ours ... not infused in us. We are counted righteous in God's eyes because of Christ. But this does not make us righteous in ourselves. That will only happen at our glorification when Christ transforms these bodies to be sealed in righteousness. Justifying righteousness is something, which always resides in the Person of Christ alone. The imputation of this “alien” righteousness is the only means by which man can be acceptable to God. As long as the Christian lives, he is guilty in himself, but “in Christ” he is righteous and accounted precious.


Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land. It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin, we call it simul iustus et peccator: simul, simultaneously; iustus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. That is me – simultaneously righteous and sinful. That is my contribution to salvation -- my sin! At the same time that I am a sinner, God sees me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That is the message of outreach -- it is the message of salvation.


Righteousness comes in two ways: coram deo (righteousness before God) and coram hominibus (before man). Instead of a development in righteousness based in the person, or an infusion of merit from the saints, a person is judged righteous before God because of the works of Christ. But, absent the perspective of God and the righteousness of Christ, based on one’s own merit—a Christian still looks like a sinner. The declaration involves God imputing to the believer's “balance sheet” or account the alien righteousness of Christ. The believer is not declared righteous by virtue of his own merit, but on the basis of the merit of Christ. When united to Him, it is justification, which becomes the foundation upon which the believer can stand with confidence coram dei. The believer has no cause to fear in the presence of God because of His acquittal. The believer has only and always to look to the finished work of Christ on the Cross and hear God's declaration, “You are accepted.” Because of justification, the believer does not fear God's rejection because of the sin still present in his/her life. God does not look at the sin in our life except through the work of Christ. This tension is resolved in the Incarnate Christ, crucified and now risen for the life of the world.


Eternal life is Christ dwelling in His righteousness in the soul of the justified person. So eternal life is union with Jesus Christ. And the word for that union with him is faith. The sinners comes to him, rests in him, trusts in him, is one with him, abides with him; and this is life because it never ends. The united soul abides in the Vine eternally. Weakness, sin, proneness to sin never brings separation, but only the Father's pruning, which cements the union even and ever tighter.


The Judge of all the earth declares us “not guilty” when we believe because Christ was pronounced "guilty" for us on the cross. We are not first made righteous, then declared righteous; we are declared righteous by grace through faith in Christ, and then made righteous! When we believe, God imputes Christ's righteousness to us 'as if' it were our own. However, it is HIS righteousness, that is why Paul says in Romans 1:17 that there is a righteousness that has been revealed from God, a righteousness not of our own, but a righteousness revealed from God and freely given to those who do not work, but to those who believe. In light of the goodness and graciousness of God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, we should daily repent of our own self-righteousness (our works), the words imply a declaration and pronouncement from the divine court of the believer’s right standing with God. “Justification” in itself does not mean a change in the man, but a declaration of how he appears in God’s sight.


Through faith we run to Christ and hold fast to Him, who satisfied the law on our behalf (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10-13). In this way, we are accounted righteous in the sight of God through faith alone, without doing the works of the law. We are simul iustus et peccator.


Luther recognized that even in a state of regeneration the believer still lives in the world and still in fact does commit acts of sin. There is no attempt to redefine sin to make it anything less than what it is. Rather there is a stark recognition of the dialectic of the Christian's acceptance before God and the fact that he still sins. Luther's phrase to describe this condition was that the state of the Christian between regeneration and ultimate glorification is simul iustus et peccator, at once just (or justified) and sinner. This is not a condition that will ever be transcended in this life. Rather, the believer must always rely on the finished work of Christ for his/her acceptance before God. (3)


Definition of Justification


The establishment of a sinner in a righteous standing before God. The verb dikaioo means “to declare or demonstrate to be righteous” (Matt. 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:29; 10:29). The cognate nouns are dikaiosune (Rom. 1:17), dikaiosis (Rom. 4:25), and dikaioma (Rom. 1:32; 5:16, 18). Dikaiosune is always translated “righteousness” and denotes a perfect rectitude according to the standard of God’s character revealed in His law. The phrase “the righteousness of God” may denote the divine attribute of righteousness, or in the great soteriological teaching of Romans, the righteousness God has provided to give His people a title to eternal life (Rom. 3:22; 5:17, “the gift of righteousness”).


