56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
In this Thesis Luther quite rightly states that the “treasures of the church” are a nebulous thing at best. These are referred to in some places as the “treasures of indulgences” and at some places as the “treasures of the church.”
In the rules of the church over the years the church and the pope were given the power to mandate temporal punishment for the people to atone for their sins. These punishments came to be called “good works”. Then what grew was the idea that a person needed enough good works to cover over the amount of “bad works” or sins that a person had done. So some people finished their life with more “sins” not covered than covered. But some of the “saints” finished their life with more “good works” done than they needed to cover their sins. So the church said that these extra good works became the property of the church and could be counted for someone else who had sins that needed to be covered. By the time of Luther the church was also saying that the “merits of Christ” were also part of that treasury of good works.
What Luther referred to here is the fact that the contents of the “treasury” was too ill defined to be explained to the people. He wanted to discuss together with the church just how all of these things fit together. The way in which the indulgences were sold made it impossible to determine if there was enough “good works” left in the treasury to cover all the indulgences sold.
Today in the church we have a tendency to say, “yes I believe in Jesus for my salvation, but you also have to be a good person.” People who think in this way believe that Jesus saves but you also need to do some “good works”. This is not a whole lot different than the problem Luther saw with the definition of “treasury of the church.” We need to trust in Jesus Christ alone.
Dear God, Holy Father, I come to You today as one who has no merit within me! I deserve to die because of my sin, and I know that nothing I might do can cover that sin. Therefore God I trust completely in the merits of Christ for my salvation. Help me to live as one who depends on Him for my salvation. In Christ, Amen.