On the evening of the 31st of October, 1517 the German monk, Martin Luther, was not going trick-or-treating.
He was doing something that would turn the visible expression of Christianity upside down..
On that night, he nailed up a paper containing “95 Theses” on the door of the church in Wittenburg for the purpose of debate. These theses called for real change within the established Catholic Church of the day. Some unknown soul got his hands on this document and took it to a man who possessed the latest in communications technology: the printing press.
With the aid of this technology, Luther’s ideas spread through Europe like a flame through petrol, igniting hearts and minds to the truths of the Gospel. This is what kicked off, what history records as, “The Protestant Reformation”. It would take a big book to go through all 95 of these revolutionary theses. So, how about the first one? Luther’s first thesis was this: Jesus commands that the entire life of a Christian should be one of repentance.
Repentance. It’s not a DJ-cool word nowadays. There’s not a “repentant” emoticon under “How I’m feeling” on Facebook. It’s considered far too “old school” for our trendy Christian tastes. It was, however, the first word of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4). It was the first word of John the Baptist (Luke 3). It was the call by Peter in the very first sermon of the Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Noticing a pattern?
If you have never repented, you are not saved. If you are not regularly practicing repentance, you are falling away from God.
Repentance is turning away from our sin and foolishness and turning to God to live a new life full of His love and power. It is saying no to the thoughts and behaviours that are contrary to God’s word and embracing the lifestyle God calls us to. When the angel announced to Joseph that his fiancée, Mary, was going to have a baby conceived by the Spirit, he said that this Messiah would, “Save his people from their sins.” That’s why Jesus came. Repentance is embracing that salvation from sin.
There is no finish line this side of eternity. In this life, we always have more than enough room to grow spiritually. We can always love God and people more than we do. We can always be kinder, gentler and bolder. Every day we can get before God and say, “Please shine your light on my life. Is there anything here that displeases you?” If you are on the road to Heavenly Zion, there is more and deeper repentance ahead for you. The good news is that we can safely bring our sin before this holy God and find mercy because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. He has already paid the penalty; now we can find acceptance even in our broken condition.
Repentance is more than just verbally confessing your sins. The devil may say that he’s a sinner, but he will never repent. Repenting is turning away from our sin and embracing God’s holiness in thought, word and deed. You do not have to be educated or have a degree in theology to do it. You just need a heart that is sensitive to the Holy Spirit (note His first name).
Practically, the things we can repent “of” are as numerous as the things we can repent “to”. We repent of unbelief to faith. We turn from complaining to thankfulness. We turn away from criticising people and turn to praying for them (this includes our parents and the government). We repent of anxieties and fear and turn to God in trust and praise. From being self-centred to being a more conscientious friend. We turn from sexual immorality to chastity (if we’re single) or sex with our spouse alone (if we’re married). We turn away from looking for true meaning and significance in a relationship and turn to God alone to satisfy us and to define who we are.
A man (or woman) who lives a life of repentance is a dangerous tool in the hands of God. The Bible says, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and he will exalt you.” (1 Peter 5). The key to deeper spiritual power in our lives comes from continual repentance to God. Any church that practices this and then (and only then) begins to preach it will be unstoppable.