by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.

Faith

“[Isaac] will never forget that in one hundred and thirty years you got no further than faith.”[i] Abraham’s journey to Moriah with Isaac is one story among many in Hebrews 11 which the writer intends to use as an example for us because, “Without faith it is impossible to please him.”[ii] Faith is the apprehension of God in the person of Christ. Faith is the apprehension of Christ in everything we do and thus becomes the upward thrust and God-glorifying telos (end) of each moment of our life. Thus Paul writing to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (10:31) and also to the Romans, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” (14:23) is Paul in essence expressing the very same idea. This of course assumes that faith is so defined with Jesus Christ as its object.

That Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith means several things as we discuss here. First, faith includes a level of true knowledge about the object. Faith must be based upon a biblical knowledge of Christ and his provision for us. A faith devoid of this content is nothing other than superstition (eg. transubstantiation) or nicely-dressed error (eg. JW’s, Mormons). Faith must also contain belief that agrees with the testimony of Scripture about Christ, namely that he provides salvation for those who call on him. Finally, faith must go beyond an intellectual assent and agreement to a trust and commitment to the object. In the case of faith, all of these find as their object, Jesus Christ. The formula for faith includes the knowledge of, agreement with, and trust in the person of Jesus Christ as the one mediator who provides unfettered access to God.

The oft used phrase, “I really grew in my faith by…” is perhaps overused, but not out of place. What someone should mean in using this language is that they have progressed in any one of these areas. We grow in our faith as we understand not only that Jesus Christ made a provision for us, but expiated our sins through the cross, redeemed our humanity through his life, and even meets with us as we partake in his word and sacrament. Throughout our lives and through sanctification, the very same truths that we understand intellectually, progress from a passive agreement further to an awe-filled and hearty ‘amen.’ This expresses itself further as these truths move through our souls in such a way that we trust more strongly in Christ not just for salvation, but for our very sanctification.

This faith is more than just a flippant hope (“I hope I remembered to turn off the oven!”), although they are related. Both look outward within bleak circumstances, but where hope looks forward, faith steps forward. All people make this step toward their hope. The problem mainly is that people hope in white teeth or a hunk of metal on wheels. If these are our salvation, our faith will look oddly similar to that of the world, pursuing all manner of worldly possessions seeking everything…or anything at all that can placate the hunger within. Let us rest in that our faith is in none of these! Let us praise in that our salvation is more than just, “well I hope that I am saved!” We believe in Christ and trust in him for salvation confidently.

Repentance

If faith is the trust in God, repentance is the act whereby our previous faith, which rested solely on the self, is repudiated. Repentance is the move from self and faith completes the move by reaching to Christ. Repentance in the biblical sense is radical. We should understand repentance in any single event as the dashing to pieces of an idol and replacing it with the true God once again (or for the first time). It is in this sense no mere change of mind, but powerful enough to rip away our faith from an idol and redirect it to Christ.

Like faith, there is a necessary formula to produce an act of repentance. There must first of all be recognition of the divine standard being broken by the one repenting. An awareness of the rupture in the relationship between God and man must always be present. Also, as difficult as it will be to nail down, there must be an emotive element. The attitude toward what has been committed cannot be neutral. In any particular instance, the attitude felt when one confesses, “I have mutilated the glory and name of God,” must never be equivalent to stating, “I am sitting in my living room right now.” There is an involvement in confession that includes a healthy hatred and shame in having done it. I say healthy to emphasize this is very often done in an unhealthy way. We must not, as the early Luther did, be consumed with our own sin. Repentance is not attrition – it is not self-preoccupation with no sense of remorse. This indeed is the final ingredient in biblical repentance, resolve. This is the point in repentance where volition brings us away from the trust in sin and self to faith, where Christ is apprehended. Repentance without resolve to forsake the old life is pure misery.

Repentant Faith

These two distinct movements, as it has already been shown, are uniquely related. They are distinct movements, but not divided. In any given instance of faith or repentance, the other is present. There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the two and they should probably be understood as occurring at the same time. Distinction without division (Chalcedon) is a helpful way to imagine these movements.

As Christians, this is a lifelong movement and can be a sort of pendulum swing. As we begin, our repentance is done without much understanding of God’s holiness or with a comprehensive understanding of who he is toward us. As we age, our knowledge of his love and the depth of his holiness begin to loom large. We also begin to sin differently – where we once committed many sins without much filter, we are given over to a holier mind as Christ reigns in our bodies. Yet even though we sin less, we grieve more because we understand the depth of our offenses even further in light of his identity. In either end of our personal timelines, the depth of our repentance and strength of our faith are not what saves us. It is the strength of the hand which grasps us, not ours on him, which brings the provision of salvation to fruition within us.

 

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Berkhoff – Systematic Theology

Fear and Trembling – Kierkegaard

Institutes 3 – Calvin