Home > Christ and the Gospel, Christian Life > Lutheran Mythbusting: “I’m forgiven, it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Lutheran Mythbusting: “I’m forgiven, it doesn’t matter what I do.”

November 4th, 2011
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Pastor Weedon does a great job refuting a cherished myth among many Christians, unfortunately, too many Lutherans. tonight’s Bible Class. He writes:

We’re in Jeremiah, and did chapter 9 last night.  Eleanor sometimes visits our class.  She had the most disturbing comment to report this evening:  some fellow Lutherans had actually said to her “I’m forgiven so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

THIS IS NOT LUTHERAN.  This is purely devilish.

The first of the 95 must ever be remembered:  When our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to repent, he meant that the entire life of the Christian should be repentance.

Which is to say, the entire life of the Christian, powered by the forgiveness of God, is an ongoing war against the sin that remains in our flesh. There is no peace treaty with that sin because of forgiveness.  The exact opposite.

You have a house infested with poisonous snakes and you make a treaty of peace with them?  Heck no!  You go after them with a vengeance each time one shows its ugly head.  You do so in the joyful confidence that the final victory WILL be yours, not theirs!

It is absolutely true that this battle continues to our grave.  The evil desires continue to pop up from our corrupted flesh and will.  But the grace of the Holy Spirit is given us for this battle to wage on.

Do we do it perfectly?  Of course not!  We literally LIVE from the forgiveness of our sins.  But because we do, we’re snake hunters.  We watch for the wretches to show up and then we attack with a vengeance.  We know they mean us death, and so we bring them to death.  We most certainly do NOT feed them, coddle them, or excuse them with saying:  ”But I’m forgiven, so they can stay.”

I had always turned to the Apology’s repeated assertions about the impossibility of faith existing outside of repentance, but Pastor Curtis pointed out that the Smalcald Articles are even clearer.  Read for yourself III:III:40, 43-45.  Luther is utterly clear.

“In Christians, repentance continues until death. For through one’s entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his own members (Romans 7:14-25) not by his own powers but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows the forgiveness of sins [Romans 8:1-17]. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy.  . . . So it is necessary to know and to teach this: When holy people—still having and   p 277  feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it—happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants [Psalm 51:11; Romans 6:14]. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. For St. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning … and he cannot keep on sinning” [1 John 3:9]. And yet it is also true when St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” [1:8].

Source: Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 276-78 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).

Rant over.  And thanks to Eleanor for bringing the matter up – for it surely is a wound that needs addressing on the body of Lutheranism.

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  1. luckycat
    November 4th, 2011 at 12:18 | #1

    Wow! As a cradle Lutheran Baby Boomer growing up in the 1960′s, I’d always heard the meme “Catholics can sin all they want; they think that all they need to do is go to confession.”

    I’ve never heard any fellow Lutherans express this idea. Of course it’s gravely in error, no matter if it’s Lutherans or Catholics who live in this untruth.

  2. Ric
    November 4th, 2011 at 12:25 | #2

    This falls inline with statement

    “I have prayed to God about this and know that God Forgives me for getting a Divorce because it is the right thing for my spiritual and physical well-being.”

    Grace is precious but so many try to make it cheap an never repent and forgive

  3. November 4th, 2011 at 18:16 | #3

    One of the first statements that Jesus ever said to people was “repent”. Yes we are forgiven but we must realize that we are sinners and repent daily. At least those catholics that go to confession are recognizing that they have sinned and are in need of forgiveness and absolution. For many years, the Lutheran church had individual confession and pastors were able to give individual absolution. This was a very good thing and it is a shame that due to the influence of Calvinists and other protestants, individual confession went the way of the dinosaur. Unfortunately, many young Lutherans and other christians miss the mark and feel that they can sin all they want with no real repentance because “Christ already paid the the price for my sins”. There is nothing better for a christian, who is very guilty over a serious sin he committed, to hear a pastor tell him personally that he is forgiven.

  4. Jonathan Trost
    November 7th, 2011 at 15:35 | #4

    Thanks for that mythbusting, Pastor.

