A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the first of Martin Luther's famous Ninety-five Theses, the document that catalyzed the Protestant Reformation. I want to revisit that amazing little statement again. Here it is, in a somewhat literal translation from Luther's original Latin. Oh, and by the way, the quote is from Mark 1:15.
“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said, ‘Pursue repentance’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” – Martin Luther, October 31, 1517
Really? The will of Christ is that the whole life of believers should be repentance? Yes. Yes, I believe Brother Martin got it exactly right. But think with me about that.
What would it look like if your whole life – everything you think, say and do, and more importantly, everything you are – were entirely composed of repentance; and not merely acts of repentance, but an attitude and heart of repentance? Well, for sure your life would be undergoing constant transformation from the inside out, because genuine, biblical repentance means actively and continually renouncing self-reliance and leaning increasingly upon Jesus Christ. It would make all the difference in the world.
The Middle School guys I work with on Wednesday evenings are learning this. Lately we’ve been memorizing the text in Titus 2:11-12, which says, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No!’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
This text reminds us that there is an inside-out order to how God’s grace works. First, as verse 11 says, His grace brings salvation: it grants us conviction about our sins, creates faith in us, and causes us to be born again. Second, God’s grace teaches us to live in this new life, transforming the way we live. The sequence is crucial: first comes inner rebirth by the gifts of grace that include repentance and faith; second comes outward lifestyle change.
As my Middle School guys discovered, if we approach such matters of life and death in the wrong order, everything goes completely wrong. For example, if you’re in an airplane that’s going down, a parachute can save your life, but only if you employ that parachute in the right sequence: first, strap it on; second, jump; third, pull the rip-cord. Attempt this procedure in any other order, and you will die.
Too many folks attempt a pursuit of salvation in a deadly and unbiblical sequence. They suppose that the first thing they need to do is work at becoming better people. They try on their own to learn how to “say ‘No!’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives,” in the vain hope that they will somehow come to deserve the saving grace of God. These folks reduce the gospel to a moralistic plan for self improvement, which has no power to save.
The biblical gospel is, however, not merely an improved moral code. The gospel is the story of how God saves desperately wicked people from their sin. It is more that the gateway to salvation: it’s the way we live the life of salvation, constantly and perpetually turning from ourselves to God in Christ.
If you're a Christian, you live in a new way, not because you have new rules to live by, but because you have new life to live. Christ changes you from the inside out, creating new life within you that yields a new way of life.