Lord's Day Liturgy

Against Indulgences

When the day of Pentecost arrived, Peter preached to those gathered in Jerusalem about Jesus, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, …crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, raised up by God, loosed from the pangs of death” (Acts 2:23-24).

Many of those who heard the message were cut to the heart and said, “What shall we do?”

Peter’s well-known response was: “Do penance.”

At least that’s how the Roman Catholic Church understood the Latin translation of Acts 2:38, Pœnitentiam agite. Penance was an imposed self-punishment, a duty assigned by a priest to show sorrow for sin, which might include paying money to the church, going on a quest to view relics, making some sort of sacrifice.

The first few arguments of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis questioned this teaching as it related to the virtue of indulgences. He protested the selling of remission of sin.

We can be thankful for God’s use of Luther. If Luther were alive today, I believe he would protest a new sort of indulgence, forgiveness according to sadness.

Yes, we must mourn for our sin; Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). But salvation is not according to our sadness, salvation is according to Jesus’ sacrifice received by faith. Communion with God is sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus. And, flock, this is freedom, this is glory, this is a cause to give up a sad focus on our sin and go toward a tasting that the Lord is good.