6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
With this statement Luther was speaking again about the power of the Pope to forgive and remit sin and guilt. Luther did not want anyone to think that the Pope was doing this by his own power; he was simply exercising God’s power to forgive. He also says that the guilt of sin is only removed by the pope if the person being forgiven believes that the pope has the right to announce forgiveness on God’s behalf.
Being able to live a life free of guilt was a very big thing for Martin Luther, and for the whole church at his time. The church leaders had raised the people to live their lives filled with guilt over sin. The sins that we commit are too numerous to count and the guilt over those sins so great that it drove us back to the church where we could find freedom from some of that guilt. The church of that time used guilt to both control and motivate people to participate in the church community.
Later in his study, Luther comes to believe and teach that the power to announce God’s forgiveness was not given just to the Pope, but that God gave that power to all believers. Therefore any fellow believer can tell us that our sins are forgiveness, because the forgiveness does not come from us, but from God on behalf of the death and resurrection of Christ. Luther also came to believe that the knowledge that Christ had paid for all sin of all people of all time meant that we can live our lives completely free of guilt, knowing that we are already forgiven. This changes our whole relationship with God. We no longer live in a guilty relationship, but we live in the love of God!
Dear God, what a joy to know that you loved me before I was born and that you forgave me before I asked. Help me to live a life of love and not a life of guilt. Give me the strength to proclaim your forgiveness to all who freedom from the guilt of sin. In Jesus name, Amen.