On the question of repentance, the Lutheran reformers made a clean, decisive break with the teaching of the Pope, eschewing the Roman Catholic teaching that repentance has three parts (contrition, confession, & satisfaction), preferring instead the clear teaching of Scripture and the confession of the historic Christian church on repentance. In fact, the entire Reformation may be over-simplified into a question of repentance.
“Strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven” (Augsburg Confession, XII, 3-5).
Two parts. First, contrition, that is, sorrow over one’s sins. This comes from the preaching of the Law and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Second, faith, that is trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This comes from the preaching of the Gospel, and is also the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26).
This is where Rome gets it horribly wrong. By adding a third part to repentance—satisfaction—all the comfort, all the reliance on Jesus’ full satisfaction for sins, is removed. Instead, removal of punishment and appeasement of God’s wrath comes from the works a person does to reverse the effects of his sins. Garbage. There’s no hope in that. With such a papist, false understand of repentance, we would see repentance as a once-and-done thing we do for each sin. Got a sin? Be sorry, confess it, make satisfaction for it; and you’re done. Not Scriptural; not Lutheran.
See how this plays out in a Roman Catholic understanding of confession. Why go to confession? Because you have sins that need to be taken care of. Compare that with a Lutheran understanding of confession. Why go to confession? Because you’re a sinner. Because you have full and complete trust that for Jesus’ sake, all your sin is removed. Because you love to hear the word of Absolution.
Repentance acknowledges your complete sinfulness and your utter inability to free yourself from your sinful condition. And at the same time, repentance relies completely and perfectly on Jesus for forgiveness. That’s why the first of Luther’s 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the whole Christian life to be repentance.” Repentance—sorrow over sin and perfect faith in Jesus for forgiveness—is where a Christian lives. Like the water around a fish, or air around a bird, repentance is your habitat.
True repentance, therefore, comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word of God, properly divided Law and Gospel. Repentance is not your work; it is the work of the Holy Spirit within you. So, happy Pentecost. Thank God that you have received the Holy Spirit, who has worked repentance within you, who keeps you in that repentant faith by gathering you around God’s Word and Sacraments.