Reformation Sunday + October 26 & 29, 2017
How long can you hold your breath? When you do, carbon dioxide accumulates in the cells of your blood and lungs. This triggers impulses from the breathing control center in your brain. Eventually, your brain forces your body to breathe. That’s the way God designed your body: you need to exhale carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen. So, breathing is something you have to do all the time. Breathing is something you do wherever you are or whatever you are doing, and it's necessary to live. The same is true with repentance. Feeling sorry for your sins is not just for Sunday mornings. Believing that God forgives your sins is not just a thing to do at church. Instead, you are to be sorry for our sins and you are to rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness wherever you are and whatever you are doing. If you are breathing, you should be repenting.
The first of Luther’s 95 Theses states, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." Luther based this thesis on our sermon text, which says, "Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'”
Luther says more about this in his Explanation to the 95 Theses, which he published in August of 1518. Luther writes:
"[Repent is] from the Greek word metanoeite, which…. could be translated more exactly …'assume another mind and feeling; recover one’s senses; make a transition from one state of mind to another; have a change of spirit.'…By this recovery of one’s senses, it happens that the sinner has a change of heart and hates his sin. It is evident, however, that this… should involve one’s whole life, according to the passage, 'He who hates his soul in this life, preserves it for eternal life' [Matt. 10:39]. And again, 'He who does not take his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me' [Matt. 10:38] … And Paul in Romans 6 and 8 and in many other places orders us to mortify the flesh and members of the body…. In Gal. 5:24 he teaches us to crucify the flesh with its lustful desires."
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, we are focusing on the central content of those theses. They were all about repentance. They were all about how Christians confess their sins and believe in Jesus for forgiveness. So, on this festival of the Reformation, God’s Word tell us: JESUS STILL CALLS US TO REPENT.
Now, when Luther published his 95 theses, this idea of constant, inner repentance was radical. In Luther’s time people thought repentance was mechanical: you went to the priest and confessed as many sins as you could remember, the priest announced forgiveness, and then then ordered an act of penance you had to perform to make up for your sins. Of course, Luther did away with the abuses of the Medieval penitential system. But Luther never wanted to do away with personally confessing your sins before the priest. In fact, our Augsburg Confessions says, "[we] teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession an enumeration of all sins is not necessary." Luther and the Lutheran Church wanted to keep the practice of going to confession. But he wanted to increase that practice to make repentance a constant, daily event, so that repentance would not just be an outward action but also, to use modern terminology, a permanent state of mind.
Still, we have to ask a classic Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” Well, it means that you constantly monitor every single thought you think, every single word you speak, and every single act your body performs – you must examine all of these with God’s Word. You must always be aware that your whole existence falls under the law of God.
But how do we place our whole life under God’s law? The small catechism answers, "Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, employer or employee? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you hurt anyone by word or deed? Have you been dishonest, careless, wasteful, or done other wrong?" Of course, the answer is yes, yes, and yes. Repentance means that you feel true sorrow for all the sins you commit at work or at school, all the sins you commit at home, all the sins you commit when you are alone, all the sins you commit when socialize, all the sins you commit at church, and all the sins you commit even when you do not realize that you are committing them. And yet, repentance is more than just being aware of your sins. Repentance is feeling anguish, sorrow, and a hatred of your sins, feeling all the terrors of hell when you realize how intensely God hates your sin.
Thankfully, there’s more to repentance just feeling miserable. Our Augsburg Confession says, "Repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other [part] is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution. [This faith] believes that, for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven. [This faith] comforts the conscience and delivers it from terrors."
Just like breathing means exhaling harmful carbon dioxide and inhaling life sustaining oxygen, so it is with repentance. When you confess your sins, you are exhaling them out of your soul and dumping them on the cross of Jesus Christ. When you believe in Jesus Christ, you are breathing in his life-sustaining forgiveness, his grace, his comfort, and his peace. That peace, that forgiveness, and that comfort - from Jesus and because of Jesus - is also something that we must always keep as a permanent state of mind. You must always be aware that your whole existence not only falls under the law of God, but also under the grace of God.
Practicing constant, ongoing repentance also means your faith keeps telling you, “I am a forgiven child of God, a forgiven parent, a forgiven spouse, a forgiven child, a forgiven boss, a forgiven teacher, a forgiven student. I am forgiven worker, church member, relative. I am forgiven when I think. I am forgiven when I speak. I am forgiven when I act. I am at peace with God. I have no fear of eternal damnation because of my sins. I have all this because my whole life falls under the grace of God. My whole life has been washed clean by the blood of Christ. Every moment of every day, I am justified by grace alone through God’s gift of faith in Christ alone.”
So don’t do with repentance as though you're holding your breath. Don’t hold your sins inside and let the carbon dioxide of sin build up in your body, soul, and spirit. Instead, do what Luther says. More importantly, do what Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Yes, Jesus still calls us to repent. He still calls us to confess our sins, and he still calls us to believe that God has forgiven all our sins. And it’s not because we earned or deserved forgiveness. It’s not because we do such a great job at feeling sorry for our sins. No, God forgives us only because of his grace, because of Christ’s holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.
And that’s what repentance is all about. It’s all about God’s grace and God’s forgiveness. All glory be to God alone.