    To this day, I recall these words of absolution spoken by the pastor when I was a kid:

    “Upon this humble confession which you have made, as a Minister of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by his authority, I declare unto you, who do truly repent and heartily believe in Jesus Christ, and are sincerely determined to amend your sinful life, the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    But, be it known unto all such as are impenitent and unbelieving, that their sins are retained; and in Christ’s stead I earnestly admonish them to repent, to believe in the Gospel, and to be reconciled to God. May the love and mercy of God lead them to sincere repentance and true faith. Let us pray….”

    There was no “cheap grace” in that Declaration of Grace.

  5. Jonathan Trost
    November 7th, 2011 at 17:03 | #5

    Moreover, Pastor, the words of confession which preceded that absolution might cause him/her who said: “I’m forgiven so it doesn’t matter what I do.” to think twice. Our Confession of Sin was:

    “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I, a poor sinner, acknowledge and have deep sorrow for my many sins and wickedness, which I have from time to time committed against Your divine Majesty by thought, word, and deed, from unbelief, ingratitude, unfaithfulness, and lack of brotherly love, which have marred all my life, provoking against me most justly Your wrath and indignation, in this world and in the world to come. I do earnestly repent, and am heartily sorry for these my transgressions, the remembrance of which is grievous to me; their burden is intolerable. I have no other comfort or hope than Your grace which abounds above my guilt, and the precious merits of my Lord Jesus Christ. Longing after this grace, I say: I have sinned against heaven , and in Your sight; and am no more worthy to be called Your child. I come, however, at this time of grace to ask of You pardon and peace, new confidence toward You, and strength to lead a new and righteous life through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.”

    That confession was followed by the pastor’s asking 3 questions, to which we answered, “I do.” Then came the absolution printed in my previous post.

    The confession, by today’s practice is lengthy, and says what might make some feel “uncomfortable”. Some may say it “smacks” somewhat of Lutheran pietism. But, following that confession and absolution, none felt entitled to go sin with impunity.

  6. Carlray
    November 7th, 2011 at 20:02 | #6

    Do you believe that such a statement is a, “Declaration of Grace”? It looks like there is a confusion of law and gospel in such a “declaration,” no? I mean, if one must “sincerely determine[d} to amend your sinful life,” is that not a “law” statement, which would make the declaration of a conditional nature and therefore not a “declaration of grace” at all.

    Also, where is this found in the scriptures as far as the “office of the keys” is concerned:

    But, be it known unto all such as are impenitent and unbelieving, that their sins are retained; and in Christ’s stead I earnestly admonish them to repent, to believe in the Gospel, and to be reconciled to God. May the love and mercy of God lead them to sincere repentance and true faith.”

    You would look in vain to find such a statement included in Christ’s establishment the “office of the keys” in John 20

  7. Carlray
    November 7th, 2011 at 20:07 | #7

    cont’d form #6: re: the last quote, at least as far as the Divine Service is concerned, there
    should be no “condition” but a proclamation that “your sins are forgiven. Of course, in private confession and absolution, each case must be evaluated on an individual basis as the pastor talks to the person to determine whether he/she is a penitent.

  8. Jonathan Trost
    November 8th, 2011 at 09:44 | #9


    If, in making my confession, I have no present intention (desire) “to amend (my) sinful life” (by the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit), my confession is a sham, it is not genuine, for it lacks a necessary component of repentance (a present desire and intention to amed my ways).

    How real is the guilt which leads to sorrow, disgust, and fear of God’s punishment if, when I mae my confession, I have every intention and desire to continue the behavior which gave rise to that “guilt” and prompted my confession?

    I note that the LSB (2006?) Form of Confession contains this statement from the penitent:

    “I am sorry for all of this and want to do better.”

    Therein is the sincere determination (desire) to amend one’s sinful life.

    As the AC says: “Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin should then follow, for these must be the fruits of repentance, as John says ‘Bear fruit that befits repentance.’”

    If I have no desire and intention that that amendment and forsaking be accomplished in my life, do not the words of my confession ring hollow, and are they nothing other than a pious exercise?

    God will not be deceived.

    Having a desire and intention to amend (change) and forsake (cast off) is not a “work”. It is not the “satisfactio operis” (satisfaction of deeds) required in Roman penance. The belief (also a component of repentance) that, because of Christ’s atonement, my sin is forgiven, presupposes my desire that it be. Otherwise, my “absolution” is no more than a license to continue in my wrongdoing.

