Part of what it means to be in the community of faith is to be bearers of the sins, vices, sufferings and shames of God’s people. Pastorally, how do we restore a wayward sinner without condoning their sins? Some suggest an absolutely honest approach, that is, being vociferous about their failures all at once or disclosing more than that which they could bear, with the result that sheer despair or bitterness are the outcome. Such an approach is frequently brutal, resulting in self-righteous condemnation of the wrongdoer. Others tend toward an approach of absolute mercy, that is, for fear of offending the wrongdoer they withhold from them much of the truth regarding their faults or lie about them, as a result of which spiritual decay or loathing are the outcome. Such an approach is frequently turned into a loose condoning of sin, and may be guilty of loving what others hate and hating what others love. Some have proposed a middle road, steering between absolute honesty and absolute mercy, but leaning towards the latter. This may be practically helpful, since an effective pastor does not see all the bad and deny the good. Nor do they see all the good and deny the bad. They see both, but aim at the good, and what good may come out of bad as God wishes it to be. This is what a true theologian does, that is, to see evil for what it really is, without excusing it or condoning it, while simultaneously acknowledging the good as good.
For effective pastoral care, a pastor thus observes a fundamental difference between failure and hypocrisy, the former referring to those who truly try to live the Christian life but fail, the latter referring to those who pretend to be other than what they really are. To those who fail, we hold out the sweet voice of the gospel, in which consolation may be found. The central Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone is to be asserted not as the goal of life but as its presupposition. In line with this, those who fail should look not at their own deeds or lacks, but outside themselves at God’s promises found in Christ:
The Gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator…. And this is the reason why our theology [i.e., God’s unconditional gift of salvation] is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive. (Luther’s Works Volume 26, page 387)
To the self-righteous hypocrite, we hold out the stern voice of the law, in which all acts of self-justification and self-pretense are exposed, and condemned. The law shows forth God’s wrath, accuses, judges, and condemns all that is not in Christ (Romans 4:15). This, too, is the work, the alien work, of the same loving God, who brings down the hypocrite in order to raise them up into God’s boundless mercy as his proper work. The pastor’s duty is not to assist their parishioners in the exercise of discover of sin through self-introspection, which might lead them away from God. Rather, the pastor is to lead them to the place of discerning the signs of God’s immeasurable grace, in the wake of which they come to a deeper apprehension of the evil within themselves. Yet this cannot be accomplished without God’s revelation. Thus Luther insists in his Meditation on Christ’s Passion on contemplation of “the earnest mirror, Christ” who exposes the sins of the wayward in order that he might bear them and carry them away by his cross and resurrection. The cross forces the self-righteous to ask the question, “Am I a sinner?,” while simultaneously fostering hope in the one who answers in the affirmative. The cross peels the mask off the evil that often poses as banality in modern culture. On the cross, just as sin is named for what it actually is, so it is conquered as it really is. This is what a true theologian does – to name sin as it really is, and name the cure for sin, which is Christ himself. An effective preacher holds out Christ not only as the revealer of sins but also as the remedy for them.
Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser”, pages 70-72