What did Jesus really say when he preached to repent and believe the Gospel?
Uncover some of the negativity associated with the word repentance and lead us to the positive truth.
We will look at the meaning of “the time has come,” the “reign of God,” repentance and religion.
The Time has Come
In Mark’s version of Jesus’ ministry, the first public words out of his mouth were, “The time has come!” (Mark 1:14-20) Some translations render that as the time is fulfilled or simply put, “Time’s up!” (the Message). This goes against the idea that the kingdom of heaven is entirely future, after this life is over. The fact is that the time for God’s rule is both now and in the future. Parables such as the mustard seed and leaven indicate a reign of God that grows. If it grows, it exists now as well as in the future. The words repent and believe are said in a sense that something is present with us now, not to come over 2,000 years later. In response to that kingdom call, the disciples immediately left their nets. The time has come!
The Reign of God
In Mark 1:14-20 Jesus said that the kingdom of God has come near. The word reign is sometimes preferred to kingdom, not just to bow to gender sensitivities or other possibly suspect motives, but for good reasons. The word kingdom carries with it connotations of a small elite class that abuses and makes capital of the majority. Such “royalty” is totally foreign to the sovereignty of God. Words like reign or dominion help us understand that the kingdom of God is not necessarily understood by this world’s political terms. Others prefer to use the original Greek word basileia but using specialized jargon is useless for helping the average person understand God’s government. We enter that reign of God when we do God’s will (Matthew 7:21). It grows as more people submit to God’s dominion now and for eternity.
Repentance not Penance
Jesus preached repentance (Mark 1:14-20). Louw and Nida define it as the “result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” Friberg explains that it means to “change ones mind.” UBS calls it a “change of heart.” Repentance is not penance. Penance is restitution. A desire to set things right is good but no deeds can pay for our sins. The word penance and modern definitions of repentance which have been derived from it such as claiming that repentance is a “change of direction” do injustice to the concept of grace. Even John the baptizer recognized that any such change of life was not repentance itself but rather fruits of it (Matthew 3:8). We don’t perform to earn grace, but we do good deeds in gratitude for grace freely given by God. (Louw-Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 1988. United Bible Societies.)(Friberg. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. 2005. Trafford Publishing.)(Newman, Barclay. UBS Greek New Testament. 1966. United Bible Societies.)(http://www.metanoiaministries.org/Historical.html)
Repentance, an Afterthought
Is repentance negative or positive? Jesus did not use it in the negative sense of turning away from sin or changing our ways, but positively in turning to the Gospel. Nowhere in the entire New Testament are the words repent and sin together in the same thought. Repentance comes from two Greek words, “meta” meaning after or beyond or even outside, and “nous” meaning thought or reason. So “metanoia” or repentance is a life-changing afterthought, rethinking after we have sinned. Thinking outside the box and thinking outside of one’s self are akin to repentance. What did Jesus ask us to think about? He did not say “repent of sins.” Rather, he asked us to “REPENT AND BELIEVE” the Gospel, to change our minds and think in a positive direction. That positive direction is belief in the Gospel (Mark 1:14-20).
Thoughtfully Believe the Gospel
Jesus encouraged people to believe (Mark 1:14-20). Some bigots think that is mindless belief. In the original language belief is not a mindless activity engaged in by intellectually inferior, uneducated people. It is an intellectual evaluation. It means to be persuaded of and have confidence in the Gospel. It is a religious faith. It is a saving faith. It is not divorced from intellect. Contrary to many prejudices against those who believe in Jesus, his Great Commandment includes loving God with our minds. Belief can be either unthinking or thoughtful. The kind of belief that Jesus encouraged was to be thought through deeply not just rushed into without using the mind. Because none of us has access to all knowledge, all human belief is faith based upon best available knowledge. Belief in the Gospel is a reasonable, intellectual conclusion. (Friberg. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. 2005. Trafford Publishing.) (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/)
A fad today claims that religion and Jesus’ teachings are two different things. It defines religion differently than the Bible does (James 1:26-27) where it is simply a translation of a word meaning worship or ceremony. It is a neutral word which needs more explanation in a sentence to separate good from bad religion. Defining all religion as against Jesus is ignorance of the word’s meaning. It is part of a modern fad of interpreting the Bible by human whim rather than serious study, blaming the Holy Spirit for fanciful modern inspiration and ignoring his inspiration throughout Christian history. When Jesus announced that the reign of God is at hand (Mark 1:14-20), he was not speaking of a kingdom of this world, but ‘the nature of true religion, here termed by our Lord, "the kingdom of God."’ (Wesley, John. ed. by Thomas Jackson.Sermons on Several Occasions, The Way to the Kingdom, Sermon 7. 1872. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
The Religion of Jesus Christ
Religion and Jesus’ teachings are not two different things as some falsely claim. The religion of Jesus Christ and that taught by human tradition may sometimes be two different things (Galatians 1:13-14). Jesus taught “true religion,” not “mere outside religion” but “religion of the heart.” His religion is a “participation of the divine nature.” That is where repentance finds its root, in a change of heart which results in outward good works. When hearts are void of repentance, then any ceremonies become empty religion. Ceremonies are not wrong. Jesus instituted the bread and wine, which are very important ceremonies of his religion. However, even that is empty religion if not accompanied by a change of heart. That is why the first words from Jesus in regard to the realm of God were for people to repent (Mark 1:14-20). (Wesley, John. ed. by Thomas Jackson. Sermons on Several Occasions, Preface, First Series, Consisting of Fifty-Three Discourses and Sermon 3, Awake, Thou That Sleepest. 1872. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
The time has come. The realm of God is already here in the church. Now is not the time for negative focus on our own sins or those of others, but a positive change of heart oriented towards the reign of God.