You’d best sit down and grab what is for Lutheran Christians, a third sacrament (coffee), because this advice isn’t what you hear from most preachers.
Martin Luther’s advice to faith communities still sounds strange some 500 years later. The short form of what he said to people of faith is simply: sin boldly.
You read that correctly.
When it comes sinning, be bold. Don’t get all wishy-washy and wimpy, but sin with confidence.
But before you run out and do that in new and exciting ways, you need to hear the fuller context in which the phrase was used.
For the Reformer, Luther, humankind cannot help but sin, cannot help but be engaged in thoughts, words and deeds that work to separate us from God and each other. Those big sins of pride, unbelief and despair hold power over us all.
So when it comes to sinning, people of faith can be bold, yet even more bold, more determined in trusting God’s mercy and compassion.
Luther’s true emphasis was not meant as encouragement to sin but as encouragement to trust the steadfast love of God even more boldly, more deeply and fully.
Here’s Luther’s fuller statement on that infamous phrase: sin boldly.
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not 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 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. Yet we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign (2nd Peter 3:13).
Again, Luther’s advice is not meant as encouragement to sin (we are to resist as we are able) but to cling in faith to the promises of God in Christ Jesus.
As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Roman community, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Or as the Psalmist sings, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end.
What a radical statement Luther made. But what a more bold and radical promise God has made!Matters of Faith columnist Pastor Kim Latterell can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.