As we celebrate the 499th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I thought we'd take a look at a famous (infamous?) quote of Martin Luther.

Here's the full quote:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an 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 the 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. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Martin Luther was writing to a friend and colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, in August 1521, who had some questions. This part comes from the end of the letter. You can read the full letter here. (I'm guessing the entire letter does not exist, so you just have to sort of jump right in to it.)

The phrase, "let your sins be strong," is the one that is often translated "sin boldly." Some people see that quote and think that Luther is advocating sinful behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth! Instead of sinful behavior, Luther is helping his friend (and us!) see the importance of being honest about sin and grace.

If you are honest with yourself you know you are a sinner. If we're going to have any meaningful relationship with God we have to hold on to that truth with everything we have. We can't pretend our sins are "small" or that we're better than other people. No, we're sinners, through and through and deserve nothing but God's unending wrath and punishment.

Only then can we begin to grasp the depth of God's mercy. Only then can we begin to grasp the height of his great love for us. Only then can we begin to grasp what Jesus endured to rescue us from sin. Only when sin is bold can grace be even bolder. Only when sin is honestly dealt with and freely admitted can the life and sacrifice of Christ be of any value to us.

This is the same thing we mean when we say, "You don't know what you have until it's gone." Only when God "takes away" his grace and love by preaching hell and punishment to us do we realize how much we have truly gained in Christ. We will not die but live. The Lamb of God has taken away your sins too.

So, yes, let your sins be strong, so that your Savior can be stronger.