“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20).
Often Scripture exhorts us to encourage one another with the Gospel. This does not mean that we do not also encourage people by rebuke; rather that for the repenting Christian, the Gospel of grace has last word. Paul describes to the Thessalonians the Christian hope of our resurrection and writes, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (5:9-11).
We have a remarkable pastoral example from the pen of Martin Luther who was encouraging his friend George Spalatin, who, for political reasons, had approved of an immoral marriage, became convicted of his sin and refused to receive any comfort. Luther concurs that Spalatin actions were an affront to God.
Luther then counsels his friend,
“Listen to the blessed consolation which the Lord offers you by the prophet Ezekiel, who says, chapt. 33,11: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ Do you imagine that only in your case the Lord’s hand is shortened? Is. 59, 1. Or has He in your case alone forgotten to be gracious and shut up His tender mercies? Ps. 77, 10. Or are you the first man to aggravate his sin so awfully that henceforth there is no longer a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities? Heb. 4,15. … It seems to me, my dear Spalatin, that you have still but a limited experience in battling against sin, and evil conscience, the Law, and the terrors of death. Or Satan has removed from your vision and memory every consolation which you have read in the Scriptures… Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. … Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total. … Aha! You want to be a painted sinner and, accordingly, expect to have in Christ a painted Savior. You will have to get used to the belief that Christ is a real Savior and you a real sinner. For God is neither jesting nor dealing in imaginary affairs, but He was greatly and most assuredly in earnest when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sakes.”
With these and many other remarks Luther encourages his friend to look to the glorious promises of the Gospel, which offers real forgiveness for real sinners by a real Savior.