By Itself, an Oral Confession That We Are Sinners Is Not Repentnce (Continued)

A similarly hypocritical form of worship is found among those who have convinced themselves of the modern-day belief that through his suffering on the cross, the Lord took away all the sins of the world, which they take to mean the sins of anyone who utters formulaic prayers about appeasement and mediation. Some such people are indeed capable of standing in the pulpit and, with a loud voice as if they were ablaze with passion, pouring forth one holy thought after another about repentance and goodwill, even though they themselves view repentance and goodwill as having no value for our salvation. They take “repentance” to mean nothing more than oral confession, and “goodwill” to mean nothing more than acts of public charity. But they preach this way merely to win the favor of the crowd. These are the type to which the following words of the Lord refer:

Many will say to me in that day, “Lord, Lord! Haven’t we prophesied in your name, and haven’t we done a number of miracles in your name?” But then I will declare to them, “I don’t know you. Go away from me, you who practice wickedness.” (Matthew 7:22-23)

On one occasion I heard someone in the spiritual world praying like this: “I am covered with skin disease. I am a leper. I have been disgusting from my mother’s womb. There is nothing in me that is whole from my head to the sole of my foot. I am unworthy to lift my eyes toward God. I deserve death and eternal damnation. Have mercy on me for the sake of your Son. Purify me in his blood. The salvation of all is up to you. I beg for your mercy.”

People standing nearby who had heard this asked him, “How do you know this is what you are like?”

“I know this,” he replied, “because that is what I have been told.” Then he was sent to exploratory angels. In their presence he said similar things.

After conducting their investigation they gave their report: “Everything he said about himself is true. Nevertheless, he does not recognize a single evil in himself, because he has never examined himself. He had the belief that after making an oral confession, any evil he had done would no longer be evil in the sight of God, for two reasons: God would turn his eyes away from it, and he would be appeased. Therefore even though this person was a deliberate adulterer and robber, a lying slanderer, and an ardently vengeful person, he did not recover from any of his evils. This is what he was like in his will and his heart, and this is what he would have been like in word and deed if fear of the law and of losing his reputation had not held him back.”

After the discovery that this was what he was like, he was judged and sent off to join other hypocrites in hell.

from True Christianity, Section 518

By Itself, an Oral Confession That We Are Sinners Is Not Repentnce (Continued)

There are many reasons why an oral confession that we are sinners is not by itself repentance. Among them is this: Any and every human being, even godless people and devils, are capable of uttering an exclamation like this and making outward shows of devoutness, when they think about the clear and present danger of being tortured in hell. Surely everyone can see, though, that this outburst is not the result of any inner devoutness. It is an outward act of the imagination and the lungs, not an inward act of the will and the heart.

The godless and the devils are still inwardly burning with love and desire for doing evil; this passion drives them the way windstorms drive a windmill. An outburst like this, then, is nothing more than a plot to fool God or to deceive ordinary people in order to be set free. How difficult is it to make our lips and our breath cry out, to raise our eyes and lift up our hands?

As the Lord says in Mark,

Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites correctly when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (Mark 7:6).

And in Matthew,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, because you clean the outside of your cup and plate, but the insides are full of plundering and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of your cup and plate, so that the outside may be clean as well (Matthew 23:25-26).

from True Christianity, Section 517

By Itself, an Oral Confession That We Are Sinners Is Not Repentnce

The Protestant Reformers who signed the Augsburg Confession have this to say about oral confession:

Not one of us can know our own sins; we are unable to list them. They are inward and hidden away. Therefore our confession of them would be false, inaccurate, maimed, and crippled. On the other hand, if we confess that we are nothing but sin, we include all our sins, leave none out, and forget about none. Although the listing of our sins is unnecessary, it should not be done away with, since it helps those with sensitive and trembling consciences; but this type of confession is vulgar and childish—it is best suited to those who are relatively simple and unrefined. (Formula of Concord)

After they broke away from Roman Catholics, Protestants adopted this type of confession in place of active repentance because this confession is based on their belief in the assignment [of Christ’s merit], which is said by itself to produce forgiveness of sins and to regenerate us, even if we lack goodwill and do not practice repentance. Another reason for this substitution is that inseparably attached to that belief is the view that we do not cooperate with the Holy Spirit at all in the moment of our justification. Yet another reason is the belief that we have no free choice in spiritual matters. And still another is the view that everything [spiritual] is the result of unmediated mercy—nothing is mediated by us or through us.

from True Christianity, Section 516


Formula of Concord: Published: 7/10/2021-7/15/2021

The “Contrition” That Is Nowadays Said to Precede Faith and to Be Followed by the Consolation of the Gospel Is Not Repentance (Continued)

The third step in these considerations is, Apart from repentance does this contrition really exist?