Dikaiosis is the action of declaring righteous, and dikaioma signifies the verdict, the judgment handed down by God. Lenski states the relationship between these two terms: dikaiosis is “a declaring righteous (action)”; dikaioma is “a declaring righteous and thereby placing in a permanent relationship or state even as the declaration stands permanently (result).” The language of Scripture, therefore, points to justification as God’s action in declaring His people righteous and placing them in a state of legal perfection before His law on the basis of the righteousness He provided freely for them in Christ.


There is no more scriptural or succinct theological definition of justification than that given by the Shorter Catechism: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Q. 33; see Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 11).

The Two Elements in Justification


The two elements in justification are pardon and imputed righteousness. That is, the total obedience of Christ, both passive and active, avails for the believer. The vicarious atonement of Christ pays the debt of the believer’s sin, satisfies divine justice on his behalf, and renders it possible for God to be just and yet to justify him (Rom. 3:26). The imputed righteousness of Christ gives the believer “the adoption of children” (Gal. 4:5) and the title to eternal life.

Characteristics of Justification


1. Justification is an act, not a process (Rom. 5:1). It is something that has taken place in the justified, not something that is constantly taking place.


2. It is an act of the free grace of God toward sinners who are personally guilty and deserving of His wrath (Rom. 3:25).


3. It is a forensic act. It describes a change in the legal standing of the justified person. It does not describe the inner moral change God effects in all those whom He saves (2 Cor. 5:21). This is a vital truth. “God made him [Christ] to be sin for us” does not mean that Christ became morally corrupted. It solely describes a forensic transaction. Similarly, when as a result of that transaction we are “made the righteousness of God in him,” there is no reference to an inner moral change. It does not mean we are made morally sinless or pure. It means that God has radically changed our legal standing before His law. Thus justify means “to declare righteous,” not “to make righteous” (see Psa. 51:4). The statement in Rom. 5:19 that through Christ’s obedience “shall many be made righteous” uses the verb kathistemi, which means, “appoint, constitute.” It describes the place we occupy, not a purification of our nature.


4. It is a just act, for it proceeds on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:19). This text makes it clear that the righteousness of Christ’s obedience in life and death is imputed as the ground of justification. Christ is the righteousness of the justified (1 Cor. 1:30; Jer. 23:6). This answers the objection that unless justification is an actual infusion of grace and moral purity, God would be lying to declare any man righteous. Paul states bluntly that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 5:5), not the godly, the sanctified. How can the God of truth declare the ungodly righteous? By crediting all the perfect righteousness of Christ to their account (see Imputation).


5. It is a once-and-for-all act. It can neither be reversed nor repeated (Heb. 10:2; Rom. 8:30).


6. It is equally complete in all the justified. It cannot be increased or decreased (Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 1:30). All Christians are not equally mature, or holy. But all believers are equally “justified from all things” (Acts 13:39). They all have the same basis for their acceptance by God, the righteousness of Christ.


7. It invariably leads to glorification. No justified person can perish: “whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).


8. It is received by faith without works (Rom. 3:20–22; 4:1–8, 24; 5:1; Gal. 3:5–12; see Sola Fide). Some imagine that James contradicts this in James 2:18–26, notably in verse 24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”


There is no discrepancy between Paul and James. There is a difference of emphasis in response to the particular form of opposition each apostle was combatting. Paul was opposing the legalist who taught justification by works. James was opposing the antinomian (see Antinomianism) whose profession of justifying faith was united to a life of blatant ungodliness. Paul teaches that we are justified by faith as the sole instrument of reception, excluding works or any mixture of faith and works. James teaches that the faith that justifies is never alone. It is a living faith and therefore will express itself in good works. Good works are the evidence of the reality of justifying faith, not a substitute for it, a preparation for it, or an addition to it. Buchanan in his Justification, terms justification according to Paul actual justification, and justification according to James declarative justification.


