Repentance & Faith
We cannot read the New Testament and encounter the missionary preaching of John the Baptizer, Jesus, or the Apostles without encountering the call to repentance and Holy Baptism. What does this mean?
To repent in the Old Testament means "to turn and go the other way," whereas in the language of the New Testament, to repent means to be "of a changed mind" or to "think differently." This has to do with acknowleding one's sin against God, desiring, and turning in a godly direction, and to think differently about God, one's self, sin, faith, as well as life and death. It is to learn to think in accordance with God's Word.
To consider this we need to consider the fact of Scripture that God speaks to us with two key words - God's law and God's Gospel. The law is what God tells us to do and not to do. The Ten Commandments are a summary form of God's moral law. God's moral law is descriptive of His design for us in His creation - the way things are designed to be by Him. The law shows us the problem. In Romans 3 it says that by the law is the knowledge of sin. The law functions like a mirror or an X-Ray or MRI. It shows our problem (sin and death) but does not heal us. But it is a good things we come to know this. For we not only do bad things, but they come from a heart and mind that are fatally infected with original sin (Psalm 51:5).
The Gospel, meaning "good news," is the specific message of the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Gospel proclaims and bestows upon us forgiveness of sins before God, eternal life, and salvation in body and soul. This comes about because Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, became a man by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and lived a perfect life for us as our substitute and willingly was sacrificed on the cross of Calvary to pay the wages of our sin. He was raised the third day for our justification in God's sight and now in the preaching of the the Word of God an in the administration of the mysteries we call the sacraments the fruits of His saving work is distributed (given out) to the world through the ministry of the Church in the here and now. It is offered to everyone, to all nations. The world has been justified in God's sight by the sacrifice of Jesus and this is to be offered to all in the preaching of the Word of God so that it benefits individuals.
Repentance is about being crushed under that diagnosis of God's law that reveals the sin in us - in our heart and mind and in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Repentance, of course, is more than just regret over getting caught. It is the conviction and sorrow over having offended the holy creator God - sometimes called contrition, and ultimately it means also receiving the gift of faith as we hear the powerful Word of the Gospel (Romans 10:17). For the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in Christ when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.
The preaching of the apostles is hear this way in the book of Acts (chapter 2):
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This is an apt summary of the movement from preaching the Lord's law and gospel to people in the world, the response of repentance and faith that is caused by the Holy Spirit as He works in the Word of God, and the incorporation into the life of the church as people of a faithful congregation. Disciples (followers) of Jesus are made by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all things that Jesus has comanded and given to His Church on earth. Repentance, then, is a daily activity of every single Christian as part of the fight of faith as we continue each day to struggle against our own sinful nature which lingers on until the day we die. The whole life of a Christian is one of repentance and faith. The believer in us joins with the Holy Spirit in the battle against our own sinful nature.
Luther says it this way in Part IV of Baptism in the Small Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?--Answer.
It indicates that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?--Answer. St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Planned repentance is no repentance. Repentance is always in the now as the Word of God does its work in us. Repentance, then, is not simply an episode in our life, nor is a show to others, nor is it merely manipulating our emotions of feeling bad and then feeling good or some kind of self-talk. The Holy Spirit has His way with us as Jesus dwells within us. But we dare not purposefully throw that away and risk the loss of faith, by sin becoming lord. This is not to say that we earn our salvation in part or whole. We do not (Ephesians 2:8-9). But faith clings to Christ and His promises and not to sin and doubt. God is a jealous God.
Faith grows in understanding, and despairs of self. Christian faith is not to be spiritually self-sufficient, but utterly Christ-dependent. Christian faith has nothing to speak of other than what it receives in the Word of God. Faith minus Jesus equals nothing. Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. The Small Catechism summarizes it this way:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
...knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
17 “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Galatians 2