“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘repent,’ He meant that the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.”
This is the first proposition or thesis that the 16th-century Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, wrote in his ‘Ninety-Five Theses,’ which he later posted at the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The post went viral. The theses set the flame of Reformation in Europe ablaze.
Repentance is an important Christian doctrine for “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). At some point in the medieval period, the biblical idea of repentance was misunderstood. Many people, even today, lost the real meaning of the word.
Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson rightly understands this when he writes, “The gospel called not for an act of penance but for a radical change of mind-set and an equally deep transformation of life” (Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals, 132).
Many scholars have observed that the word repentance is used many times and described using different metaphors (including plowing, circumcising, turning, and returning) in the holy Scripture.
One of the ways repentance is used in the Old Testament has the idea of returning to “the provisions and prescriptions of God’s bond” Dr. Ferguson adds that ‘to repent’ is even “used to describe the return of God’s people from geographical exile (e.g., Isa. 10:21-22), and in many ways this provides us with a helpful metaphor to understand what repentance is.”
Ferguson continues, “Just as restoration from exile means returning geographically from the far country to the sphere where God has covenanted to fulfill his promise of blessing, so repentance from sin means returning from the far country of bondage in sin and guilt to the place where God has promised to fulfill his covenanted blessings–and all based on the promise of God’s free mercy and grace (cf. Deut. 30:11).
“Biblical repentance, then, is not merely a sense of regret that leaves us where it found us; it is a radical reversal that takes us back along the road of our sinful wanderings, creating in us a completely different mindset: We come to our senses spiritually (cf. Luke 15:17). No longer is life characterized by the demand ‘give me’ (Luke 15:12) but now by the request ‘make me’ (Luke 15:19)” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Here We Stand, 133).
Luther is right. Repentance must characterize our lives as believers. We don’t repent from our sin only at the beginning of the Christian life. Repentance, our constant turning away from and distaste of sin, must remain all throughout our lives. We must learn to hate sin and overcome it while at the same time growing in the faith of and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.
We hope you enjoyed this post from the “Pearls of the Orient” blog series by Rev. Vic Bernales. Rev. Bernales is an ordained minister in the Pearl of the Orient Covenant Reformed Church. He pastors the Davao Covenant Reformed Church in Davao City, Philippines. He earned his Master of Divinity at Mid-America Reformed Seminary at Dyer, Indiana, U.S.A.