Theme: A Life of Repentance
In this week’s lessons, we see how our entire lives should be characterized by repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 143:1-12
Psalm 143 is the last of the psalms that have been called penitential in the liturgical tradition of the church. The others are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102 and 130, making seven in all. It is easy to see why the other psalms are called penitential. In each of them the writer confesses his sin and asks God for mercy and forgiveness. At first glance it is hard to see why Psalm 143 belongs with the others. Some writers have suggested that Psalm 143 has been added to this “penitential” list only because church liturgy calls for series of sevens, matching either the seven days of the week or the seven weeks of Lent. 
But this is too superficial a reaction. It is true that it is only verse 2 that acknowledges wrongdoing, and even then the confession of sin is not personal. It says only, “No one living is righteous before you.” That is, “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Again, it is only verse 1 that asks for mercy. Aside from these beginning verses, the psalm is mostly about David’s enemies (vv. 3, 4) from whom David asks to be delivered (vv. 11, 12). Still it is not wrong to think of Psalm 143 as a penitential psalm. 
For one thing, although the opening verses are in the form of a general confession of sin rather than a personal one, they nevertheless hit on the chief problem for anyone who seeks mercy from God. God is righteous and we are not. God is the judge of all and must act justly. How can he show mercy to sinners like ourselves? How can God be just and justify the sinner at the same time? This is the question Paul raises in Romans 3:25, 26. As Paul explains it in Romans, the ultimate and only answer is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for our sin and has become our righteousness. 
Again, the development of thought is instructive for those who are truly penitent. This is because receiving mercy from God is not the whole of Christianity. It is the place we begin, as verses 1 and 2 do. David starts with a plea for mercy. But then he goes on to: 1) describe his dangerous condition; 2) remind himself of God’s past work; 3) seek God’s guidance; and 4) ask for God’s preserving grace so he might continue to live and serve him. 
When Martin Luther wrote the Ninety-Five Theses that he posted on the door of the 
Castle Church at Wittenberg, which launched the Reformation, the first of his theses read: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘repent,’ he meant that the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.”
Luther was opposing a distortion of the biblical idea of repentance that had grown up in the church of the Middle Ages. In the Latin Vulgate, which was the common Bible of those days, Matthew 4:17 (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”) had been translated in part by the words penitentiam agite, which meant “do penance.” This turned repentance into a sacrament that Christians should do from time to time. When Luther studied this and other such texts in the Greek New Testament recently published by the Renaissance scholar Erasmus, he discovered that doing penance was not the idea at all. 
What Luther discovered was that Jesus demanded a radical change of mind resulting in an equally deep transformation of one’s life. He later wrote to Staupitz, his spiritual father and mentor, “I venture to say they are wrong who make more of the act in Latin than of the change of heart in Greek.”1
1Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1978), p. 67. 
Study Questions:

How can God be just and justify a sinner at the same time? 
Explain true repentance and why it can be called a life of repentance. 

Reflection: Is your entire life one of repentance, as Luther said? 
Penitential: of or relating to having sorrow for sins

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