Confusion about Justification


The doctrine of justification lies at the very heart of all biblical soteriology. Yet prior to the Reformation, confusion reigned on the meaning of the term. Even in very early times, the legal aspect of justification so clearly set forth in the NT was overlooked with the result that it was common for justification to be confused with regeneration or sanctification.


Justification Confused with Regeneration. Thomas Aquinas set the standard for medieval views on the subject. He taught that the first element in justification was the infusion of grace, on the ground of which the second element, pardon for sins, was given. Thus, the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification in baptism was laid down. As Aquinas’ doctrine was developed, Rome came to assert more and more blatantly that the justification received in baptism could be increased or lost by human activity. This laid the ground for the Tridentine decree that justification depends at least in part upon personal merit.


Justification Confused with Sanctification. Confounding justification and sanctification led to the error of viewing justification as a process (e.g. , Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, chap. 16, canon 24). This characteristic error of Romanism has found acceptance in many other quarters. Many early Anabaptists espoused it. To this day, it is the mark of all false gospels to equate justification with sanctification as the basis of a doctrine of salvation by works.


Distinctions Between Justification and Sanctification


Scripture carefully marks the difference between justification and sanctification. Berkhof notes:


“1. Justification removes the guilt of sin and restores the sinner to all the filial rights involved in his state as a child of God, including eternal inheritance. Sanctification removes the pollution of sin and renews the sinner ever increasingly in conformity with the image of God.


“2. Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God, and does not change his inner life, though the sentence is brought home to him subjectively. Sanctification on the other hand, takes place in the inner life of man and gradually affects his whole being.


“3. Justification takes place once for all. It is not repeated, neither is it a process; it is complete at once and for all time. There is no more or less in justification, man is either fully justified, or he is not justified at all. In distinction from it, sanctification is a continuous process, which is never completed in this life.


“4. While the meritorious cause of both lies in the merits of Christ, there is a difference in the efficient cause. Speaking economically, God the Father declares the sinner righteous, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies him” (Systematic Theology, pp. 513, 514).

Justification the Same for OT and NT Believers


This justification is in all respects the same for believers under both the Old and New Testaments (Gal. 3:9, 13, 14; Rom. 4:1–6, 16). Abraham was justified on the very same ground and in the very same way as believers in the NT . We are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” He is the “father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:11). David rejoiced in the very same justification we enjoy (Ps. 32:1, 2; Rom. 4:6). The only righteousness that ever gave any man a title to heaven is the righteousness of Christ freely imputed to him and received by faith alone.



Luther’s insight was accurate when he declared the biblical doctrine of justification to be articulus ecclesiae stantis aut cadentis, the article of faith that marks whether a church is standing or falling. Paul realized its immense importance to the entire gospel scheme and pronounced God’s curse on anyone, even an angel from heaven, who preached any other gospel (Gal. 1:8, 9). This is the gospel of which the apostle was “not ashamed … for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). (4)


Double Imputation by R. C. Sproul


“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”


“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  Et’ simply means ‘and.’  Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”


“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”


“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”


“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”


“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.” (5)


From the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 11, Of Justification:


I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.


In conclusion:


In further reflection upon biblical justification, it involves understanding the Hebrew verb tsayke, which both the Greek word dikaioun and the Latin justificare refer, and is used in Scripture when dealing with passages on forensic or declared judicial righteousness. The Hebrew verb is forensic and means to absolve someone in a trial, or to hold or to declare just, as opposed to the verb to condemn and to incriminate. See Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1; Job 9:3; Psalms 143:2; Proverbs 17:15; Luke 18:14, Romans 4:3-5; and Acts 13:39. The Scriptures are unmistakable in establishing our justification because of how Christ bore the wrath of God for us (see Romans 4:1-7). Justification does not happen repeatedly. Christ has died once for all of our sins (not just some), and the Father on our behalf accepted His death as our substitute. It is a finished fact!


“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p.2094.

2.      John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Romans, 9 Volumes, Romans, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 84.


4.      Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International), pp. 201-204.

5.      R. C. Sproul, Excerpt from Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.


“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

For more study:


* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca writes  

** CARM theological dictionary