Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church 501 years ago today. We remember it and celebrate the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of that day 501 years ago we should do less celebrating and more repenting.
Luther’s first thesis is this:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
We repent because of our sin, our rebellion, our failure. And how should we repent? The Scripture teaches us how. Three wonderful prayers of repentance are found in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9.
These chapters are easy to remember with a little mnemonic device (that, to be clear, has no numerological significance).
The number 6 is the number of a man and the beast of Revelation is 666 (Revelation 13:18). If 666 is the epitome of the rebellion and failure of man, then perhaps it’s helpful to think of repentance as turning our own rebellion and failure on its head. Turning 666 upside down results in 999. So take some time today to turn to Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, or Daniel 9 and make those words your own.
An essential way to remember the Protestant Reformation is to repent of our own sin and cling to the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.
Finally, we must be careful to guard against pride even in our repentance, as though we might somehow think that we are “dressed to the nines” in repentance just because we have prayed these passages from Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel. No, we should guard our own hearts and remember that prayer recorded in The Valley of Vision:
O God of Grace,
You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom's robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, "Father, forgive me," and you are always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day's work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.
"Continual Repentance," in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 136-137