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Theology > Jesus > Life and Teaching > Call to Repentance


Subsequent to the imprisonment of John the Baptist Jesus went into Galilee and with the following words began His public ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). In order to be a part of the kingdom which was being announced by both John and Jesus as at hand the potential followers of Christ are informed by Him that they must repent and believe.

The message of Jesus was the same as the message of John; the Scripture records that “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remissions of sins” (Mk. 1:4; see: Matt. 3:7-10; Lu. 3:7-14). The last prophet of the old era and the initial Prophet of the new era had the same message: “Repent.” Even John’s baptism was called “a baptism of repentance,” that is, his baptism was associated with various aspects of repentance: the confession of the need of repentance,  the determination to give evidence of repentance, and the testimony by the individual of his repentance.

“Repent” translates metanoeō, a verb which literally means “to turn in one’s mind.” Essentially to repent is to change, to change the mind, to think differently, to adopt a new viewpoint. It is much more than an emotional response to Truth; it is profound in that it affects the total person, bringing a correct and correcting worldview, and a new and growing desire for the moral as exemplified in devotion to Christ.

In repentance one’s basic frame of reference is changed from the earthly to the heavenly, from man to God, from humanism to Theism. All of life comes to be interpreted in terms of Revelation, the Word of the living God, rather than in terms of reason, the musings and rationale of man. Human volition is made to submit to Divine determination (see: Theistic Determinism). The old is put off and the new is put on; it is both instantaneous and progressive. The mind is renewed and begins the experience of being renewed.

Repentance denotes a fundamental change in the relationship of a person to God. Instead of guilt before the Judge, there is delight in the Father. Life no longer centers in “I,” rather the focus is “God.” The sojourn on earth is no longer for the accumulation of things because I understand that this is not my home—I am a pilgrim just passing through. Days are no longer filled with the selfish pursuit of personal satisfaction, rather, they are lived in order to seek, find, and do the will of God. Repentance brings a transformation of life, and heaven takes note. Only of repentance does the Bible affirm: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lu. 15:10). To repent is to desire purity of heart which pursues only the Good.

Repentance is anchored in and motivated by fear of God. It is a fear of His person, His spoken Word, and His judgment that is future. It causes one to evaluate the past, contemplate the present, and to anticipate the future—all of this involves the volitional, the emotional, the ethical, the intellectual, and the spiritual side of man. In light of the convicting pressure, the individual realizes that he must think and do differently, so repentance is really a radical change in the individual’s disposition that relates more than just to the mental. The individual is admonished by the Spirit to repent, and the individual repents.

On the Divine side of things, on which all things depend and await His determination, the Scripture reveals that repentance is of God, that is, it is His doing:

Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31);

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:18).

Note in the second verse that the Gentiles did indeed repent, but their repentance was granted by God. And for this grace given to them other believers glorified God. So the doing of God is neither questioned nor debated but praised. Viewed from this perspective repentance becomes a miracle of grace.

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