A Theological Response on the Necessity of a Repentance Prayer

Being that I serve in a Lutheran Church, I have had many people reach out to me inquiring about the theological basis of a repentance prayer, like the one laid out in Day 13, which states:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life.  I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.  In Your Name.  Amen.

As Lutherans, we are often leery of taking credit away from God in the process of salvation, and so I wanted to post a theological response as to the basis of a prayer like this.

This was one of the questions I received:

I serve in an LCMS church and there was some confusion about how to take this prayer, especially in light Luther’s explanation to the third article. Could you possible help give some insight on how you saw this being played out in a Lutheran context? I

Our response:

I will assume you are referring to Part 1 of the third article which I’ll include below.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

The central thought, according to the central explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism is that “I believe…that I cannot believe.” As fallen people, we are unable to find God on our own, let alone choose to entrust our lives to Him.

This was reiterated in the entire reading of Day 13, and I will walk you through it.

Beginning with the story of my speeding tickets and being unable to save myself from the verdict (and a fair verdict, I WAS guilty) …it continued with a confessional in Romans 3:10 and the understanding that we are all sinful and lost. “We are all guilty- that includes you.”

This is a bleak and troubling realization; a sobering one that should hit hard to both the life-long Christian and also the person who may be coming to this realization for the very first time.

It is the crushing blow of the Law. (1 Cor. 2:14, Gen 8:21, Romans 5:12, Eph 2:3)


at the bottom of page 89 there is a shift in direction. “Yet no matter how serious, big or awful your sin is, God’s grace extends to cover it.” Everything after that is a deliverance of the Gospel, the good news of what Jesus did.

The devotional continues, “When our hearts object and say we could never be forgiven, God says, “Objection Overruled” because the blood of His Son Jesus is powerful enough, pure enough, and strong enough to cover all your sins.”

In the explanation of the Third Article part 1 of Luther’s Catechism (pg. 195) it is suggested that the reader read Acts 9:1-22, and that is the exact scripture that the devotional ends with, just in case a person’s role in conversion still isn’t clear.

So back to your question. After reading the entire devotional, we come to the challenge, or response at the end.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.”

The Holy Spirit calls, enlightens and sanctifies us so we can have faith.

The primary purpose of the prayer is an acknowledgement of that work of the Holy Spirit though the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.

Over and over in the Psalms King David asked for God’s help on the grounds that he is innocent and righteous. He was not declaring that it is by his own merits or strength. He can only make those claims about himself based on His understanding of what God has declared over him.

In Day 13 the reader would have heard the Word through the Holy Spirit as they read the scripture portions for that day and, enabled by the Holy Spirit, the reader can cry out to the Lord. The declaration of repentance and the invitation of lordship over their heart comes from the understanding that this is the work of God alone, and not them.

With the understanding that we cannot come to faith by our own reason or strength, (1 Cor 2:14, Ephesians 2:1, and 1 Cor 12:3) we understand it even further that not only are we dead in our sins, but we actively resist the Gospel’s call to faith ((Acts 7:51, Romans 8:7, Gal 5:17).

Not all who hear the Gospel believe in Jesus as their Lord. Many people reject the Gospel and resist the Holy Spirit. (Matt 23:37, Acts 7:51, Matt 22:1-10 or Luke 14:16-24).

To pray the prayer in Day 13 is going against their fleshly desire to reject the Word.

The description of the action on the part of the sinner, “I turn from my sins” or “invite you to come into my heart and life” does not teach salvation by works any more than Christ, Paul, or James teaches salvation by works when they stress the necessity of good works in the lives of God’s children. In dozens of places, Scriptures emphasizes that we are saved by grace through faith, and not our own works.

But all of the writers of Scripture agree that a living faith expresses itself through good works. Our works, motivated by Christian love, demonstrate the reality of our faith. On judgement day, Jesus will point to these works of love as evidence of our faith.

So as a reader prayers this prayer it is a demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives enabling them to even pray the prayer and not their own work.

The emphasis is always, and will forever be on the work of Jesus alone.

I hope this helps.

Written by Allison and Zach Zehnder


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