What the Heck Happened to Repentance?

By Joel Hess


Every week we witness some unashamed celebrity apologize for…  She doesn’t repent, mind you, she apologizes. She feels bad that those who buy her crap feel bad about something she said or did. We laugh at these fools on the tube who probably don’t even know themselves, whether they are sorry or not, as they are likely lost in their own confusion between reality and the characters they play.

Yet while we laugh at Hollywood, this sort of apologizing has taken the place of true repentance in even our conservative evangelical churches, including my own church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. May we repent of our shallow repenting!

For many Lutherans the closest we get to calling people to repentance and cultivating a repentant life is that silly generalized corporate confession that melodramatically proclaims, “I a miserable sinner…” Nearly anyone can mutter those general words and then hear the pastor cheerfully and generally forgive him, sending one back to whatever he was doing. If we are so careful to give out the body and blood, why are we so careless in throwing out “I forgive you”? That’s not grace; that’s confusion.

We Lutherans are great at saying we are miserable sinners. But that isn’t repentance. Yes, those true words can bring about repentance or express repentance, but simply saying them or even agreeing in general that we are miserable sinners is not repentance. It’s a fact.


So we should not be surprised when people wonder why they should have to give up a certain lifestyle in order to be a Christian. The church hasn’t been asking anyone to give up anything this last hundred years, so why start now? Rightfully, those struggling with same sex attractions feel singled out. They correctly wonder why they seem to be the only ones who have to give up something.

Our doctrine of original sin and sinner/saint have been used as an excuse for fatalism and shallow repentance. Some of us even boast in it and accuse anyone who looks for fruits of repentance as being a Pietist.

At the same time, many of our preachers don’t call a thing a thing. They don’t point fingers and say “you” killed Jesus. Instead now-a-days I hear, by so many well intentioned pastors, that I’m broken. Jesus will fix me.

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Repentance is not admitting that we are broken. Good Lord, if I hear another preacher moan about how we are all broken! We aren’t broken, we are dead, and we are holding our dead self at the altar not willing to let it go. God won’t fix it. God must kill it. But we don’t want to actually lose anything. We don’t want to die. We just want everything fixed. Repentance isn’t telling God we have a bunch of trash in the house. It is throwing the trash out. It is lighting it on fire.

Repentance has two parts; 1. Contrition, being terrorized by our sin. 2. Trusting in Christ’s forgiveness. If we are really terrorized by our sin, we will do something to stop it. We will put guards on our computers, on our mouths, avoid situations that tempt us, pray to the Lord to preserve us. The repentant Christian actually does things reflecting his desire not to sin! Not because he wants to become perfect or earn salvation, but because he hates that sin and desires to please his Savior!

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Repenting is not a quid pro quo. God is not waiting for you to perfectly repent and then He will perfectly forgive like an ATM machine. Repentance is not an end but a beginning. The repentant child of God may find herself confessing the same sin every Sunday, yet sincerely desires otherwise. But she isn’t complacent in her sin, she is complacent in her Savior who allowed Himself to be broken, killed, and punished for every sin. He paid a price for those sins. He died so that you may be free from those sins! Free of their eternal consequence, but also free of their chains today.

So repent and believe (synonymous) the Good News!