“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom 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, NKJV)
When Jesus came to this earth, He came declaring a message. The message was about something called “the Kingdom of God.” Jesus declared that this Kingdom was near. It was “at hand.” It was about to be made available to all who would believe the message – to any and all who would respond to the invitation to enter the Kingdom. At the heart of Jesus’ message, and at the heart of true Christianity, is this Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is the underlying purpose behind why Jesus came. If we will understand it. If we will take hold of it. If it takes hold of us!
But there is one key aspect to the Kingdom that we seldom understand as we should. Without this one aspect we simply cannot experience the fullness of the Kingdom of God – or of the Christian life. There is one divine prerequisite that makes all the difference. Jesus tells us plainly that entry into this Kingdom is centered in repentance. All who would desire to enter the Kingdom must: “Repent and believe..!”
Now what does it mean to repent? Better yet, what did Jesus mean when He called us to repent? Jesus had one foundational thing in mind when He called people to repentance – and it is very different than what we have tended to believe. We have often been led to believe that repentance is feeling sorry for all the wrong things we have done, and making an earnest effort to stop doing those wrong things and start doing the right things. We have heard it characterized as traveling on a road, realizing that we are going the wrong way, and turning around to go a different way. But this is not really true, Biblical repentance. And without true repentance we cannot really take hold of the Kingdom of God.
Think about it… When Jesus came, He came declaring this message of the Kingdom to God’s people (the Jews). They were already in a relationship with the Most High (under the arrangements of the Old Covenant). They were already on the “right road” and they were already devoted to living out their lives in obedience to God’s laws. In short, they were already intent on being good, moral people, doing their level best to live as God’s people among the nations. It was to these people, God’s people, that Jesus came and declared the necessity of repentance!
This should tell us something vitally important. Repentance has very little to do with sorrow for our sins or a solemn pledge of changed behavior. It is not really about changing our actions. True repentance is about changing our way of thinking. It is laying aside how we have been thinking about things and adopting a new way of thinking about things. This is the true meaning behind the word Jesus used. Repentance is not about doing differently – it is about thinking differently. Jesus is telling us that the key to entering the Kingdom of God is changed thinking.
This is confirmed by the apostle Paul, who was inspired to write: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2, NKJV) The key to transformed lives is found in transformed thinking. So at the very center of life lived in the New Covenant is a new way of thinking about things – and this new way is centered in the One True King and His Kingdom.
God is seeking something extraordinary in His New Covenant people. He is leaving aside the old ways of doing things. He is leaving behind ordinances and laws written upon tablets of stone. He intends to write His Laws upon the minds and hearts of those who will embrace the King and His Kingdom. As He has promised us: “”Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… This is the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”” (Hebrews 8:10, NKJV; taken from Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The message of the gospel of the Kingdom declares that our behavior cannot be permanently changed by human willpower or effort. Our behavior can only be changed through a changed mindset. This is what Jesus came to proclaim. The message was simple and direct: “Repent (change your way of thinking) and believe (place your faith in the One Who abides at the center or this new way of thinking).” If we would desire to heed His call, we must all be changed – we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is the beginning of our understanding of true repentance – and true repentance is at the very beginning of a true Christian faith…
Coming next… Understanding True Repentance, Part Two: What needs to change!