Luther was always deeply conscious of the wrath of God as a terrible, continuing reality. He never suggested that this wrath had simply evaporated into non-existence. No, “in Christ,” and there alone, it was decisively overcome and reversed—yes, for all men. But outside of Christ and the Gospel, if one spurns the “in Christ” gift freely given in the Word, one remains under judgment and wrath. “For while the act has taken place, as long as I have not appropriated it, it is as if it had not taken place for me” (Luther’s Works, vol. 40, pg. 215). Therefore, “outside the Christian church (that is, where the Gospel is not) there is no forgiveness…” (Large Catechism, Creed, 56; Tappert ed. cited).
There is no “cheap grace” (Bonhoeffer) here. Although she glories in Objective Justification as none other can or does, the church of the Lutheran Reformation does not present this evangelical jewel as a pretext for not bothering about serious repentance. The Reformation did not abandon the awesomely realistic understanding of penitence from which it had sprung. Nor did Luther reduce the Fifth Petition to an empty sham when he wrote: “Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the Gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it” (Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer). For he added at once: “But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.” What is needed is not a mere reminder of forgiveness, but the thing itself. It is precisely because our need for forgiveness is so radical and constant that it cannot be confined to times of conscious petitions for forgiveness: “Let no one think that he will ever in this life reach the point where he does not need this forgiveness. In short, unless God constantly forgives, we are lost.”
-Kurt Marquart, “The Reformation Roots of ‘Objective Justification'” in A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus.