After explaining that the time was fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus urged people to repent. What did He mean by this?
The first two statements of explanation that Jesus gave as He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God—“The time is fulfilled” and “the kingdom of God is at hand”—were covered in previous articles in this series. We now come to the first of the two commands Jesus issued: “Repent” (Mark 1:15).
In the previous article we noted that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Our human body must be changed to a “spiritual body” (verse 44) if we are to be part of this Kingdom.
Obeying Christ’s command to “repent” is the first step in the process that prepares us for change from flesh and blood to spirit. This change is necessary in order for us to become members of God’s immortal family and rulers within His eternal Kingdom (John 1:12; Revelation 1:6; 5:10).
Repentance: a key theme
Encouraging people to repent of their sins was an integral part of the gospel Jesus preached. Commenting on two occasions where people had lost their lives, Jesus said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5, emphasis added throughout). Later, He “began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent” (Matthew 11:20).
The historical record shows that the disciples Jesus trained also “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). As Peter explained, repentance and then baptism were the initial steps Christians must take when they respond to the gospel (Acts 2:38).
Repent means a change of mind and deeds
The Greek word that is translated repent in the New Testament means “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness” (J.P. Louw and Eugene Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 1988). A person who repents realizes that he or she has been sinning—breaking God’s holy and beneficial law—and that he or she needs to change.
The calling and stimulus for wanting to repent—to change our lives—comes from God the Father (John 6:44). As Paul wrote to members at Rome, “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
Although the realization of our need to change may come in various ways—a key moment in life, a time of contemplation, hearing a specific message, the example of a friend—it is always marked by a change of “heart”—that is, our way of thinking (Acts 2:37). Instead of ignoring God’s instructions as we had been doing, the primary focus in our lives becomes earnestly learning God’s law and living in accordance with it. God’s way of life is now our life. We love God’s instructions and want to do what He expects of us (1 John 5:3).
Understanding that a dramatic change in thinking occurs when people repent of their sins, some have referred to this event as “giving your heart to the Lord.” And while our hearts are indeed at the center of this process, we must also understand that repentance is far more than simply an emotional moment. When we truly repent, we will also act differently—that is, by living righteously—and we will continue living righteously for the remainder of our lives.
Genuine repentance is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing way of thinking and living in accordance with God’s instructions found in His Word—the Holy Bible.
Repent of what?
If we are going to obey Jesus’ command to repent, we must also understand what He expects us to repent of. The obvious answer is that we must repent of our sins—the times we have broken or ignored God’s law. As Peter told the crowd in Jerusalem, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
The Bible says “sin is lawlessness,” specifically meaning transgressing God’s laws (1 John 3:4). In light of this, what would have been some of the sins Christ commanded the people of the first century and us today to repent of? Here are a few sins to consider.
- Breaking the 10 Commandments (Matthew 19:17; John 15:10; 1 John 2:4).
- Not observing the seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2; Hebrews 4:9).
- Not observing the biblical festivals (Leviticus 23:2; Matthew 26:17; Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 5:8).
- Sexual acts before or outside of a traditional marriage (Matthew 19:4-6, 18; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).
Sadly, many within mainstream Christianity no longer understand what sin is. Many teach or condone some of the things Jesus expects people to repent of. The honorable traits of tolerance, love and respect have been so distorted and misapplied that many now think Jesus approves of the very things that were sins in the first century and that continue to be sins today.
While our hearts are indeed at the center of this process, we must also understand that repentance is far more than simply an emotional moment.Though their hearts and emotions may indeed be touched by the Messiah’s message, too many have mistakenly continued living in opposition to God’s teaching. Those who neglect or fail to understand this more complete understanding of repentance—that it includes our minds and our obedience to God’s instructions in the Bible—are not properly responding to the Messiah’s command to repent.
God hasn’t changed His mind about what is and isn’t sin (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). In order to truly repent, we must accept God’s definitions of sin and then alter our conduct accordingly.
After repentance, baptism
The biblical response to real, genuine repentance is baptism. As Peter told the crowd gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Baptism represents our sins being washed away (Acts 22:16). The Holy Spirit helps us understand God’s timeless instruction in spite of religious confusion in the world around us (John 16:13; 1 John 5:19). This power from God (Luke 24:49) strips away spiritual blindness (2 Corinthians 3:14-16; Ephesians 4:18); and when we receive it via baptism, it identifies us as “children of God” (Romans 8:9, 14, 16).
In addition to these wonderful benefits of having God’s Spirit, there is still another important blessing that God extends when His Spirit is present within us. It is the guarantee of receiving eternal life. As Paul wrote, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit” (Romans 8:11).
The new life we will receive will be eternal. As Paul further explained, this life will come when we are changed from natural bodies formed from the dust of the earth to ones that are immortal and similar to God in composition (1 Corinthians 15:35-53; 1 John 3:1-2).
Repenting of our sins and being baptized for the forgiveness of those sins so we can receive the Holy Spirit are thus necessary steps for us to enter the Kingdom of God. Again, as Jesus stated, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
In the concluding article in this series we will examine Christ’s command to “believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
For further study on repentance, see the Life Hope & Truth article “What Is Repentance?” and the ones in the section on baptism.
Sidebar: Key Steps in Repentance
What specific steps must one take in order to repent? The Bible reveals several actions that are integral to this important process:
- Admit to God that you have sinned. Although Scripture teaches that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23), we do not like to personally acknowledge that we have broken God’s holy and beneficial law. Hard as it is, this fundamental act is the first step we must take in order to repent.
- Ask God for help. Although we like to think we can do anything we set our minds to, the truth is—we need God’s assistance in order to repent. Repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25). He is the One who “leads” people to repentance (Romans 2:4).
- Start living in accordance with God’s laws. Our natural, carnal nature does not want to obey God, but we must rule over this rebellious nature and keep God’s commandments (Romans 8:7, 13; Matthew 19:17).
- Continue to repent. Even after we are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, we still occasionally sin. When we do, we must confess our sins to God (1 John 1:7-10) and determine not to continue in them (Romans 6:1-2).
For further study on the actions involved in repentance, see the LifeHopeandTruth.com article “How to Repent.”