A Life of Repentance

Jr. (original source here)

It takes me some time to kind of wind down and come off the excitement and adrenaline push of a Ligonier Conference. We just a few days ago had our annual Reformation Bible College conference, and I’m still thinking about it and thinking about the blessings that I had, about the things that I got to talk about, and that’s leading me to ask you to listen to this too. If you were there, I’m glad you were there and that you’re listening to the podcast, if you weren’t there, I’m hoping next time you will be.

Our theme, our approach for this year’s conference was a little bit odd. We’re looking at the dawn of the Reformation, and we’re doing so because we’re fast approaching the 500th anniversary of the occasion of Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. But that doesn’t happen till next year, so it’s a little bit odd to be stopping to celebrate the 499th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. So our approach was to say “What was going on in the leadup?” My last talk, I looked specifically at what was going on in the life of Luther, and it was an opportunity to speak on a theme that was near and dear to my heart. I have, I confess, if you ever come to a Ligonier conference, if you want to know what’s going through my mind while I’m up there talking it’s not “All those people are looking at me!” I’m actually quite comfortable. I don’t like when one person looks at me, but I’m quite comfortable with a big crowd. What I’m thinking about is what I’m trying to do. What I’m trying to do is to bless and help the audience with respect to their sanctification.

To put it another way, I’m trying to be prophetic into the lives of that particular audience. I get a little bit frustrated and annoyed at our propensity to sort of let loose our inner prophet when it’s safe. That we speak badly about our brothers and sisters that aren’t within our hearing. And what that does is it has a tendency to fill the ears of those who are hearing with pride. And so I want to speak to our propensity, and one of the things that I spoke to is this idea that we have, because we’re Reformed people, we’re theologically minded, we have this vision of Luther and the start of the Reformation, that this is how it happened: Luther was wrestling over some particular text or some particular Greek word, and he’s in his study or in a pub somewhere, and he has this “Eureka!” moment and then decides to go publish on it. And I suggested that that badly misunderstands what happened, and who Luther was. Luther was a genius, he was a brilliant mind, but more importantly, he was troubled in heart.

I argued that we can see what sparked the Reformation by looking at the first of the 95 theses. And the first of the 95 theses did not say “When Rome said this about this obscure text in Jeremiah, they mistranslated this Hebrew word” what he said was “When our Lord commanded that we should repent, he willed that all of our lives would be lives of repentance.” You see, what troubled Luther was not mere intellectual error, what troubled Luther was the sin in his own life. And that’s what needs to be our concern, and our reason for rejoicing in and celebrating the Reformation. The Reformation is the recovery of how we have peace with God. But our problem is we don’t even know that we don’t have peace with God. We don’t feel the weight of our sin. But Luther did. When he saw his sin and when he knew the holiness of God, he knew he had to hope that there would be some way that he could escape the wrath of God.

My talk took a turn to what may be my favorite text in all of Scripture, that text where Jesus gives the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the Pharisee stands and says “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men”, and the tax collector says, unable to look up, beating his breast, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” You see, our problem is, we’re smart enough to know that we’re not supposed to be the Pharisee. But we’re pharisaical enough to think that because we’re smart enough to know that, that we’re not like other men. And we thank you Lord, that we’re not like other men, we know that the Pharisee is the bad guy of the story. Instead of actually recognizing that what we’re called to is the beating of the breast, and that crying out for mercy from God in Christ.

Friends, I want us to be students of theology, I want us to wrestle over difficult things, I don’t have a quarrel with enjoying these things while we’re smoking our pipes and stroking our beards. But we never, never can lose sight of the fact that all these things should be done while we’re beating our breasts, while we’re crying out for the mercy of God in Christ, that is what was recovered. The truth of the matter is that we have peace with God because of what Jesus did for us, in fact the whole issue of the Reformation was the affirmation of our dependence upon His grace alone. Not our dependence upon recognizing our dependence upon His grace alone, not our dependence on the perfect formulation. I suggested in my talk that if you were to query the tax collector upon the difference between imputation and infusion, he would have no idea, he would think you were speaking in tongues. But if you asked him “Do you cooperate with God? Do you contribute? Do you walk alongside God in your justification? Do you bring anything to the table?” he would say “Oh yes I do bring something to the table. I bring the need. I bring the problem. I bring death and destruction and rebellion. I’ve got nothing to offer. And that, at the end of the day, is the heart and soul of the Reformed faith, not just the mind, but the heart and the soul of the Reformed faith. Repentance is the foundation and the substance of Reformation.