Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
With these words John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles after Pentecost began their ministries. It was a powerful call to the people of the early church and it is a powerful call today.
And repentance is powerful. It is the process of transitioning from the life of sin to that of a believer. By repenting a person is asking God to forgive their past and create in them a clean conscience.
The Greek word, “metanoia” from which “repent” is translated, means literally “to think differently” or to “change your thinking.” Repentance is an appeal to God to reorder our thinking. We desire to think in ways pleasing to God, rather than the old ways that lead to sin and destruction.
But why is this so important? Why did the ministries of Jesus, John and the apostles begin with repentance? And more importantly, how is this relevant to us today?
John the Baptist
John the Baptist came to “…prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matthew chapter 3, verse 3).
John preached a baptism for repentance as a sign to the people that they should turn from their old ways and follow the ways of God. He was preparing the people for Christ and the kingdom of God.
This too is what repentance does for the new Christian today. By repenting of our sinful ways, we are being prepared to receive the teachings of Jesus Christ to enter into His kingdom. Our appeal to “change our thinking,” leads us to God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace, so that we can learn to walk as Christ walked.
By repenting we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, recognising that we cannot save ourselves from sin, and are in need of the Saviour.
Repentance is a work of preparation to “cleanse out the old in readiness for the new.” It was this cleansing and preparation work that John the Baptist performed to prepare the way for the Lord.
Jesus too began His ministry telling the people to repent. He emphasised the need for the people to turn about and seek God.
Jesus didn’t stop there. He taught the people about the nature and Kingdom of God. He explained what the will of God was for His people and how the grace of God was freely given to all who would come to Him in repentance and faith.
But none of this was possible unless and until the person came to Christ in repentance.
Repentance is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” Repentance is deep. It is heartfelt and is often preceded by a godly grief that brings on the desire to try and set things right. It is about seeking the forgiveness for the wrongs committed.
Repentance is about rejecting sin and evil in this world, to seek grace, love and the nature of God. Repentance is both the starting place and an ongoing need, as we continue to make mistakes while the Lord knocks off our rough edges over time.
After Jesus had died and been raised, He gave the disciples the Great Commission saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew chapter 28, verses 19 and 20).
The disciples began their ministry at Pentecost by telling the people they needed to, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts chapter 2 verse 38).
To prepare the people to receive the teachings of Jesus in the New Covenant, they first had to repent. Repentance was the preparation and appeal to God saying, “I need to change!”
Likewise, if we are to come into the presence of God we must change our thinking. We must appeal to God in humility, asking Him to make the changes in our lives and to learn what Jesus taught.
Like the Prodigal Son (Luke chapter 15, verses 11 to 24), who finally came to his senses, repenting of his wayward life and returning humbly to his father seeking forgiveness, so too we must come to our senses and seek Jesus Christ. And like the father in that parable, God will see us from afar and come to us, forgiving us and embracing us into His kingdom.
Since retiring from work, John Lemmon now spends his time teaching, preaching and writing about the word of God, online and offline, answering God's call on him to “Speak to my people.” John and his wife Colleen travel all over Australia and you will often find him playing guitar or ukulele outside their caravan somewhere in the Great Outback. You can connect with John on Twitter (@JohnBLemmon) or on his website: freegiftfromgod.com/