God of love, as in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us, so may we give ourselves to you, living according to your holy will. Keep our feet firmly in the way where Christ leads us; make our mouths speak the truth that Christ teaches us; fill our bodies with the life that is Christ within us. In his holy name we pray. Amen. [WSB]
Martin Luther said that the Christian life is a walk of repentance and faith. Understanding the various aspects of repentance and putting them together through reflection helps us keep them together in our theology and practice.
Repentance is a response to God’s grace. It leads to joy and restoration. Not frustration from trying harder, and not despair from beating yourself up. Those are forms of penance. Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes—not tries harder or feels worse (Romans 10:4). He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1-4). Therefore, repentance is motivated by love for God and a desire for fellowship with him.
Repentance is addressed to God. King David’s famous confession is a great example of addressing God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1-3). David’s transgressions were adultery and murder, two sins clearly against other people. Yet, he says to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (51:4). This does not do away with his responsibility to others, but simply underscores the primacy of God in all things.
Repentance is walking in the light. There was a time when David walked in darkness, unwilling to see things for what they were. In Psalm 32, he writes: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (32:3-4). Only when he came clean with God did he experience the grace of God: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (32:5).