On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. It’s slightly less dramatic than it sounds, although that’s not to diminish Luther’s boldness. It wasn’t like putting up a flyer at your local Starbucks but it also wasn’t like pinning it on the White House door. Think of it along the lines of an ad in the paper. Since the church remained the center of society, notices were often nailed to the church doors. These theses were meant to call the Church back to living in line with God’s Word instead of the drastically off-course path Rome had taken it on.
Theses number 1 reads as follows:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
This idea of the Christian life as daily repentance remained a constant part of Luther’s teaching, and for many people it continues to aid their understanding of the Christian life. Even our best deeds carry hints of corruption. Rather than feeling crushed by this it should free us to pursue sanctification in Christ without the need to be perfect. Repentance isn’t relegated to conversion. No, the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.
Robert Kolb provides the following commentary on Luther’s understanding of repentance.
“Repentance is an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into new life. In light of the passive righteousness of faith, confession is no longer something that we do for God while trying to render the appropriate recompense to God for our sins (that would be to deny the work of Christ). Instead, by the activity of confessing sins, Christians empty their hands of their sins. It is a way of carrying out the blessed exchange. In confessing their sins, Christians may say, ‘Lord, I don’t want to hang on to my sins anymore. You take them. Get them out of my sight.’ Only when their hands and hearts are empty are they in a position to receive the benefits of Christ” Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 99.