From the Word
1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home.
Matthew 9:1–7, RSV
These words contain in brief what the kingdom of Christ is, namely, this sweet voice penetrating our inmost soul, “Thy sins are forgiven.” In no other sense are we to view the kingdom of Christ than to know how we stand before God. From it follows that the kingdom of Christ is realized where comfort and the forgiveness of sins reign, not only in proclaiming the words, which is also necessary, but where they reign in reality. Christ did not only speak these words into the ear of this sick man; but he also forgave his sins and comforted him. It is well for us Christians to know this. These words are indeed easily and quickly said and heard; but when it comes to the test the light is soon extinguished and Satan begins to lead us astray. We must beware and properly learn the character and nature of the kingdom of Christ. You know how reason is inclined to fall from faith to works. But here you see no works at all, no merit, no command; there is only the offering of Christ’s assistance, his comfort and grace.
If the kingdom of Christ is to grow, we must keep the law out of it, and not be busy with works. For it is not in harmony with Christ’s kingdom to say: Run hither and thither and atone for your sins; you must observe and do this and that, if you will be free from sin. Your sins are forgiven out of pure grace without any work or law. The fanatics profess to have a nobler spirit; they urge and insist upon our doing something first of all, and allow 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. He first highly extols faith and keeps works in the background. This the fanatics cannot understand. Yet so it must be, Christ will prove his Word, and examine who has received it and who not. Let us therefore remain on the right road to the kingdom of Christ with the words of the gospel which comfort the conscience: Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 357–58.