On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther posted these theses in the hope of sparking a debate, and spark a debate they did. The posting of the 95 theses is the symbolic start of the Reformation, and it is fitting that they deal with repentance. Repentance and true reform always go hand in hand.
Here are the first three of Luther’s 95 theses, also known as the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.”
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortifications of the flesh. [Luther’s Works, volume 31].
When Jesus began his ministry, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17). Christ came to bring repentance which is a gift of God. (Acts 11:18).
According to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, repentance consists of two parts: contrition and faith. Contrition “is the true terror of conscience which feels that God is angry with sin, and grieves that it has sinned.” “Faith is the divine service (latreia) that receives the benefits offered by God” in promise and sacrament. (Art. V, 232 & Art. IV, 49).
The law terrifies and makes contrite. The promise of God creates faith in Christ through whom we are freely justified. The fruit of the Law & Gospel is contrition & faith. Together they produce repentance. And that fruit, that fruit of repentance, is the fruit of Christ. (John 15:4). Indeed, when “Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
And that which God has willed he also gives. Reform and repentance are both the gift of God. (Acts 11:18).
Notes: Pastor Matthew Harrison, the newly elected President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), has all 95 theses listed on his blog: Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison.