In April of 1521 Martin Luther made his famous stand for the Gospel before the Imperial Diet in Worms, Germany. In the wake of his appearance, Luther was’ kidnapped’ by his prince and protector, Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, and spirited away to the Wartbug Castle deep in the Thuringian forest. Luther spent many months there, recovering from the stress of the conflict with Rome and translating the New testament into German. He also kept up a lively correspondence, most of it written in the room pictured above.
Among the letters he sent to friends and supporters was one to his teaching colleague at Wittenberg, Philip Melancthon. One comment in this letter has been the subject of much controversy. That comment was, “let your sins be strong”, or as it is often translated, “Sin boldly.” Here is the pertinent portion of Luther’s letter.
“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the
true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only
imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong , but let
your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the
victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we
are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We,
however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new
heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that
through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the
sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to
kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think
such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager
sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner!”
While waiting for a flight connection a year or so ago, I struck up a conversation with a young Roman Catholic priest. After a few minutes of conversation, upon learning that I was a Lutheran pastor, he asked me about Luther’s quote, “Sin boldly.” I filled him in on the remainder of Luther’s comments and his reply was. “Oh, I hadn’t heard about that part.”
On the surface, and taken out of context, Luther’s comment sounds like a blank check for the old sinner in us to go nuts! But this is hardly what Luther intended.
Preoccupation with our sinfulness leads us away from the assurance we have in God’s forgiveness. Luther knew this as well as anyone. So, his comment is really a way of saying, live your life in Christ in the confidence of faith! Of course we will sin. It is inevitable because as long as we are in this mortal body sin remains with us. Don’t be so preoccupied with yourself. Rather, be preoccupied with how great Christ is! He has forgiven your sins, past, present and future. That is the gospel of freedom in which Luther rejoiced…and you can too!
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”