Sin Boldly?

“BE A SINNER, and sin boldly…”

This may be a shocking statement, but what makes it more shocking is who it came from. It would appear to be straight from the devil himself! But wait- this advice actually came from none other than the great reformer, Martin Luther.

Martin Luther was the famous monk who rediscovered the Gospel truth that “the just shall live by faith” (see Rom.1:17; Gal.3:11). Before awakening to this truth, Luther continually tormented himself in hopes of appeasing his ever-accusing guilty conscience. He finally got a hold of grace, and was set free! In the early 16th century, he went on to spark the Protestant Reformation by nailing his “95 Theses” to the church’s door in Wittenberg, in which he criticized the abuses of selling indulgences. Indulgences were sold by the church as ways of getting out of punishment for sins. It was quicker and easier than doing penance!

So here is one of the fathers of the Reformation, who has stood for truth in the midst of corruption, writing to his friend and telling him to “sin boldly!” What is going on? Did he take the grace message too far? It is important to note here, that in preaching the true Gospel, one might logically come to the same conclusion, for Paul himself had to deal with this issue: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom.6:1).

But Paul was emphatic: “Certainly not!” (vs.2), and I think we should heed Paul and not Luther. We will look more into Paul’s response in my next post. Yet I believe that Luther was on to something that is worth noting here, in spite of his poor choice of words.

Wait! Before you throw me out with him as a heretic, let me quote him in the actual context:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world…Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small?” [1]

If he really meant that we should go out and commit sin, then obviously his point should be rejected. I believe the point that he was trying to make, however, was that grace is so sufficient to cover us that we should no longer cower before the prospect of an angry God. Instead, we should rejoice that Jesus paid it all. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom.5:20), so we can boldly enjoy our relationship with God, in spite of the sin we know to be inside us.

We can even become bolder than that. We can acknowledge that the sin inside us isn’t really us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. We were made righteous through Jesus, just as we were once made sinners through Adam (Rom.5:19). Just as righteous acts did not change the fact that we were sinners before Christ, sinful acts do not change the fact that we are now the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.

Many Christians wouldn’t dare consider themselves righteous because they focus on their works or lack of works, rather than on the finished work of Jesus. But God has done His part. If we don’t do our part by consciously believing it, we don’t get to experience the joy and peace that God wants us to have.

I don’t mean becoming self-righteous, or deluded to the point of thinking that we are perfect. But I am saying that there is a spiritual reality that must be received: God sees us as righteous.

How do we deal with sin then? Faith takes hold of the forgiveness as already done. I used to think I had to “get” God to forgive me. I remember praying one night, confessing my sins, and asking God to forgive them. I just rambled it all off as rote and was about to get up, when the Lord spoke to my heart: “You’ve just asked me to forgive, but you’re not willing to stay and receive it!” So I stayed and thought about His work on the cross. I then sensed that all was well between me and God, as if our relationship couldn’t have been better!

The fact is, it was already fine. I didn’t “usher in the forgiveness.” Maybe we could say that I ushered my faith into receiving it. Many believers carry the weight of a guilty conscience because they are focusing more on themselves and how they don’t measure up. They then rattle off religious-duty prayers, without ever realizing that all is well because of Jesus.

Ultimately, by “sinning boldly,” Luther means that we must not let our conscience drag us down. As I stated in Confusion About Grace, we do not have to do penance. Nor do we have to buy church indulgences! These will not appease the conscience, as Luther found out as a monk. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse the conscience (Heb.9:14). Your sin is no match for His blood. Believe it and receive it! It is faith that pleases God, not a guilty conscience.
[1 ]Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, no.99; August 1521.

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One thought on “Sin Boldly?

  1. […] let’s go back to the question brought up in the previous post: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Contrary to Luther, Paul answered, […]

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