“Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven."
These words show and contain in brief what the kingdom of Christ is, namely, this sweet voice, these motherly and fatherly words penetrating our inmost soul: "Thy sins are forgiven." In no other sense are we to view the kingdom of Christ, so far as it is understood, than how we are to live before God. As you, beloved, well know that our highest duty is rightly to establish the conscience that we may know how we stand before God and our neighbor. Therefore we must also hold fast to these words and become accustomed to the expression: "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven", and like sayings of which the Gospel is full.
If the kingdom of Christ is to grow, we must keep out of it with the law, and not be busy with works; for it is not in harmony with it to say: Go out and run hither and thither and atone for your sins; you must observe and do this and that, if you will be free from sin; but directly without any work and law, out of pure grace, your sins are forgiven. Therefore, it is beyond the sphere of the kingdom of Christ to urge the people with the law.
But we receive such things only with the ear and on the tongue, and it enters not into the depth of the heart; for sin at all times still hangs about our necks, it clings firmly to us, as St. Paul speaks of this in Romans, 7, 18-19, and Hebrews 12, 1. But in death we will experience it. Of this class are at present our fanatics who boast of the Holy Spirit, and pretend they would do better, some of whom are also in our midst, listen to us and contend that it is not enough for us to preach only faith and love. Yea, they say, You must do better and climb much higher. How high then must I climb? Take heed that you remain sound in your knowledge, in the true doctrine of Christ, for this knowledge and light is soon lost.
The fanatics soon torment us with works, and profess to have a nobler spirit; they urge and insist upon our doing something first of all, and permit faith and love to be overlooked. This of course is not of the Holy Spirit. Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do works toward our neighbor. But he first highly extols faith and keeps works in the background. This they cannot understand. I would forgive them everything, if they would only not patch and mend their good works, to which they trust their existence, honor and fame.
I say this: Even if it were a work which God at this present hour commanded, I would not so insist upon it and condemn those who do not immediately obey it; and would find him some kind of protection, as that he is yet perhaps weak, and thus spread over him the kingdom of grace. Let us be conscious of the fact that the work among them is directed to God, and not toward our neighbor. They make their works a necessity and say: If you do this, then you are a Christian; if you will not do it, you are no Christian. Where this or that is done there are Christians. And the fame follows their work, that they want to be esteemed better than others. Now you have the true light, therefore be warned. Prove the spirits. We do not wish to prefer ourselves, as these persons do; but we boast in this, that we hear the Word, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven." I know that I have a gracious God; but these spirits cannot do this. Therefore it is a mere devilish apparition that they carry from house to house. In this they lie against the Holy Spirit, and blame the Holy Ghost that he is the father of their cause. And even if the works were good, the forcing and compelling must remain in the background. Let them then keep quiet about setting us an example by their crazy works.
The kingdom of Christ consists in finding all our praise and boast in grace. Other works should be free, not to be urged, nor should we wish by them to become Christians, but condescend with them to our neighbor. Thus we should hear this Gospel to hold fast to its expressions so that they may be written in our hearts, that this light, this Word and lamp may truly shine in us, by which we can judge all other doctrines. Thus he says to the man sick with the palsy: "Thy sins are forgiven". These and similar words are to be taken to heart and meditated upon, since they are nothing but pure grace, and no work, by which the conscience is oppressed and forced to do something. Thus, with these words you must protect yourselves against false teachers.
We have now sowed a little of the Word, and this the devil cannot stand, for he never sleeps; the worms and the beetles will come and infect it. Yet so it must be, Christ will prove his Word, and examine who has received it and who not. Therefore let us remain on the right road to the kingdom of Christ, and not go about with works and urge and force the works of the law, but only with the words of the Gospel which comfort the conscience: Be happy, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.
*This is an edited excerpt from a sermon preached by Martin Luther*