The Nature of the Student, Part III

Redemption

In the second part of this series on the nature of the student, we heard how according to the Christian view, ever since his first sin in the Garden of Eden, man is by nature evil. We must all sing:

Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
Lutheran Service Book, 556:2

But notice the use of the past tense. This hymn stanza is not the full story. The Lord was not content to sit idly by while the pinnacle of creation – made in the image of God – threw himself headlong into death and hell. And therefore our song continues:

But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
But gave His dearest treasure.
LSB, 556:3

The heavenly Father’s dearest treasure is his Son, Jesus. Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. And Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead for our salvation. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans. 5:6-8).

Jesus’ death saved us from sin, because Jesus took up all our sins from us, bore them in his own body, and crucified them in himself on the cross. Jesus’ death defeated death, because while death laid claim to us sinful mortals, it could not lay claim to the sinless Son of God. Jesus’ death conquered the devil, because by his death Jesus redeemed us from the devil’s kingdom and unraveled all of the devil’s schemes. And Jesus’ resurrection has restored to us the hope of everlasting life.

Simul Iustus et Peccator

This salvation is an excellent gift. Even though we are corrupt flesh, Jesus has had pity on us and redeemed us, and he has promised us a glorious resurrection on the Last Day, in which our bodies will no longer be sinful by nature, but will have once more the native righteousness originally bestowed on man in creation. And yet Jesus has not made us wait until the Last Day for our renewal. Certainly our renewal is not complete until then, but even now Jesus has baptized us with water and the Word, cleansed us, and given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

This means that even though we still have a sinful nature that inclines away from God and toward everything contrary to his commandments, we as Christians now also have the Holy Spirit, who fights against our depravity and gives us new desires and impulses: directing us toward Christ, toward good, and away from evil.

The presence of both the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit means that the Christian is simul iustus et peccator, Latin for “simultaneously saint and sinner.” The Christian has two conflicting things within him, as St. Paul comments: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). The Christian is at war – and it is not primarily a war waged within the world, but a war waged within oneself. The war will cease with the destruction of the sinful nature at death, but until then, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, we fight against our evil passions.

I. Teach the Word of God

What does all of this mean for education? First of all, if we’re educating Christians then one of the chief goals of education is to keep the students Christians. If faith in Christ is what makes one a Christian, and faith comes through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), then the student must hear the Word of God daily, and hear it pure and unadulterated.

This means that a child should hear the Word of God at home each day with his parents in life and conversation, learn to pray, and have family devotions. This also means that Christian parents should send their Christian children to schools where the teachers complement and reinforce the family devotion to God’s Word. Christian schools should ideally have chapel every day, conducted by a faithful pastor. Teachers in Christian schools should know how the Word of God relates to their areas of expertise, and, in addition to instilling knowledge, should instill a love of God’s Word. Students should expect harmony between the home, the church, and the school: a common worldview (to use a popular term), or, more specifically, a common language, namely the language of the Scriptures.

Now this emphasis on God’s Word does not mean that all children should become pastors or deaconesses. Any vocation is a holy calling when a Christian carries it out. The interest in God’s Word is not for the sake of conferring a marketable skill, but for the sake of the salvation of the students. Again, the Word of God is not the topic of discussion every minute of every day; in fact, chapel, prayer, and catechesis don’t even occupy a majority of the day. The Word of God is rather the common tongue of parents, students, and teachers. The nature of the student as simultaneously saint and sinner means that we give students the Word of God, which alone strengthens the saint, rebukes the sinner, and gives eternal salvation.

II. Teach Virtue and Vice

Second, if the Christian student has within him the Holy Spirit warring against the sinful flesh, then the student should learn to practice virtue and learn to avoid vice. This is not for the sake of earning salvation, but for the sake of living according to God’s will, avoiding God’s displeasure, serving the neighbor, and giving no opportunity to the flesh, lest it enslave us once again to sin.

Virtue is summed up most succinctly in the Ten Commandments. It is a virtue to have the right God. It is a virtue to honor one’s father and mother. It is a virtue to be content with what God has given you (and conversely, a vice to covet what belongs to your neighbor). These virtues are not works of the Law when a Christian does them, as if we only did the right thing because God was cracking a whip or threatening hell. No, when a Christian does these works of virtue, the works are properly speaking fruits of the Spirit.

A document in the Lutheran Confessions called The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord puts it this way:

[W]hen people are born again through the Spirit of God and set free from the law (that is, liberated from its driving powers and driven by the Spirit of Christ), they live according to the unchanging will of God, as comprehended in the law, and do everything, insofar as they are reborn, from a free and merry spirit. (Solid Declaration VI.17)

Christians are glad to do what is right in God’s sight (virtue) and cheerfully avoid whatever displeases him (vice). One might then wonder why we should teach Christian children virtue and vice. There are two main reasons.

a. Instruct the Saint

First, the saint wants to know what God’s will is and live according to it. While we do have the law of God written on our hearts, ever since man’s fall into sin, that image of the law on the heart is not a perfect image. We must receive instruction from God’s objective Word in order to have a complete understanding of his will. Without this instruction in the commandments it becomes all too easy to devise our own works and declare them to be precious virtues in the sight of God, while at the same time neglecting that which he has commanded.

