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Repentance: Roman Catholicism, American Evangelicalism & Lutheranism
from Good News magazine

In 2 Cor. 7:9 - 10, God states that your understanding of His teaching of repentance will determine whether you will spend eternity in heaven with Him, or in hell with the devil.

As shown in the chart below, five hundred years ago the turmoil of the Reformation forced Luther and his followers to state clearly what they believed regarding God's teaching or repentance.

Whether or not you know it, what was written and publicly confessed 500 years ago still affects you today. No matter if you are an active Christian, or just lukewarm, your understanding of God's teaching of repentance will most likely be reflected in one of the three basic understandings explained in this chart.
Regarding the necessity of the sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 2:7-9) all three major divisions of Christiandom are in Agreement! Sorrow for Sin Sorrow for Sin Sorrow for Sin
Regarding what follows sorrow for sin, all three major divisions of Western Christiandom are in Disagreement! Many current Protestant/Fundamentalist churches insist on being non-creedal and non-denominational. They therefore provide no clear uniform statement of faith as to what they believe concerning the doctrine of repentance. Nevertheless, it can be said that these churches claim, on the one hand, that Jesus died to pay for sin. On the other hand, they also teach that only if you live a highly sanctified life do you qualify for Christ's forgiveness. In this way sanctification (the life we live) is mixed with justification (the life Jesus lived for us) which results in the denial of God's Gospel of justification by faith (Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 24). In response to the Lutheran confession of repentance, the Roman Catholic leaders in 1530 insisted to the Emperor that faith in the saving work of Jesus was not enought for true repentance. The latest Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) states that, on the one hand, "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against Him . . ." On the other hand, this same catechism says: "Absolution [announcement of the Gospel] takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sins: he must 'make satisfaction for' or 'expiate' his sins. This satisfaction is also called 'penance.'"

For all practical purposes, the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church regarding repentance is the same as that taught by Rome.
Five hundred years ago Charles V, the Emperor of all of Europe, ordered the Lutherans to explain their understanding of basic Bible teaching. On June 25, 1530, regarding the Biblical doctrine of repentance, the first Lutheran Christians stated: "Repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or absolution, and believes that, for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors."

Lutherans teach that, out of His grace, God justifies them to stand before Him. Through His gift of faith, God covers their sin with Christ's perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Even though Lutheran Christians are guilty sinners, God declares them clean and perfectly righteous in His sight, for Jesus' sake (Jn. 15:3; Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 24).
The Difference it Makes! Because Protestantism/Fundamentalism teaches that justification depends on how well one is able to live a sanctified life, the Protestant-Fundamentalist life is a never-ending uphill battle. It is a life of constant pressure to live a holy life, filled with endless spiritual anxiety. Fundamentalists know that Jesus died for their sins. But they are taught they must live a daily life worthy of His forgiveness. In reality, this denies God's doctrine that man is justified only by His gracious gift of faith. In 2 Cor. 5:21, God declares that, in His sight, and through His gift of repentance and faith, all who repent are declared righteous, even though they are struggling sinners. In other words, Protestant-Fundamentalist thinking is like a judge who frees a prisoner, but says he is free only if he continues to live a holy and perfect life. This prisoner would then not be totally free, but only conditionally free, and therefore forced to live each day in a living hell of uncertainty, without the blessed assurance of Rom. 5:1. According to the latest official Roman Catholic catechism, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more: he must "make satisfaction for" or pay for his sins. Thus, because they are taught that they must make amends for their sins, Roman Catholics often live a life uncertain that they are totally forgiven.

This is like a judge saying to a person, "You are forgiven for your crime, but there are the things you must now do to make amends." In Christianity, this is like saying to Jesus, "You did not do enough to pay for my sin. I must also contribute to make up that which you, Jesus, did not fully accompllish." In other words, the Roman Catholic Church refuses to base its teaching solidly and alone on Jesus' words and work on the cross: "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30).
Lutherans confess with St. Paul: "For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish" (Rom. 7:19). Thus, Lutheran Christians realize that, no matter how hard they try, they can never live a life of repentance perfect enough for them to stand before God, justified by their own self-righteousness.

At the same time, by God's gift of faith, Lutheran Christians are at "peace with God" (Ro . 5:1). This peace results from the Spirit convincing their conscience that God, for Christ's sake, declares them righteous, holy, and justified in His sight, even though they are still sinners (Rom. 5:8-11; 2 cor. 5:21).
This article was used with the permission of the copyright holder, Good News magazine. You can receive the latest edition of Good News by calling 1-800-778-1132.

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