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.  Seek the Lord while He may be found.   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


Dangers of Replacing “Sin” with “Broken”


Thesis 1:  Scripture uses “broken” not to refer to sin but to either judgment rendered by God (God does the breaking) or as a term for contrition (a state of repentance).  To transpose the two radically transposes Scriptural categories.   It also confuses a word used biblically for “contrition” and changing its use for one to refer to sin itself.   Therefore there is confusion between feeling “brokenness” (sin and its damage) vs. being in a state of contrition (which is wrought by God).


Examples:  (see also:  Jeremiah 23:8-10; Ezekiel 6:9; Nahum 1:6; Matt. 21:44: Revelation 2:27;  Romans 11:20)


Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Psalm 51:8, 17


The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
    against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king
    and exalt the power[a] of his anointed.”   1 Samuel 2:10


Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the Lord and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil.  

2 Chronicles 14:13


I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.  Psalm 31:12


Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.  Psalm 69:20


But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.   Isaiah 1:28


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[j]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;   Luke 4:18


O God, You have cast us off; You have broken us down; You have been displeased; Oh, restore us again!   Psalm 60:1

Thesis 2:   Using “broken” in place of “sin” or other Scriptural language ultimately weakens a proper understanding of the devastation of both original and actual sins, and moves away from seeing concupiscence (sinful desires) as sin.   Our problem is not that we are merely “broken” but spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.   “Broken” may lead to seeing oneself as merely a victim of common but varied human circumstances or injury rather than accountable to divine judgment personally for transgression and unbelief.


Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.  Psalm 51:5


And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  Ephesians 2:1-5


although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.   Genesis 8:21b


 Then the Lord[b] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   Genesis 6:5


The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.   Psalm 14:2-3


“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?  Jeremiah 17:9


This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.  Ecclesiastes 9:3


12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—   Romans 5:12


But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.  Romans 7:8


see also Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article II, Of Original Sin – regarding sin’s effects and concupiscence

Thesis 3:  When the understanding of sin is weakened then both the understandings of repentance and justification by grace alone are compromised.   To “defang” the law by recasting sin under any commandment does not aid evangelism, pastoral care, or church discipline, as justification by grace alone is undercut.   While the law is to be delivered humbly (judge not lest ye be judged) it is still the Word of the holy God against sin, and it has consequences.


Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid. This theological theory is named after the British monk Pelagius (354–420 or 440), although he denied, at least at some point in his life, many of the doctrines associated with his name. Pelagius taught that the human will, as created with its abilities by God, was sufficient to live a sinless life, although he believed that God's grace assisted every good work. Pelagianism has come to be identified with the view, that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts.  Semipelagianism in its original form was developed as a compromise between Pelagianism and the teaching of Church Fathers such as Saint Augustine, who taught that man cannot come to God without the grace of God. In Semipelagian thought, therefore, a distinction is made between the beginning of faith and the increase of faith. Semipelagian thought teaches that the latter half - growing in faith - is the work of God, while the beginning of faith is an act of free will, with grace supervening only later.[1] It too was labeled heresy by the Western Church in the Second Council of Orange in 529.


Contemporary Arminianism (as seen in classic Methodism and some forms of Baptist belief) is of two minds about original sin and inherited guilt.  All agree about total depravity–every aspect of human nature is corrupted by the fall and incapable of exercising a good will toward God apart from God’s supernatural, enabling grace.  But some Arminians believe that children are born without any hint of Adamic guilt; inherited condemnation is not even acknowledged by them. 


The 18th century distortion of Lutheranism known as Pietism also weakened the understanding of original sin.   Pietism failed to recognize the total depravity of human nature and lost sight of the fact that a Christian is at the same time both a saint and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator). They therefore had an unrealistic optimism for sanctification that bordered on perfectionism.  This can lead to seeing works and experiences as a means of self-justification and the self and its situation as an object of faith.  Pietism made religious experience more important than Christian doctrine and stressed sanctification more than justification.  There became a double grasping of justification.  The first justification was one of embracing Christ and the second justification was one where struggling, diligent life of piety was required so as to validate ones justification.  Thus righteousness was no longer passive or received but perceived as active; needing to be acquired and confirmed.


Revivalist Charles Finney also had a weak view of original sin.  Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an "anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma" (p. 179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement. 


There are various other distortions where a weak view of sin and its effects damages the doctrine of justification and therefore the right understanding of contrition, repentance, and faith.


