When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance”, wrote Martin Luther as he began the 95 Thesis. Stop and think about that for a moment. All of the Christian life is repentance. Ouch.
Why is repentance so important? Because it’s only when we see “the ugliness of our sin that we can glimpse the beauty of God’s grace”. Dennis Johnson observed that “Repentance is intrinsic to "the gospel of God's grace", for only those who see the ugliness of their sin can glimpse the beauty of God's grace. Repentance is not only a turning from sin and misplaced worship, but also a turning towards God. While repentance is appropriately shown in heartfelt grief for past evil we should not overlook it's positive dimension; turning in humble dependence to the living God who saves. Paul speaks of a worldly sorrow that leads to death. Such was Judas remorse when he saw his own treachery lead to Jesus condemnation. Whereas Judas turned from God towards self-destruction, God's gift for repentance turns us back to him. Despite the folly and evil of past attitudes and actions, we turn to Him in the hope that his mercy can overpower our guilt, and that His spirit can overpower proneness to rebellion. People who have repented in response to the Gospels call will "practice deeds worthy of repentance". Because repentance is a turning towards God, it is inextricably bound to faith (The Message of Acts, page 153).
Ultimately, repentance is more than a onetime thing. Repentance is the way we make as followers of Christ in the gospels. The clearest sign that we are growing and developing Christ-like character is that we hate our sin and are repenting of it. Repentance should permeate all of life, like salt permeates your dinner and makes it tastier. Every area of your life should be marked by repentance. All of your life should be marked by an intentional turning away from sin and towards God, as you trust in the good news that Jesus saves sinners. The gospel is for each and every day, it’s something that should shape you each and every moment, and seeing it should lead to a continual posture of repentance.
Luther got this. Almost 30 years later, on February 16, 1546, Luther’s last words, written on a piece of scrap paper, echoed the theme of his first thesis: “We are beggars! This is true”. From opening thesis to dying breath, Luther understood this and lived with it at the foot of the cross, in that place where our rebellious sin condition meets with the beauty of God’s incredible grace in the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ—a gospel that is deep enough to cover each and every flaw us “beggars”. As you move through Lent and towards Easter, as you move through this time that has historically been marked by thinking of the suffering of Christ, and as you think about the gospel; see your sin, see the cross and the grace of God, and make repentance your continual approach to life.