If you travel to Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, you may find yourself scratching your head wondering how Martin Luther managed to nail his 95 theses to the solid-bronze door of the 500-year-old castle church. It wouldn’t take you long, however, to realize that the bronze door is a relatively new addition. During the Seven Year’s War (1756–1763), the original, wooden door was lost in the great fire that consumed much of the church building in 1760. As a result, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia had the door replaced with the present bronze door, upon which are inscribed Luther’s 95 theses. And while many Christians are familiar with the history surrounding Luther’s 95 theses, most are unaware of their contents. Largely, they address the abuses of the papacy, especially the grandiose abuses of the papacy’s cohorts, pertaining to the supposed power and efficacy of indulgences. Luther’s first thesis is penetrating. It reads, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
The amazing thing about Luther’s statement is it teaches that repentance is not simply a one-time action, but is that which is to characterize the entirety of a believer’s life. Repentance takes place not only when a sinner is converted to Christ but every day of a believer’s life in Christ. For that is what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us in the fifth petition: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are taught by our Lord to ask forgiveness for all past sins that the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance and even the multitude of sins that we fail to remember.
The Word of God teaches us that God requires faith and repentance to be justified. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin—we cannot express true faith without genuine repentance. We cannot trust Christ without turning away from our trust in ourselves. On this point, John Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith but is also born of faith” (3.3.1). Our expression of repentance and faith is not simply relegated to that point in our lives when we “got saved,” nor is it simply that which we proclaim to others; rather, the message of faith and repentance is something we proclaim to ourselves each and every day, reminding ourselves of the gospel and our justified status before God in Christ. We who have been justified on account of God’s grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone have been forgiven fully and finally, and this forgiveness leads to a life of asking forgiveness, forgiving others, and trusting Christ alone every day of our lives as we live coram Deo, before the face of our forgiving Father in heaven.