Do you ever continue to struggle and feel guilty over the sins you have committed in the past? True, you have confessed them to the Lord. You have sincerely asked for His forgiveness. Yet, the guilt remains? You may feel like you are the only Christian who has ever felt this way. Well, the truth is, you are not alone. Dealing with the guilt of sin is nothing new. It has been and remains to be the experience of many of God’s people. There is something about our fallen and sinful nature that just cries out, “I can fix this!” When the truth is, we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t right our wrongs. We can’t atone for our sins and, because of this fact, we are left with feelings of guilt, guilt over our transgressions committed in thoughts, words, and deeds. The power of guilt nags at us. It constantly remind us of our fallen state, our natural alienation from God, and our inability to do anything to make up for our sins. If anyone ever felt the full weight of their own sin, the righteousness of God, and the justice of their own condemnation, it was Martin Luther. Martin was born to Hans and Margarethe Luther on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony. Hans was a leaseholder of copper mines and smelters and served as one of four citizen representatives on the local council. Margarethe has been described “as a hard working women” and devoted mother to Martin and his younger brothers and sisters. Hans Luther was an ambitious man. He wanted great things for himself and his family. To fulfill his desire he was determined to see his eldest son, Martin, become a lawyer. In 1501, at the age of 19, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt. There he was made to wake up at four every morning for what was described as "a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises." In 1505 Luther received his master's degree and immediately enrolled in law school at the same university. Then it happened. On July 2, 1505, as Luther was returning to the university from a visit home he was caught in a severe thunder storm. Lightening struck so close to him that he was thrown from his horse to the ground. In absolute fear for his life Luther shouted, “Help me! Saint Anna, help me! I will become a monk!” Despite the protestations of his father, Martin Luther sold his books, left law school, and entered the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt on July 17, 1505. True to his word and promise to Saint Anna, Martin entered and pursued his new monastic vocation with great zeal. Luther dedicated himself to the strict Augustinian order. He devoted himself to fasting, study, long hours of prayer, and frequent confession. Luther spent hours in the confessional admitting his sins to his confessor. The weight of his sin and the guilt it brought upon him was tremendous. Often after confessing his sins to his confessor he would find other brothers to whom he would confess even more sins of the slightest nature. Luther confessed the most minor of his sins to the point that he made a pest of himself with his constant confession. This prompted his confessor to bar him from the confessional unless he needed to confess only grievous sins. Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair and wrote, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.” Luther came to realize that there was nothing he could do to make himself right with Almighty God. In fact, as he read and studied the Holy Scriptures, he came to understand that no one could ever achieve divine forgiveness if that forgiveness depended upon the sinner’s obedience to the law of God. Luther understood that the Law condemned, but he struggled with what the Gospel really promised. The weight of guilt upon Luther was overwhelming. Luther’s feelings of profound guilt were held in direct proportion to his biblical understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and infinite perfection. He knew that that Holy Scriptures affirmed God’s holiness as absolute. He knew that they clearly revealed God’s righteous and that His justice demanded punishment for every sin, no matter how small or how great. Luther felt trapped. He could find no peace for his soul. He realized that no human work, no work of a sinner, not even acts or rites of penance as prescribed by the church could merit the Lord’s forgiveness. He had engaged in every practice stipulated by the church but still he experienced no peace and his guilt remained. Finally, Luther’s feelings of guilt, his realization of the church’s moral failings, and his study of Scripture came to a head in 1515. While lecturing through Psalms and Romans, Luther saw that he could be forgiven! He realized for the first time in his life that Divine forgiveness did not depend upon him, his own works, or the rites and rituals of the church. He realized that reconciliation and peace with God came to man only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. The message of the Gospel took root in his heart and mind and Luther discovered freedom from sin and the power of guilt in Christ alone! The Word of God had spoken to Luther just as loudly and as just as brightly as the thunderstorm that placed him in the monastery. The words of Paul opened his heart and set him free: “20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” – Romans 3:20-25. Luther grew in his understanding that Christ’s work alone was sufficient to meet the sinner’s need for forgiveness. In 1517, the sale of papal indulgences moved Luther to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. This document of protest against the abuses of the medieval church was intended to provoke academic debate about the sale of indulgences in the town of Wittenberg, but others copied and distributed them throughout Germany. The pope did not take kindly to Luther’s protest, especially as it revealed the insufficient biblical basis for all manner of medieval church traditions. The truth of the Gospel and the power of God to forgive sin was coming into focus. By the grace of God, Martin Luther had rediscovered the purity, truth, and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He no longer felt the burden of guilt. He rejoiced in the grace, mercy, and love of God to do what he could not do in his own power. Martin Luther knew he had been forgiven! Do you ever continue to struggle and feel guilty over the sins you have committed in the past? If so, join the crowd. It happens to all of us from time to time, but don’t be overcome by your guilt. Look to Jesus Christ and His Gospel that has already overcome Satan, sin, death, the grave, and your guilt. When we truly understand that Christ has paid the full price for our sins, we no longer need to feel guilt over our sin. Christ alone is our salvation and he has set us free! The message of the Gospel is our forgiveness and our assurance. Thanks be to God! Blessings, Pastor Jim

       Pastor’s Article – May 2017

The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation:

Luther’s Need of Forgiveness and Assurance