Regarding contemporary manifestations of substituting other words for sin, John Pless notes regarding the Emergent Church movement (several excerpts):


Missions in the paradigm of the Emerging Church is not about bringing the faith-creating Word of the gospel to those who are without Christ. Rather, it is relational. It is entering into friendships and conversation so that the presence of Christ may be identified and celebrated. As Raschke puts it, "the unknown gods of contemporary culture do not have to be resisted so much as renamed, reclaimed, and redeemed."


Emerging Church thinkers see it necessary to make a shift away from theological propositions to a theological narrative. Here, of course, they are drawing on a methodology that has been  in vogue in mainline circles for several decades. Propositional theology is seen to be an artifact of the Enlightenment while the narrative approach is argued to be both more biblical and more congenial to the postmodern period. Meaning is said not to be found in doctrinal assertions but in stories that are constitutive of reality. Propositional claims are said to be rationalist while narrative is experiential.  These stories "are not about what happened," writes Mike Yaconelli. "Thev're about what is going on inside us. They're about the deep hiding places in us that show up and reveal not only us, but God's fingerprints on our lives."'


Related to the shift from propositional truth to experiential truth is the openness to the mystical in the Emerging Church. Often this is expressed by an appeal to the emotive as subjective truth is held to be congenial to the gospel.


In Emerging Church theology, salvation is defined primarily with therapeutic images rather than redemptive ones. The language of sin is seldom employed and, when it is used, it generally describes injury or offense against self, the neighbor, the community, or creation. It is seen as victimization or brokenness or perhaps as disobedience or rebellion but not as unbelief. So while the cross and resurrection still has a prominent place within the Christian narrative, the overriding conceptuality is not atonement and the forgiveness of sins but the Spirit-led life in the kingdom of God. The gospel is variously defined, often with references to the work of N. T. Wright who is seen as offering a narrative interpretation of the

New Testament that is centered in the presence of the coming kingdom.


Joel McClure offers this definition: "The gospel is that God wants you to help solve that problem, to participate with God through redeeming acts." Another Emerging Church leader explains, "We have totally reprogrammed ourselves to recognize the good news as a means to an end-that the kingdom of God is here. We try to live into that reality and hope. We don't dismiss the cross; it is still a central part. But the good news is not that he died but that the kingdom has come." The language of the Emerging Church is not shaped by the vocabulary of grace and faith but of acceptance and participation. Finally, McLaren argues that God's final judgment does not depend on Christ's work on the cross but on "holv well individuals have lived up to God's hopes and dreams for our world and for life in it."


Emerging Church thinkers draw heavily on the writings of James McClendon, a Baptist theologian, in particular on the first volume devoted to ethics-of his three-volume  Systematic Theology. McClendon argues that the church is a community which is "understood not as privileged access to God or to sacred status, but as a sharing together in a storied life of obedient service to and with Christ."


Missing Luther's radical move, the Emerging Church begins with life not doctrine, and with ethics not faith. While claiming to be generous, open, and tolerant, McLaren-with his incessant focus on the necessity for authentic discipleship, obedience rather than knowledge, and lives characterized by compassion-slips into a rigidity that is unattainable. While the language might sound inclusive and undiscriminating, it is the language of the law. Is it not the case that if one scratches an antinomian, a legalist will be found underneath the surface?



We are called to faith in Christ not by a story of our own choosing or a

narrative of our own communal construction but by a word that comes

from outside of ourselves. It is not just a word about Christ but the word of

Christ. It delivers the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection. It creates

faith in the hearts of those who hear it when and where it pleases God. The

rationalism that the Emerging Church so much fears in modernity is

absent in Luther's understanding of the work of the Spirit in and through

the gospel, but Luther does not slide into a mystical enthusiasm divorced

from history. He does not share the fear of the Emerging Church over

assertions. Quite the contrary, as his well-known words in the Bondage of

the Will indicate: "Take away assertions and you take away Christianity.

When, the Holy Spirit is given them [Christians] from heaven, that he may

glorify Christ [in them] and confess  him even unto death. . . . The Holy

Spirit is no skeptic, and it is not doubts or mere opinions that he has

written on our hearts, but assertions more sure and certain than life itself and all experience." Both Jew and Greek found the cross to be a scandal;

even so both the modernist and the postmodernist stumble over the

proclamation of the crucified Jesus. Both seek after a form of accessibility

and openness while God hides himself to reason and emotion.


Excerpts from:

Contemporary Spirituality and the Emerging Church by Prof. John T. Pless

Concordia Theological Quarterly, July/October 2007 issue