Grace of Repentance


Today is Ash Wednesday. That does not mean much to many in my theological circles.  But for many other Christians it is a day that launches the Season leading to Easter – the Season of Lent.  This day is designated Ash Wednesday because of an ancient practice of marking believers with ashes as a symbol of repentance. 

Hopefully it is more than symblolic, but is also a reminder that, as Martin Luther said, “When Christ said ‘Repent’ he called for the entire lives of Believers to be lived out in repentance.” 

Repentance is a lost art.  Repentance is also a neglected practice.  I suspect that many assume repentance is someting to be avoided; that repentance is what we must do if we have sinned; but if we can avoid sin we have no need of repentance. 

Seems logical. Except it mischaracterizes the nature of sin.  Sin is not what we do, sin is the condition we have, whether we are aware of it or not.  I find helpful the old saying: “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”  Thus, as Luther suggested, the necessity of life lived out in repentance. 

Perhaps a better way of putting it might be that our lives should include repentance.  I say that because repentance never stands alone. Repentance should always accompany Faith; and Faith should always accompany Repentance.  They are two sides of the same coin of Gospel Christianity.

I like the way the old Puritan Thomas Watson says it:

“Faith and Repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.” 

I love the imagery. It shows us that our salvation involves not only our conversions (which, by the way, requires both Faith & Repentance), but is a sanctifying journey which requires us to grow in our awarenss of both our ungodliness and the greatness of the Gospel.  To have one wing longer than the other; or worse, to have only one wing, would be disastrous.  Try it for yourself.  Try flying one of those balsa wood planes, with one wing longer than the other and see how it flies.  But this is life without both Faith & Repentance.

Three books I have found helpful in shaping my understanding and appreciation of the need of ongoing repentance:

Repentance & 21st Century Man by C. John Miller

The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson

Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel by Richard Owen Roberts

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