If the entire life of the Christian is summarized as repentance, then it stands to reason that we need to know what this thing called “repentance” is and how it is that we can and should do it.
It summarizes all that John the Baptist, Jesus and Jesus’ apostles preached (Mt. 3:2; 4:17; Mk. 1:15; 6:12). It defines what it means to preach and teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is, in other words, the summary message of Scripture and the fundamental character that marks true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is repentance from sin.
Martin Luther (1486-1543), who is largely credited with igniting the Protestant Reformation, affirmed in the first of his ninety-five theses, that when the Lord Jesus said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mt. 4:17) he meant that the whole of life was one of repentance. Not only was Luther correct, but he also compels us to investigate the definition and character of repentance. After all, if the entire life of the Christian is summarized as repentance, then it stands to reason that we need to know what this thing called “repentance” is and how it is that we can and should do it.
About 125 years after Luther wrote his 95 Theses, the 17th century Westminster Divines set out in their Confession of Faith and Catechisms to teach what Scripture affirmed regarding repentance. It was necessary because the Roman Catholic Church had failed to preach and live by this cardinal biblical doctrine. Question 87 of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith asks: “What is repentance unto life?” The answer given is: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” This is an excellent summary explanation of what the Bible teaches about repentance.