An Office for Sin–An Office for Forgiveness

One of the wonderful teachings that is unique to the Lutheran church is the teaching of vocation.  Usually when we hear the word “vocation” we think of a job or career.  We think of one’s “chosen vocation.”  But the word vocation comes from the Latin vocatio meaning “calling.”  The teaching of vocation refers to the various stations God has placed us in.  In addition to the job God has given you, He has placed you in many and various stations: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, citizen, Christian, neighbor, church member, PTA member, city councilman, etc.  In addition to vocation and station, another word that describes this idea is “office.”  Certain things you do you do according to your office of father or your office of neighbor or office of Christian.  You really shouldn’t do anything which you don’t have the office for.  All the acts you do according to the office you’ve been given, you do in service to your neighbor.

No matter what your vocation or office is, there are certain things that go with each and every one.  First and foremost, every vocation is given for the sake of your neighbor.  God is serving your neighbor through you and your vocation.  When you serve your neighbor, his needs are being met by God through you.  Vocation is given so that you would serve your neighbor, not in heaven but here on earth, in the world ruled by the law.  And where the law is, that is where sin is.  It was in this context that Luther develops the expression simul iustus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time).¹ You are born into sinful flesh which you cannot escape in this life and this flesh cannot escape the law which rules this world.  Though God serves your neighbor through you, you will sin against your neighbor in everything you do in this office.  In meeting with couples to wed in premarital catechesis, it’s good for pastors to point out to the couple that the person they are about to marry will be the person that will sin against them more than anyone else the rest of their lives.  This means that the office of husband is a great and wonderful office to which the wife receives wonderful blessings from God through that husband.  Yet it’s in that office of husband that he will log more sins against his neighbor (in this case, his wife).  Upon entering holy matrimony, a man will find that his new-found office of husband provides him with daily examples that show him he is born a sinner.  This is because whenever his new man makes a move to serve his wife with a good work, his old Adam moves with him to sin against her.  And this is true for all the vocations which the Lord has given us.  It’s in the context of our vocations that our new man delights to serve our neighbors, but it is also within the context of our vocations that old Adam finds new ways to sin against his neighbor.

Yet, for the Christian who believes the Gospel, this reality does not scare him away from continuing to serve his neighbor.  Because the Christian stands as one justified for the sake of Jesus Christ.  He goes out to serve his neighbor, knowing he can’t help but sin, but also knowing he is justified and that his neighbor is served.  This is how one could be advised to “sin boldly,” not to revel in transgression, but a willingness to bare trespasses so to serve the neighbor with the knowledge that trespasses have been atoned for. For the Christian, this a cross.  He is constantly being torn in two between the New Man who wants to serve the neighbor in perfect love and the Old Adam who wants to sin as much as possible along the way.  This is why Luther can say that it is in our vocations that we are given our crosses.²  Our suffering comes at the cost of serving our neighbor.  Yet we do it because Christ has made the cross and light and yoke easy.

It’s through these vocations, in our respective offices that we are granted forgiveness.  Its in these offices that we see a clearer picture of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  When before the bachelor never needed to confess sins he committed against his wife, but in the office of husband finds himself constantly confessing such sins, the husband hears an absolution that is new to him.  God forgives us in respect to the offices He’s placed us in because we sin according to the offices He’s placed us in. This is why Luther teaches us in the small catechism on confession and absolution:

Consider our place in life according to the 10 commandments, are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker?

God absolves us when we sin as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, citizens, Christians, neighbors, church members, PTA members and city councilmen.  While God is serving your neighbor through you with His gifts, He is also there serving you forgiveness.  It’s in these various vocations that we see that grace abounds because its in these vocations that our flesh finds ways to sin that we’ve never thought of before.  Therefore, we see God’s forgiveness in ways we’ve never seen before.


¹Wingren, Gustaf. Luther on Vocation. (Evansville, IN: Ballast Press, 1994), 56.

²Ibid, 51.

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