Repentance is one of the most misunderstood points of Christian teaching out there. Some believe that repentance is the precursor to faith. This is usually taken from the words of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself, "Repent and believe the gospel!"
But if repentance becomes a requirement for faith, a prerequisite to trust in Christ, then once again my salvation is something that I earn. Faith becomes something that God gives me as a gift only after I have repented. My works take the forefront.
Repentance, true repentance, is not possible, however, without faith in Jesus Christ. According to our usual Lutheran understanding repentance has two distinct, yet inseperable parts:
1. Contrition: sorrow or terror over our sins.
2. Faith which believes the promise of forgiveness for the sake of Christ.
In this way, the entire Christian life is to be lived in repentance. If we merely feel sorrow over our sins, then we are as Judas. We fall into despair.
But terror over our sinfulness combined with faith in the work of God in Jesus to forgive my sins, that leads to joy. It receives salvation from the hand of God.
It is really necessary that be trust Jesus Christ before we can truly confess our sins to Him. If you do not trust God to forgive you, why would you ever tell Him what you had done wrong? He will only cast you into hell.
But if you do trust His salvation in Christ Jesus then we have every reason to confess our sin. He will forgive.
There is nothing for us to do. Repentance requires faith, which is the gift of God. So truly, God gives us repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18).
[Tomorrow: We stand for Sacraments!]