Ray Ortlund|2:28 PM CT

Christianity without repentance

“There is a story about Tetzel, the Dominican monk who went around sixteenth-century Germany selling indulgences and scandalizing Martin Luther.  He used to sing a little ditty: ‘Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, Die Seele aus dem Fegfeur springt’ (‘As soon as your money falls into my casket, your soul leaps free from the fires of Purgatory!’).

A thief came up to him and asked how much it would cost for an indulgence to forgive all his past sins.  ‘A thousand gold pieces.’  ‘And how much for one to forgive all my future sins as well?’  ‘Two thousand more.’  ‘All right, here’s three thousand.  Give me the indulgence.’  ‘Here it is.  Thank you.’  ‘And now here’s one of those future sins.  See this sword?  Hand back the three thousand.’”

Peter Kreeft, Heaven (San Francisco, 1980), pages 186-187.

Impenitence sells indulgences.  Impenitence buys them — or steals them.  What’s the difference, morally?  Without repentance, whatever semblance of Christianity is left inevitably collapses in absurdity.  With repentance, motivated by God’s grace in Christ, the beauty of honesty begins to appear, where before there was only absurdity.


  1. Right! For Christianity without repentance is merely religiosity, not genuine Christianity.

  2. [...] Ray Ortlund tells a great story about John Tetzel, the seller of indulgences (salvation for money) that, in part, triggered Luther to starting thinking reformation type thoughts.  This story helps us see the foolishness of trying to jump through religious hoops on the way to salvation.  Ray writes: [...]

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