NIV 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Two days ago we ran a devotional post centered on the phrase ‘sin boldly’ which is a modernization of words spoken by Martin Luther. You can read that post at this link, along with Luther’s original quotation. I realize that we only scratched the surface on this, and sensed through one posted comment and an email that a few of you would like to delve into this a little deeper. So today we’ll take some extra time to hear from several voices.
First, Russell Young posted this (click the article link to read the full comment):
…There seems to be a common understanding that the believer is “free to sin.” This is not so! All, starting with the household of God, will be judged for the things done in the flesh whether good or evil. Will we sin? Yes! Can it be forgiven? John makes it clear that repentance and confession can result in forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) The believer must be led by the Spirit. He must be obedient and it is through “obedience” that he will gain “eternal” salvation. (Hebrews 5:9) The result of being led is that he will become a “son of God.” (Romans 8:14) If he lives according to the sinful nature he will die. He must put to death the misdeeds of the body if he is to live. (Romans 8:13) You are correct in stating that we cannot help but sin, but the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ in the believer, will not sin and will provide escape from temptations and recourse for those who do…
…Although there are a great many references to the need to walk in the light and under the leadership of the Spirit, these are being ignored as spiritual educators hang onto the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc. and set the Word aside.
The Lord’s own teaching should give cause for concern: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35) A son is the one who is being led. Also, He revealed in His Revelation that it is those who “overcome” who will be allowed entry into His holy city, the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:7)
At the website, The Grace of God:
…Replacing the word “sin” with the word “murder” we have this: Be a murderer and murder boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Or how about this: Be an adulterer and commit adultery boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Or perhaps your favorite sin is lying: Be a liar and lie boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Do you steal? Be a thief and steal boldly! Just make sure you believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly!
Some may accuse me of taking Martin Luther’s words out of context, but I assert that his words have been used as a license to sin by many, and indeed seem custom-made for the job! He said you can murder a thousand times a day and still remain in Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard such blasphemy? I know Luther is a revered reformer, but Christ’s sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. They will not follow the voice of the stranger, and this is the voice of a stranger if I’ve ever heard one. Test the spirits by which men speak! Never assume that someone honored by others is the friend of your soul.
To the shamed adulterer, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
To the man whom He had healed from a 38-year infirmity, Jesus said, “Sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14) What could be worse than 38 years of perpetual infirmity?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (I Cor. 15:34)
He also wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:15-16)
Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ DEPART FROM INIQUITY.’” (2 Tim. 2:19)
The Apostle John testified that he wrote his epistle “that you may not sin.” (I Jn. 2:1)
Peter wrote of false teachers who would deny the Lord who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. How do they deny the Lord?–through disobedience and teaching disobedience to the Lord’s servants. For they profess to know God, but in works they deny Him. Some of their distinguishing marks are: they will receive the wages of unrighteousness (because they are unrighteous), they count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime (not even blushing for their sins, but doing them boldly even in the company of the Christian church), and they have eyes full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:1-14; Titus 1:16).
They cannot cease from sin! Though Jesus said to cease from sin and gives victory over sin to those who abide in Him, and though His apostles taught that we must cease from sin and obey Jesus, these teachers not only cannot cease from sin in their own lives, but they also teach others, “Be a sinner and sin boldly…as long as we are here, WE HAVE TO SIN.”
Do you hear the hiss of the deceiver in those terrible words? …
The website Confessing Evangelical quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s response to sin boldly:
…Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is not the Roman Catechism quite right in denouncing this as the sin against the Holy Ghost?…
Taken as the premise [for our doctrine of grace], pecca fortiter [sin boldly] acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. That means the justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite.
For Luther “sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs of the grace of God. As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are.
Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.
But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.
At the website authored by J. P. Serrano:
…First, it is an indictment of who we are. Luther is clearly saying to Melanchthon that we (people) are sinners and because of our fallenness, we will continue to sin until the second coming. I believe that Luther is using a hyperbole here in order for us to understand exactly who we are. Our sins are real; they are not unimportant nor minimal…they do matter. Luther is trying to tell those people who think they are pretty good, except for those little sins here or there, that they are in fact really big sinners and should see themselves as big sinners. Hence why he says, “be a sinner.” What I hear in this is an admonition for me to own the state I am in now and a recognition that I am not a saint on my own. Nowhere in here do I hear Luther giving permission to sin–which is the way I hear the quote often used.
Secondly, we need to own our sin and understand it to be real, in order for grace to be real. If we have fake sin, then we don’t need grace. If our sin, however, is real, then we in fact need a grace that is real. What I hear in this is more about God’s grace to forgive and continually seek me out rather than doing whatever I want (or as it is more popularly summarized: SINNING BOLDLY!)
Lastly, what is missed in not quoting the whole phrase Luther uses is the admonition to let our trust in Christ be stronger than the sins we commit. Luther is telling Melanchthon (and us) that our trust in Christ is of first importance. It is to be stronger than our sin, and it is to cause us to rejoice in victory. This is important because I often I hear a defeatism in Lutheranism that keeps continually reminding people that we are sinners (which we are), but doesn’t in the same breath remind us that we are in fact freed from sin in Christ whom overcame.
I want to thank Deb for getting us thinking about this two days ago and getting us started on the path where we’ve ended up today. She concluded that we can’t be “avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.” In the real world we’re going to get our hands and feet dirty. We need to acknowledge that, which is a very nuanced difference from accepting that.