college travels

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Why we ought to 'sin boldly'!

We have been preaching on prayer at Youthworks Chapel this semester. So far a theme has emerged that reflects the character and nature of God as a good Father to his children whose desire is to answer his children’s prayers in such a way as will be best for them. A paraphrase of this theme might be - God is not a mean-spirited Father.

A few weeks ago Andy Stirrup, our Old Testament lecturer, opened up 1 Chronicles 4 and the Prayer of Jabez. In critiquing Bruce Wilkinson’s reading of this passage he drew our attention to his T-shirt. It had a picture of Martin Luther, underneath which was written these words in Latin – ‘simul justus et peccator’. Translated this means that as Christians we are at the same time both justified in Christ and yet continue to sin until the final resurrection. In the context of the sermon it was an illustration of our need to recognise that though we may not have it all right, we do need to speak out against teaching that is not in line with the teachings of Scripture. Martin Luther would have agreed.

With this phrase rattling around and two new units that Youthworks College is offering this year – CH205 Reformation Church History that Ruth Lukabyo is teaching and DM250 Foundations in Young Adults Ministry that I will be teaching in second semester, I have been reflecting on Martin Luther and what he would say to young adults, especially those who may be earnestly aware of their own sin and as a result hesitant to step up and out in order to lead.

Martin Luther said some outrageous things, no more so than “sin boldly” in a letter to his mate Phillip Melanchthon during the 16th Century. Luther’s stand against the Church of Rome kicked off the Protestant Reformation, after which the world would never quite be the same. Because of Luther’s stand, all that people had known through the teachings of Rome was suddenly ‘up for grabs’.

This troubled Melanchthon, Luther’s conservative friend. He was concerned with questions such as: “Should monks, priests and nuns break their vow to the Church?”; “What if they are sinning?” and “How do we do the Lord’s Supper – maybe it is best to abstain from taking the Lord’s Supper until a priest can hand it out…?”. He wrote to Luther asking for advice on to how to proceed with these issues.

In response to Luther’s outrageous comments, Melanchthon asks of Luther: “What if you’re wrong?, or “What if you have misunderstood the Bible?” Melanchthon advises Luther to be cautious – “if you could be wrong then don’t do anything”.

In reply Luther writes to Philip Melanchthon on August 1, 1521:

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. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God's glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly you too are a mighty sinner.

Luther’s statement “Sin Boldly” disturbs many people. His enemies picked up on it and claimed that Luther was saying that people should go ahead and sin a lot because God forgives us anyway. But this is not what Luther meant. His enemies, critics and others misunderstood him.

What Luther meant can be seen in another of his famous quotes (featured on Andy’s T-shirt) about the status of a Christian until they die – ‘simultaneously justified and a sinner’. What Luther meant was if you are alive you will be a sinner. To quote from his letter “As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin.”

So how do you live? Lock yourself away in a monastery or nunnery and try not to do anything for fear of sinning. Luther says No! Christians must live out in the real world. And as long as a Christian is alive they will sin.

Luther’s advice to a young adult, might be to live as a Christian (simultaneously justified and a sinner) and live boldly! “Believing and rejoicing in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death and the world”. That is what Luther meant when he said “Sin Boldly”. In other words “Live boldly”, acknowledging that you are at the same time right with God in Christ and always going to sin in this world.

Some practical outcomes of this theology for leaders of young adults begin with an awareness that for some young adults there may be a deep sense of sin in their life that may prevent them from feeling adequate for leadership. It will therefore be important to teach ‘the doctrines of grace’ Luther unpacked in order for young adults to grasp who they are in Christ ‘simultaneously justified and a sinner’ and to live that out boldly in their lives.

Young adults, because of their earnestness in regards to sin and righteousness may be hesitant to take on leadership positions, feeling that they are not good enough for the task. As leaders and teachers we also need to have an understanding of our standing before God in Christ as ‘simultaneously justified and a sinner’. We need to model this to young adults and share our lives with them, enabling them to see that we too are sinners but at the same time made right with God in Jesus. Leaders of young adults need to be transparent, up to a point, in their struggles with sin so the young adult does not give them a standing above that which we all have in Christ.

Finally we need to encourage Christian young adults to take up leadership roles in our church family. They have the earnestness and zeal, that if channelled well and coupled with a right understanding of our relationship with God them, will make them suitable for leadership in our churches. The barrier of being immobilised by feelings of inadequacy because of sin can be overcome through Luther’s theology of ‘simultaneously justified and a sinner’.

Therefore we ought to encourage our young adults to ‘sin boldly’, the other option is to do nothing. Stay paralysed. Join a monastery and cloister yourself away from the world. But you’ll still be sinning! So better to live and live boldly under the mercy and grace of God. In modern language “Sin boldly” is to say “Go for it!”, step up and out, take responsibility in leadership if it is presented to you, get out and live a full life with full assurance in service and devotion to Jesus.

Labels: , , , ,


  • Thanks Jim,

    Found this really helpful as of late i have been putting substantial thought into this exact theology.
    Also wanted to encourage the staff and thank them for 'the buzz'. It is a tool which i have found extremely valuable, particularly since finishing college.

    ,Brett Thomson

    By Blogger Brett T, at 10:52 pm  

  • Thanks Jim,

    This is a great, thought provoking post. The world's a pretty dark place sometimes.


    By Anonymous Peter S, at 8:13 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home