Another great reading my wife Jill is sharing with this blog:
“I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by sin.”
It isn’t often that I have breakfast with a church historian, but it happened recently, and I learned something very useful. We shared bagels and cream cheese and discussed the theology of the Reformation – his specialty. In the course of our conversation he related a famous quote by Martin Luther. It is, he said, central to Luther’s view of the spiritual life. It is one simple sentence filled with meaning: “The whole Christian life is a life of repentance.”
As I thought about those words, I could not find anything to quarrel with. But the words seem strange to modern ears. Repentance is not a concept we like to think about. It implies guilt, which we would rather not admit, and it speaks of changing our ways and reforming our habits, which in the best of times is not easy to do. And perhaps some of us have been taught that repentance happens only once – the moment you become a Christian.
Although some people would like to deny this, both the Bible and common sense unite to teach us that as long as we live in this fallen world, we will struggle with sin to one degree or another. But it is not just the fallen world that’s a problem; our fallen nature also remains with us. In some sense our basic sinful nature remains a part of us even after we are born again. In the words of Luther once again, we are “simultaneously justified and sinful,” righteous before God because of His imputed righteousness, but sinful in ourselves. Try as we might, we will never be completely rid of sin in this life.
The fact that sin remains with us till the day we die should not discourage us in the least. Only those who have mistakenly believed the claims of sinless perfectionism will be disappointed to discover that no one is sinless in this life. In the words of Anselm of Canterbury, one of the greatest of all the medieval theologians, “You have not yet considered how great your sin is.”
Is there anything positive from the believer’s continual struggle with sin? Yes. First, our struggles develop humility and kill pride. Second, they create a deep desire for the grace of God. Third, our struggles teach us the truth of John 15:5, that apart from the living relationship with Jesus Christ we have no power within us to defeat sin and live in righteousness.
Seen in that light, Martin Luther’s comments make perfect sense. “The whole Christian life is a life of repentance.” This is not negative but positive, because our repentance forces us to go back to the cross of Christ for the forgiveness we need.
“..I danced upon the Devil’s lake, but never never never I’ll never make the same mistake…”