“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
In one sense, you can’t come to the Sacraments without repentance. That is to say, you must recognize your sins and be sorry for them in order for the Sacraments to have any benefit for you. But in another sense, you can’t truly repent until after you have gone to the Sacraments.
This is because repentance has two parts. The first part is what drives you to find the gifts given in water, word, bread, and wine. The second part is what those means of grace accomplish. “Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors.” (Augsburg Confession, XII.1-6).
The knowledge of sin comes through the Law, but repentance doesn’t stop there. If it does, you will only end up despising Christ or despairing of your condition. Repentance is brought to completion by the Absolution, which is found in the Absolution, and also in Baptism and the Supper, which are tangible ways that the forgiveness of sins is delivered to you.
Repentance isn’t a one and done deal. This article of faith specifically deals with what happens when you sin after you have been baptized. It’s possible—in fact it’s guaranteed—that you will fall again after Baptism. Repentance is returning to your Baptism in confession and receiving the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that is in the Sacrament. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life.
There is one additional part of repentance, though it’s more of a fruit of repentance than repentance properly speaking. “Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance” (Augsburg Confession, XII.6). As fruits, good works are the result of repentance, never the cause. However, because the Spirit is also at work in completing repentance through the means of grace, these fruits are bound to follow.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.