In the spiritual world I have approached a number of people who had convinced themselves that faith assigns us Christ’s merit; I have asked them whether they had ever felt any contrition.

“Why should we feel contrition?” they replied. “Since our childhood we have believed as a certainty that Christ through his suffering took away all our sins. Feeling contrition is out of alignment with this belief. Feeling contrition is to throw ourselves into hell and torment our own consciences, when in fact we know that we have been redeemed and are therefore exempt from and immune to hell.”

They added that the prescribed feeling of contrition is simply a figment of the imagination now accepted as a replacement for the repentance that is so often mentioned in the Word and in fact commanded there. Yes, perhaps there is some such emotion felt by people who are simple and ignorant of the Gospel, when they hear or think about the torments of hell.

They also said that the consolation of the Gospel, which had been impressed upon them from their earliest youth, so thoroughly took away that feeling of contrition that whenever it was mentioned they would laugh to themselves about it. They felt that hell had no more power to terrify them than the fires of Vesuvius and Aetna would have over people living in Warsaw and Vienna. It scared them no more than vipers and poisonous snakes in the deserts of Arabia or tigers and lions in the forests of Tartary would scare people who live in some European city in safety, rest, and tranquillity. Indeed, the wrath of God had no more power to terrify or crush them than the wrath of the king of Persia would have over those who live in Pennsylvania.

From these conversations and by my own reasoning about church traditions I have become convinced that this feeling of contrition—unless it is the type of repentance described in the following pages—is a mere piece of imaginative theater. The Protestant churches substituted the feeling of contrition for repentance in order to move away from the Roman Catholics, who urge both repentance and goodwill. After the Protestants established their notion of justification by faith alone, they cited as a reason for this substitution the concern that both repentance and goodwill would introduce into their faith something that smacks of the desire to earn merit, which would defile it.

from True Christianity, Section 515

The “Contrition” That Is Nowadays Said to Precede Faith and to Be Followed by the Consolation of the Gospel Is Not Repentance (Continued)

The next step in these considerations is as follows. Since this contrition is not the same as repentance, Is it of any value? We are told that it contributes to our faith as a prerequisite to what follows, although it does not mix together with, join, or become part of that faith. But the faith that follows it is the belief that God the Father assigns us the justice acquired by his Son, and then (even though we are not actually aware that we have any sin) he declares us just, new, and holy, and puts a robe on us that has been washed and made white by the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14]. When we walk in that robe, what are the evils that are in our lives but sulfurous stones thrown into the depths of the sea? What then is Adam’s sin but something that has been covered over, removed, or taken away by the assignment to us of Christ’s justice?

When we walk along holding our belief in the justice and also the innocence of God the Savior, what then is that feeling of contrition good for if not for giving us confidence that we are safe in Abraham’s embrace [Luke 16:22] and can therefore regard those who do not yet feel contrition or have faith as wretched inhabitants of hell or as dead people? They say that there is no living faith in those who lack contrition. To that one could add that if they immersed themselves now and then in damnable evils, they would not feel them or pay them attention any more than piglets lying in a filthy gutter notice the stench. From these points it is clear that this contrition, as long as it is not repentance, is not actually anything.

from True Christianity, Section 514

The “Contrition” That Is Nowadays Said to Precede Faith and to Be Followed by the Consolation of the Gospel Is Not Repentance (Continued)

Is this contrition the same as repentance or not? The description of repentance in the sections below will enable you to conclude that repentance is not possible unless we know not only in a general way but also in specific detail that we are sinners. This is something we cannot know unless we examine ourselves, see the sins that are within us, and condemn ourselves on their account.

The contrition that preachers say is necessary to our faith has nothing in common with the actions just listed. It is only a thought and a confession that we have been born into the sin of Adam and into an inclination toward the evils that spring from that sin, and that therefore the wrath of God is upon us and we deserve damnation, destruction, and eternal death. Clearly, then, this contrition is not the same as repentance.

from True Christianity, Section 513

The “Contrition” That Is Nowadays Said to Precede Faith and to Be Followed by the Consolation of the Gospel Is Not Repentance

The Protestant Christian world holds that there is a certain type of anxiety, pain, and terror (which they call “contrition”) that comes over people who are going to be regenerated. It comes on before they have faith and is followed by the consolation of the Gospel.

