When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
Martin Luther - 1st of 95 Theses
You may or may not be tracking with the idea of this coming Sunday as Reformation Sunday. It is that time of year when we commemorate a Catholic monk named Martin Luther who raised some questions about the state of the church which led to a massive overhaul that we call the Reformation. This all happened over 500 years ago but those of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition still pause to remember the tremendous freedom that was regained through that reformation.
The Reformation moved the church from the confines of an all-encompassing and constrictive religious system back to a relationship of freedom and grace with God. The Reformation moved the spotlight off of humanity and what we needed to do in order to attain salvation, and placed the spotlight back where it belongs on God’s gracious provision of a Savior in Jesus Christ.
In particular, Luther struggled with the penance rituals he was performing and the lack of progress he was making in his relationship with God despite his attention to penance. What Luther discovered is that penance is not the same as repentance. As Luther realized this, he experienced a freedom he had never experienced and his soul began to sing.
As we continue through Second Corinthians, looking this week at 2 Corinthians 7:8-13, we come to this same truth: penance is not the same as repentance. Paul says, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Penance is the worldly grief that is dependent on human effort and is ultimately not born of the Spirit. Repentance is a freedom wrought by the Spirit that knows things are bad with our heart and our lives, but trusts the forgiveness of the Lord that simultaneously imputes to us the righteousness of Christ along with the freedom of life by the Spirit. The Psalmist captured this so clearly when he said, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Psalm 139:23-24).
I look forward to seeing you Sunday as together we persevere along the way everlasting.