From the Word
17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:17–18, RSV
With these words one can apprehend God as he is to be apprehended. You do not seek him; he rather seeks you and pictures his Son before you as a Saviour and not as a judge. It is a common practice to represent the gracious Saviour as a judge, and from this practice has sprung a dependence upon the merits of saints, causing us to turn away from Christ and take refuge in the saints. We fancy that the saints are more gracious and more kindly disposed to us than even God himself. Therefore, one says, St. Peter is my apostle; another says, St. Paul is my patron; and so on. But God cannot permit this; the glory must belong to him. My conscience must rest upon the foundation, the eternal, all-knowing truth. God alone is the truth, and the conscience must rest upon him and nothing else.
If I picture Christ as a judge, I shall fear him. The result will be that soon I am constrained before him, grow afraid of him and then hate him, and my heart becomes corrupt and blasphemous. But when I know him as the gospel pictures him, and long for him as the best friend that my heart can choose, then love soon follows. No friend can do as much for us as he has done. I forget father and mother, I have a strong confidence in him. But if one simply fears him, one falls back on his good works and does not recognize Christ as Mediator, thinking to run into the presence of God without him. In this way he works his own ruin.
Learn then from this lesson to know Christ aright and to hold him between yourself and the Father; let him be the sacrifice alone, which shall secure heaven and salvation. When this passage comes to mind in the hour of death, when the test comes, what comfort to meditate on its message — how the Lord came not to condemn the world, but to save it. He who believes cannot be lost, but will be saved, since it is true that naught accomplishes our salvation except Christ alone, who came to be our Saviour. Thus it follows that where faith is, there sin does no harm; for faith makes us Christ’s.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 230–31.