“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7)
This text contains the teaching we hold and boast of as our chief doctrine, which is called the true Christian teaching, namely, the doctrine of grace and forgiveness of sins, and Christian liberty from the law. It is a very loving and friendly admonition to repentance and the knowledge of Christ. It is ever a pity that a godless, impudent person should be permitted to hear such an excellent, comforting, and joyful sermon. And yet it is sadder, that everyone graduates so soon in it and masters it so that he thinks he knows it so well that he can learn nothing more from it. Yet God, our Lord, does not permit himself to become vexed or weary in repeating it every day, and enforces it as though he knew nothing else to preach, and as though he had no other skill or art. While we poor, wretched people immediately become so overly learned, so satisfied, tired of it and disgusted besides, that we have no longer a desire or love for it.
Behold, Christ would here present to us such liberty, so that we as Christians according to our faith may tolerate no other master, but only hold that we are baptized and called unto Christ, and through him have become justified and sanctified, and say: This is my righteousness, my treasure, my work and everything against sin and wrong, which the law can do and bring against me. If you want another righteousness, work, law, sin, then take them where you may, you will not find them in me. In this way a man may defend himself and withstand the suggestions and temptations of the devil, either referring to past or present sins; so that these two may be kept wide apart, Moses and Christ, works and faith, conscience and the outward life; so that when the law attacks me and would terrify my heart, then it is time to give the good law a furlough, and if it will not go, bravely drive it away, and say: Gladly would I do and promote good works where I can at the proper time, when among the people; but here where my conscience must stand before God, I will know nothing of them, in this only let me alone, and do not speak to me of what I do or fail to do. Here I will not listen either to Moses or the Pharisees, but my baptism and Christ only shall reign here in full sway, and I will like Mary sit at his feet and hear his Word. But Martha must stay out and go about in the kitchen and do her housework, and in short, leave the conscience alone.
But how is it, if I still continually have sin in me that is certainly not right? I answer: It is true, I am a sinner and do wrong; but I am not going to despair on that account nor run straight to hell, or flee from the law; for I have still a righteousness and work far above Moses, by which I apprehend him who has apprehended me, and I cleave to him who has embraced me in baptism and laid me in his bosom, and by his Gospel has promoted me to the fellowship of all his benefits, and commands me to believe in him. Where he is, there I command the Pharisees, and Moses with his tables, all lawyers with their books, all men with their works, immediately to be silent and depart. For here no law has any right to accuse or demand, although I have not done it nor can I do it, for in Christ I have all things in abundance, whatever I need or lack.
Therefore learn now carefully to discriminate, both rightly to place and to divide these things, when it comes to the test, and when the law and sin would dispute with the conscience, that you courageously take the word out of the mouth of Moses and tell him to be still, and order him out to your old man, whom you are to lead into the school of Moses, that he may dispute with him and say: Listen, you are both lazy and slow to do good, and to serve your neighbor. When you should praise Christ, you rather drink a bottle of beer. And before you expose yourself to danger for Christ's sake, you prefer to rob and cheat your neighbor wherever you can. For the same lazy scoundrel who will not move, here you may take stones and smite the old Adam until he does move.
Behold, whoever learns this art well is a truly perfect man, as Christ was, so far above all law that he might also call St. Peter a devil, the Pharisees fools and blind leaders, and stop the mouth of Moses and order him to keep quiet, and thus live entirely without any law, and yet fulfill all laws and be proud and firm against everything that would bind and lead him captive, and yet also of his own free self be serviceable and subject unto all men.