Sin to Spite the Devil?

I found this Martin Luther quote via Internet Monk:

Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.

What are we to make of this? If I were to hazard a guess, Luther’s advice here probably comes from the same place as his infamous “sin boldly” advice to compatriot Philipp Melanchthon. Meaning, don’t let yourself get worn down trying to live the absolutely perfect life, because it’s not going to happen. In fact, expecting self-generated perfection is a great way for a Christian to destroy herself. Obsessing over the minutae of the law and beating oneself up for minor infractions is the short cut to an unhappy life and Christian burnout.

Despite the “drink more” comments, Luther certainly didn’t encourage deliberate drunkenness, as the later quote here demonstrates. Luther loved his dichotomies. My guess is, for those inclined to excessive self-criticism (like Luther, Melanchthon, and yours truly), Luther is saying here “live a little! It’s not about you!” I doubt he’d give the same advice to those who need to tone it down a bit.

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