They claim that this contrition arises in them as the result of fear of the justifiable anger of God, and therefore fear of the eternal damnation that clings to us all because of Adam’s sin and because of our resulting inclination toward evil. They say that the faith that ascribes the merit and justice of the Lord our Savior to us is not granted us if we lack that feeling of contrition. Those who have acquired this faith are said to receive “the consolation of the Gospel,” which means that they are justified, that is, renewed, regenerated, and sanctified, without any cooperation on their part. In this way they are moved from damnation to the eternal blessedness that is everlasting life.

Let us examine this “contrition”:

(1) Is it the same as repentance?

(2) Is it of any value? (3)

Does it in fact exist?

from True Christianity, Section 512

Repentance Is the Beginning of the Church within Us (Continued)

As for the point that the church does not exist within us until the sins inside us have been removed, this is something anyone can conclude through the use of reason.

It can also be illustrated through the following comparisons. No one can pasture flocks of sheep, goats, and lambs in fields or woodlands that are already occupied by all kinds of predatory animals, without first driving away the predators. No one can turn land that is full of thornbushes, brambles, and stinging nettles into a garden without first uprooting those harmful plants. No one can go into a city that is occupied by hostile enemy forces, set up a new administration devoted to justice and judgment, and make it a good place for citizens to live without first expelling the enemy. It is similar with the evils that are inside us. They are like predatory animals, brambles and thornbushes, and enemies.

The church could no more live alongside them than we could live in a cage full of tigers and leopards; or lie down in a bed whose sheets were lined, and pillows stuffed, with poisonous plants; or sleep at night in a church building under whose stone floor there are tombs with dead bodies in them—would we not be harassed there by ghosts that were like the furies?

from True Christianity, Section 511

Repentance Is the Beginning of the Church within You

The extended community that is known as the church consists of all the people who have the church within them. The church takes hold in us when we are regenerated, and we are all regenerated when we abstain from things that are evil and sinful and run away from them as we would run if we saw hordes of hellish spirits pursuing us with flaming torches, intending to attack us and throw us onto a bonfire.

As we go through the early stages of our lives, there are many things that prepare us for the church and introduce us into it; but acts of repentance are the things that actually produce the church within us. Acts of repentance include any and all actions that result in our not willing, and consequently not doing, evil things that are sins against God.

Before repentance, we stand outside regeneration. In that condition, if any thought of eternal salvation somehow makes its way into us, we at first turn toward it but soon turn away. That thought does not penetrate us any farther than the outer areas where we have ideas; it then goes out into our spoken words and perhaps into a few gestures that go along with those words. When the thought of eternal salvation penetrates our will, however, then it is truly inside us. The will is the real self, because it is where our love dwells; our thoughts are outside us, unless they come from our will, in which case our will and our thought act as one, and together make us who we are. From these points it follows that in order for repentance to be genuine and effective within us, it has to be done both by our will and by thinking that comes from our will. It cannot be done by thought alone. Therefore it has to be a matter of actions, and not of words alone.

The Word makes it obvious that repentance is the beginning of the church. John the Baptist was sent out in advance to prepare people for the church that the Lord was about to establish. At the same time as he was baptizing people he was also preaching repentance; his baptism was therefore called a baptism of repentance. Baptism means a spiritual washing, that is, being cleansed from sins. John baptized in the Jordan river because the Jordan means introduction into the church, since it was the first border of the land of Canaan, where the church was. The Lord himself also preached that people should repent so that their sins would be forgiven. He taught, in effect, that repentance is the beginning of the church; that if we repent, the sins within us will be removed; and that if our sins are removed, they are also forgiven. Furthermore, when the Lord sent out his twelve apostles and also the seventy, he commanded them to preach repentance. From all this it is clear that repentance is the beginning of the church.

from True Christianity, Section 510


Now that faith [Sections 336–391], goodwill [Sections 392–462], and free choice [Sections 463–508] have been treated, the related topic of repentance comes next, because without repentance there can be no true faith and no genuine goodwill, and no one could repent without free choice. Another reason why there is a treatment of repentance at this point is that the topic that follows is regeneration [Sections 571–625], and none of us can be regenerated before the more serious evils that make us detestable before God have been removed; repentance is what removes them.

What else are unregenerate people but impenitent? And what else are impenitent people but those who are in a drowsy state of apathy? They know nothing about sin and therefore cherish it deep within themselves and make love to it every day the way an adulterous man makes love to a promiscuous woman who shares his bed.

To make known what repentance is and what effect it has, this treatment of it will be divided into separate headings.

from True Christianity, Section 509


Sections 336-384: Published 12/01/2020-01/22/2021

Sections 392-416: Published 01/23/2021-02/19/2021

Sections 417-421: Published 02/24/2021-02/28/2021

Sections 422-458: Published 03/03/2021-04/12/2021