The first command of Jesus recorded in Mark’s gospel is ‘Repent and believe‘. These twin words are like two sides of the same coin. They are also the human responses which accompany, evidence, and are in some mysterious way caused by and/or prompt the Divine act of spiritual rebirth which happens in our hearts.
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
We are looking at the commands of Jesus together, having come to the conclusion that if you want your life to be established on a sure foundation, there is no better way than to obey the commands of Jesus. In the last post we discovered, however, that Jesus’ commands are impossible, and we require supernatural assistance to obey them.
We often think we understand the word ‘believe’. We think it means to mentally agree with a certain doctrinal truth. And that is certainly part of the picture. But in Romans, Paul explains that our faith must come out and be declared with our mouths, and must go into our hearts rather than merely be in our heads. It is not enough to merely believe Jesus is Lord, we must declare it. And the belief that Jesus is raised from the dead must dwell in our hearts and affect the way we feel:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Mere ‘belief’ that doesn’t effect our heart or our actions will not save us. As James warned us: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19).
If we truly believe something we will act accordingly. If you believe that it is payday and you have plenty of money in the bank, you may decide to go out and spend some of that money, or perhaps give it away. If you think that you are broke, you won’t spend any money. This is why I would link ‘believe’ so strongly to ‘repentance’
Many people when they here the word ‘repent’ think that it refers only to stopping certain behaviours and starting others. But again, this is a superficial way of looking at it. Modern psychology has ‘discovered’ a truth which the Bible already knows. Our actions are the result of what is inside us. How we think affects how we behave.
Scholars tell us that the Greek word for repent has four elements to what it means: a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of behaviour, and a change of direction.
Repentance means changing what you think about Jesus, and apologizing for ignoring Him, belittling Him, excluding Him, and not trusting Him. It is a radical change in perspective.
Repentance involves your heart being miraculously renewed so that you now love and value Jesus above everything else and are satisfied in Him. Repentance includes turning from your sins. However, Christianity is not primarily external behavior, but an internal conversion. The outer works flow from the inner work.
Repentance is such a simple concept, yet it does demand that your whole life change direction. You stop going your own way, and turn around; you convert.
You must count the cost of such a decision. But the choice is between living your own way forever, apart from God and under His judgment, or following Jesus and enjoying His presence. Jesus warned us often that hell is a real place (e.g. Matthew 10:28). Why would anyone want to end up there? Sometimes repentance can be accompanied by strong emotions, but the key element is a sober decision to start on a lifetime of following Jesus:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
In the sermons recorded in Acts, hearers are often urged to “believe” in place of the word “repent” (see Acts 15:7 and Acts 16:31). While repentance is about more than just agreeing with certain truths, it does begin with what we must believe.
So, repentance is a radical change on the inside (which can surely only ever truly happen as part of being born again) which then leads to what the Bible calls “fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). If you are truly born again, then even if these things are not yet visible in your life, you can be sure that they will begin to appear. And nobody should reassure themselves that they are saved without at least some sense that there is a radical change happening inside that is prompting changes on the outside, also.
Repentance is a lifestyle it is not just a momentary choice. Thus, every time we take the time to stop, and reorientate ourselves towards Jesus through prayer, and perhaps fasting, this is part of our repentance. At Jubilee Church we spend time every January as a church doing just this, and I know some other churches do the same.
I will close this article with two quotes from John Piper’s two chapters on this command:
“So the demand of Jesus to repent goes to all the nations. It comes to us, whoever we are and wherever we are, and lays claim on us. This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones.” John Piper
“Believing in Jesus means more than knowing true things about Jesus. It means trusting him as a living person for who he really is. This is why Jesus spoke of simply believing in him. “Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1; cf. Matt. 18:6). Believing in Jesus is more than believing about Jesus. We trust him.” John Piper
This series was inspired by the book What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper. Why not join me in reading through this book in 2018?
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