  9. Jonathan Trost
    November 8th, 2011 at 10:26 | #10

    @Jonathan Trost

    I know it is not common in much of contemporary Lutheran practice for the pastor to exercise his authority to retain sins, but the Small Catechism says:

    “The Office of the Keys and Confession is the special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of the penitent, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.”

    Therefore, the full exercise of the Office reads as I posted it,

    The Small Catechism references John 20 as the scriptural source for that authority.

  10. Carlray
    November 8th, 2011 at 15:50 | #11


    You quote the AC, “Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin should then follow…’”
    “Follow” means what? Does it mean that it should be included or assumed that for the people in the pew, it will NOT follow? Who knows what a person is thinking when they confess their sins and and recevie absolution in the Divine Service? Is it our business to question them, “NOW, do you really, really feel that you have sinned? Ok, then you’re forgiven!”
    What you have posted is pietism, period! As I said, “there should be no “condition” but a proclamation that ‘your sins are forgiven’.” The pastor who announces what you posted in
    #4 really has NOT announced the forgiveness of sins, but something that is contingent upon one”sincerely determin[ing] to amend your sinful life.”
    Rather, the forgiveness announced by a pastor is that which Christ has already won at the cross. NO conditions are to be included in the absolution, that is a trick of the devil who loves to turn the gospel into law.

  11. Jonathan Trost
    November 9th, 2011 at 07:14 | #12

    A further word about repentance….

    Its necessity was referenced not only in the Absolution, but in the Exhortaion to partaking of the Sacrament. Part of that Exhortation read:

    “If any of you, then, are comscious that you are willing servants of sin, that you are without true repentance and faith, we solemnly warn and admonish you not to presume to come to the Lord’s Table. For those doing so eat and drink judgment to themselves, not because they are sinners, but because they are impenitent; not because they are unworthy, but because they eat and drink unworthily, not discerning the Lord’s body.

    “On the other hand, we cordially invite all to partake of this Sacrament who are truly grieved and penitent for their sins, who look to Jesus Christ for righteousness and salvation, who abide in the fellowship of His Church, and who desire to possess His spirit and walk in His ways. To all such the compassionate Redeemer Himself says: ‘Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

    “…approach with me now to the throne of grace, and upon bended knees make you humble confession to Almighty God.”

    What I wrote in the several posts were not just pious words. They were doctrine expressed in the liturgy.

  12. Jonathan Trost
    November 9th, 2011 at 14:00 | #13


    Carlray @ #11

    You appear to be saying that I may say in my heart in making my confession:

    “NOW, I really really feel that I have sinned, but NOW also have every desire and intention to continue to sin in the same way and with the same frequency, because Christ has already atoned on the cross for my sins, allowing me, even intentionally, to ‘sin and sin bravely’ today and in the days to come.”

    And, that’s “OK”, and a confession qualifying for absolution?

    That sounds like what was said in the lead post to this thread.

  13. Carlray
    November 9th, 2011 at 20:55 | #14


    When a pastor proclaims to you the forgiveness of sins, does he KNOW what you are thinking in your heart, your intentions? OR, does he simply announce what Christ has done on the cross and proclaim what Christ has given to His church in John 20?

  14. Jonathan Trost
    November 10th, 2011 at 06:38 | #15

    When the pastor declares the absolution to those present, he knows neither the thoughts nor intentions of any one of them. But, each knows those of himself or herself.

    Therefore, if 1) I am truly repentant (admit my guilt, am remorseful, and am willing and desirous of having my sinful life amended (changed) by the power of the Holy Spirit; and 2) I truly believe that my committed sins are absolved by the pastor’s word spoken on behalf of Christ, then I receive the desired absolution.

    But if, in making my “confession”, I do not then have that repentance and belief, I do not receive that absolution, and my sins are retained.

    Absolution doesn’t occur simply as a result of my “showing up” to the place where the words of absolution are uttered.

  15. Carlray
    November 10th, 2011 at 09:25 | #16


    I totally agree. All I’m saying is that there should be NO conditions in the absolution by the pastor for it IS an absolution.

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