A few months ago, I wrote on Luther’s thoughts on three components of the Christian life. I reflected on how it leads us to witness Christ. In doing so, I talked briefly about how living the Christian life leads us to repentance. The life of a believer is one of continual repentance. As such a vital and important part of the Christian life, I’d like to dive a little more into repentance and how through repentance we love our neighbors.
We all have sinned
As Christians, we recognize that we are perpetual sinners. That we have sinned in “thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” (LSB p. 151) I love these words. There are times that I recognize that I have sinned. Moments where I feel that tug of “I shouldn’t do that” or “I shouldn’t have said that.” But there are many more times I sin, and I don’t recognize it. There are times when my motivations are selfish, but my actions are good. There are times when what I do doesn’t seem wrong in the eyes of the world, but doesn’t live up to God’s Holy standards. I am a sinner.
We’re lucky because that is not where the story ends. On the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. We now live in this weird place. On this side of Heaven, we are still sinners and yet are redeemed saints through Christ. As we live into our callings as followers of Jesus, we see that within our own lives, He doesn’t leave us unchanged. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, He leads us to repentance and changed actions. This is a lifelong process of turning back to God.
Psalm 51 is often used when we discuss repentance. I was moved to tears the first time I read and prayed “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The psalm is jam packed with powerful wording that points us to our need for a Savior. And it shows us a confession.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
In Psalm 51:3-6, we see the psalmist (David) use different words and phrases to describe what he has done wrong. He uses transgressions, “done what is evil,” iniquity, and calls it what it is—sin. In this section of the psalm, David looks at himself and recognizes that he falls short. He brings it to God and asks that God change his ways and heart.
This is what we ask during our confession. As we recognize that we have fallen short, we ask God to change us. We ask Him, in His grace and mercy through His Son, to recognize and change our sinful ways. And we are forgiven.
We go out
In Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa’s book Faith That Sees Through the Culture we read “Receiving the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, which is what the Word of Christ delivers (since the Word gives Christ Himself), leads to the rest of what Christians do. Prayer, service, and witness, for example, do not come from our discipline to respond to God’s love, but rather flow from the faith that God creates and sustains.” When we are grounded in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has saved and redeemed us and when we look to the throne of God to confess our sins, the Holy Spirit guides us in the Christian life to do good works.
In the book of James, we read a lot about Christian life and good works. We do not believe that we have works-based salvation, where the number of good things we do in this life grant us our entrance into heaven. But that from our faith in Christ, we go into the world and love our neighbors. James 1:22-24 states “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” The Lutheran Study Bible makes the point that “Hearing God’s Word should lead to the application of God’s Word.”
When we repent of our sins and ask God to change our ways, we start to see the need in our lives and in our world for a Savior. When we recognize the need in our homes, schools, churches, and communities that God’s Word illuminates, we can be the hands and feet of the Gospel. When we pick up trash on the side of the road or work with our local governments to create safer communities for all or stand for earthly justice with the oppressed and marginalized, we do so with the Holy Spirit. Through recognizing that in Jesus alone our works are good, we repent and we learn and we continually are in the sanctification process.
So we go out. We use our voices to speak truth and pray for healing, we use our hands and feet to walk alongside those who are hurting, we listen and learn. And this flows from our faith that Jesus Christ is making all things new.