13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
Martin Luther was not just a Dr. of Scripture but he also had a doctorate in Canon Law! His interpretation of canon laws revealed that a person who was considered to be “dying” was at that moment freed from all of the earthly penalties of sin. This is why by canon law the “last rites” of the church were so important because when a priest was certain of a person’s death he would perform the ritual of last rites and from that point on in the person’s life sin did not count. If you were to die without last rites you died with your sin. Therefore last rites could at times be given after the person was already dead to absolve them of the last sins of their life.
As Luther continued to study scripture he came to understand the whole relationship with God in a slightly different way. He started to speak about living “in sin” or living “in grace”. Sin separates us from God and to live “in sin” was not so much about the individual sins that we were committing but about living separate from God. The grace of God in Jesus Christ restores our relationship with God and living “in grace” was to live our lives in a relationship with the God of creation. Because of our sinful nature we live our lives apart from God and His forgiveness and love, we are in fact “dead” devoid of the life that only God can give. When we believe that Jesus died for us and God forgives us we have that life, and Jesus says when we have that life, “we will never die”. He does not mean physical death, but we will have the life-giving relationship with God from now throughout eternity.
This kind of thinking led Martin Luther to realize that forgiveness was not about atoning for one sin, but rather the forgiveness of God brought restoration of the relationship with God. So when the apostle Paul says that without Christ we will “die in our sin” he is not talking about unconfessed individual sins, but rather about dying without a relationship with God. The teaching in the scripture says that if we die without that relationship, then we will spend eternity without that relationship. If we die knowing Christ and living in a relationship with God then we will live forever in that relationship.
This type of understanding eliminates the need to physically confess every sin right up to the time of death. When we live “in grace” we are a part of the life-giving grace of God that is stronger than our “sins”. As long as we live in this sinful world we will commit individual sins but the relationship with God remains. Therefore we need not fret that we have forgotten to confess a particular sin at the time of death, because we are still living in the grace of God, not apart from Him.
Dear Heavenly Father, help me to understand that Your Grace is sufficient for me! Give me the power of Your Spirit so that I will know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am Your’s and You are mine. Keep me in Your grace from now to life everlasting. In Jesus Name, Amen.