Besides this, the Christian student lives in a world that calls virtue vice and vice virtue. There will be confusion and uncertainty about the right course of action unless we teach the young saint what is truly right and wrong, virtue and vice, pleasing and displeasing to God.

The words of the commandments teach this will of God clearly enough. The saint also finds it useful to hear illustrations of God’s pleasure toward those who do his will. Take, for example, Joseph the son of Jacob in the book of Genesis. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and Joseph resisted her advances. But then Potiphar’s wife said that Joseph had tried to seduce her, and he was thrown in prison on this false accusation. At this point a student might wonder, “Did Joseph do something wrong? Was God displeased with him?” But then we hear how Joseph prospered, even in prison, and then became second in command over all Egypt. We learn that even if we must suffer for righteousness’ sake, nevertheless God is pleased with those who do his will, and he shows us favor even in the midst of suffering, and he will yet vindicate us and change our fortune. The saint needs these illustrations, both for the strengthening of faith and for instruction in virtue.

b. Curb the Sinner

So that’s the first reason why we teach virtue and vice to Christian students, namely, because the saint wants to know his Father’s will. The second reason is because the Christian student is not only a saint, but a sinner. Christians only do the will of God from a free and merry spirit “insofar as they are reborn.” The Solid Declaration puts this very pointedly:

For the old creature, like a stubborn, recalcitrant donkey, is also still a part of them, and it needs to be forced into obedience to Christ not only through the law’s teaching, admonition, compulsion, and threat but also often with the cudgel of punishments and tribulations until the sinful flesh is completely stripped away and people are perfectly renewed in the resurrection. (Solid Declaration VI.24)

Whereas the Christian as a saint does the will of God because, by the Spirit, he wants to, the Christian as a sinner only does the will of God because he has to. He must hear “admonition, compulsion, and threat.” The sinful flesh must hear such things as, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

But like the saint, the sinner learns particularly well through illustration. He might want to misuse God’s name, but when he hears how the Lord ordered the son of Shelomith to be stoned to death for that offense (Leviticus 24:11-16), he will think twice about doing it. The sinful flesh will grudgingly refrain from sin (sometimes) simply because it doesn’t want to suffer the consequences of sin. Therefore, to aid the student in the war against the flesh, we curb the flesh with the fear-striking examples of God judging other sinners.

God also curbs the flesh “with the cudgel of punishments and tribulations.” In other words, if we insist on sinning, God will let us have the consequences. He disciplines us, not seeking our destruction, but seeking to turn us away from evil. So it is with teachers. If words aren’t enough to curb the flesh, then there’s always clapping the erasers, wearing the dunce cap, writing sentences. Modern education sees these things as harmful to the student’s self-esteem, and as a result, not only is there no discipline in the classroom, but the students never learn that the consequences of offending against God are far worse than a slight blow to self-esteem.

Christians don’t care about self-esteem. It’s too close to the great vice of pride. We care about having a gracious God who made us in his image and gave his own divine Son to redeem us. There’s real esteem! Now if the sinful flesh is seeking to turn us away from this gracious God by despising his Word and going its own way, then we hinder it however we rightfully can. If it takes a little public shame, then so be it. Better the flesh be ashamed than be in control.

c. Mind the Simul

Now the teaching of virtue is not only for the saint, and the teaching of vice is not only for the sinner. Not only does the saint want to know what to do to be doing the will of God, but also what to avoid so that he does not grieve his Father. Not only is the sinner compelled by the threat of punishment; he is also enticed by the hope of the earthly reward that accompanies virtue. We can draw a distinction by saying that delight in the law belongs to the saint, and terror of God’s wrath belongs to the sinner. But I want to make it clear that we teach the full teaching of God’s law to the Christian as he is both saint and sinner.

Learning virtue and vice is good for the Christian as he is simul iustus et peccator because hearing God’s law brings to light our sins and our need for Christ, and, thus despairing of ourselves, the Gospel comes along and gives us refuge in Jesus. To put it succinctly, teaching God’s law shows the student his need for a Savior. Therefore, training in virtue and vice also serves the purpose of keeping Christian students Christian, not by making them hope in their works for salvation, but by showing them that their works are a false hope for salvation.

III. Teach Love

So, when teaching Christian students we teach, first, God’s Word, second, virtue and vice; and third, we teach the Christian student how to love and serve his neighbor. The sinful flesh may be incurvatus in se, but as a new creation in Christ the student is turned out from himself. The saint desires to love his neighbor, and so a Christian education makes the Christian student a knowledgeable and skillful servant to those around him. You can read more about love as a goal of education here.

Educate Christian Children according to Their Nature

The Christian view of the Christian student is that he is simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. Educating this Christian according to his nature, we instruct him in God’s Word, teach him virtue and vice, and give him the knowledge and skills necessary to be of service to the world wherever he is needed. This Christian education is far different from modern education, because Christian education has a far different view of the nature of the student when compared to modern education.

We ought to educate our children according to what they are by nature, not according to a lie about man’s nature. Modern education is not for us, nor for any human being. Now the question remains: is classical education any better suited to the student’s nature than modern education? Read The Nature of the Student, Part IV.

Painting: Crucifixion by Peter Gertner, 1537

Hymn quotation: Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice by Martin Luther

Quotes of Solid Declaration are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Kolb & Wengert

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

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