Now I come to two doctrines of Luther in which the Reformation is so far superior to everything which is going on today in popular Christianity that I want to emphasize this very much, namely his doctrine of sin and faith. For Luther sin is unbelief. “Unbelief is the real sin.””Nothing justifies except faith, and nothing makes sinful except unbelief.” “Unbelief is the sin altogether .” “The main justice is faith, and so the main evil is unbelief.” Therefore the word ‘sin’ includes what we are living and doing besides the faith in God.” Now this presupposes a concept of faith which has nothing whatsoever to do with the acceptance of doctrine so I come to this immediately. But first what does it do for the concept of sin? It means that the differences of quantity (heavy and light sins), of relativity (sins which can be forgiven, in this or that way) do not matter at all. What they mean is only sin if it is related to God. Everything which separates us from Him has equal weight; they are not more or less; they have qualitative character. This means that for Luther, life as a whole, nature and substance, are corrupted.
And here I want to say something immediately about this term “total corruption,” or depravity, which you will often hear. Please understand this in the right way. It does not mean that nothing is good in man – no Reformer or Neo-Reformation theology ever said that. But it means that there are not parts in man which are exempted from existential distortion; for instance, not his thinking, or some other part in him. And in this sense the concept of total depravity would be translated by a modern psychologist: man is distorted, or in conflict with himself, in the center of his personal life. This means that everything is included, and that is what Luther meant. And if somebody speaks of “total,” then please always ask whether he means it in the absurd way – which would make it impossible to say that he is totally depraved, because a totally depraved man would not say that he is totally depraved.
Even saying that we are sinful presupposes something above sin. But what he can say is that there is no section in him which is not touched by self-contradiction, or sin. This is what Luther means, and this includes the intellect and all other things.
The evil are evil since they do not fulfill the one command, which is not a command, but which must be done voluntarily, namely, the love to God. So it comes now to the fundamental principle that it is the lack of love towards God which is the basis of sin. As I said before, it is the lack of faith; both things are said by Luther all the time, but faith always precedes because it is an act in which we receive God, and love is the act in which we are united with God. Everybody is in this situation, and nobody knew more about the structural power of evil in individuals and in groups than Luther. He didn’t call it compulsion, as we would call it today, in terms of modern psychology; but he knew that it was just this, that there is a power – he called it the demonic power, the power of Satan – which is more than individual decisions. These structures of the demonic – of which you all have had an experience in these last hours – is a reality, and Luther knows that it is impossible to understand sin in terms of special acts of freedom. You must understand it in terms of a structure, of a demonic structure which has compulsory power over everybody, and which can be counterbalanced only by a structure of grace. And we all are in the conflict between these two structures. Sometimes we are ridden, as Luther describes it, by the one compulsion, the Divine; and sometimes by the other. But the Divine is not possession or compulsion; it is at the same time liberating, because it liberates what we essentially are.
Luther’s strong emphasis on the demonic powers comes out in his doctrine of the Devil, whom he understood as an organ of the Divine wrath, and sometimes of the wrath of God itself. There are statements in Luther where one doesn’t know whether he felt something as the wrath of God or as the Devil. Actually it is the same for him, when he says that as we see God so he is for us; if we see Him in the demonic mask then He is the demonic mask to us, and He destroys us. If we see Him in the infant Jesus, where in His lowliness He makes visible His love to us, then He has this love to us. So he was a depth psychologist in the profoundest way before knowing the methodological research we know. But he saw these things in non-moralistic depths, which was lost not only in Calvinistic Christianity to a great extent, but also in Lutheranism itself.