The Doctrine that Makes All People Equal

Lent 5 Wednesday

Psalm 130:4

“For with you is forgiveness that you may be feared.”


This is why you will not find forgiveness in Moses, not in the law and the doing of the law, not in monastic vows, not in a hard and laborious life, not in giving alms, not in pilgrimages to St. James and St. Peter – in short, you will not find forgiveness anywhere, because it is nowhere but “with you.” But forgiveness is not our merit or our righteousness, but the forgiveness of sins out of grace, for free; it is the pardon and the remission through Christ. Even if you labored in the monastery for a thousand years, you would never find this forgiveness in the monastery and in your works, as the conscience proves sufficiently, feeling the desperation even in the hardest and holiest life. But conscience does find rest in this one thing, that is, when it completely and, so to speak, barely relies on the bare mercy of God through Christ, without an addition of its own works, saying: “O Lord, I have your promise that righteousness comes from mercy alone. For this righteousness is nothing but your forgiving, that is, that you do not want to impute sin.” This is why I commend to you how David describes the Christian righteousness: “To Impute sin” means to condemn, while “not to impute sin” means to justify or to declare righteous, and that it is righteousness when sins are not considered, but are forgiven, remitted, and not imputed, just as he describes a blessed man elsewhere, Psalm 32:2, and as Paul adduces this description very appropriately, Romans 4:8: “Blessed is the man to whom God imputes no sin.” For he does not say: “Blessed is the man who does not have sin,” but “to who the Lord does not impute the sin he has,” just as it says here in the previous verse. We must diligently gather these testimonies in order to see how this teaching is based on Holy Scripture, and how all reliance on the righteousness of works and of the law in the judgment of God is cut off. For this doctrine makes all people equal. For if we are righteous only by imputation, it follows not only that are we all sinners, but that there is no difference before God between a husband and a monk, between a hermit and a burgher, between a prince and a peasant. For this difference of stations in life does not help men in God’s judgment – their only help is that their sins are forgiven. Now, if this doctrine would have been taught diligently in the church, monasticism and other special ways of life would not have been introduced about which foolish people believe that God is more pleased with them. For no matter what the life may be like, the situation of all is the same, no matter how they live: we all need the forgiveness of sins, as Paul says in Acts 13:18 that God “put up with their ways in the desert,” as a good husband puts up with the ways of his wife, as a teacher puts up with the ways of his students and a prince with the ways of his courtiers. Now, when this civic life requires equity that people do not deal with one another according to the strictest justice, how much more is it necessary that God puts up with our ways, as we find ourselves in such great weakness and corruption? Daily God has reason to impute and to punish, but he does not want to watch us this closely; he wants us to believe in Christ. Then he himself wants to put up with our ways; he wants to close his eyes regarding our weakness and forgive us and consider us righteous because of our faith in Christ. This is how David turns from despair to reliance and certain hope in mercy. For when we see our sins, we necessarily become afraid and fall into despair. But we should not fasten our eyes only on our sins; we must look here, to the mercy seat: While we cannot deny that we are sinners, we also cannot deny the forgiveness of sins.


St. Louis ed., 5:2045-2047.

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