From the Word
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:5–9, RSV
All hear the gospel, but it does not enter the hearts of all, for they do not all feel their sins. But the gospel teaches that everything we have in us is sin. Therefore it also offers comfort, forgiveness of sin. But if I am to receive forgiveness of sins. I must have knowledge of sin. Forgiveness of sins consists in nothing more than two words, in which the whole kingdom of Christ consists. There must be sins, and if we are conscious of them, we must confess them; when we have confessed them, forgiveness and grace are immediately present. Before there is forgiveness, there is nothing but sin. This sin must be confessed that I may feel and know that all that is in me is blindness; forgiveness of sins cannot exist where there is no sin. There is, however, no lack of sins to confess, but the lack is in not feeling and knowing our sins.
When God forgives sins it is quite a different thing from man’s forgiving. When one man forgives another his sins, he thinks of them again, or perhaps even lays them up to him. But God condemns no more, he banishes all wrath from him, he thinks no more of sin. Now when this wrath is gone, then hell, death, the devil and all misfortune that the devil may bring with him, must also disappear; and instead of wrath God gives grace, comfort, salvation and everything good that he himself is. Sin is all unhappiness, forgiveness is true happiness. The divine majesty is great, great is also that which it forgives. But you must know in your heart how great these words are in which you must trust and for which you can cheerfully die. Only a few rightly receive these words, therefore there are but few true Christians.
This then is the kingdom of Christ. Here there is no work, but only the acknowledgment of all our misfortune, and the reception of all the gifts of God. Therefore it is not by merit; it is a simple gift. This is the gospel upon which faith depends. I need no works before God, and need only be careful rightly to confess my sins. Then I have forgiveness of sins and am one with God, all of which the Holy Spirit works in me.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 360–61.