In my last post, our thoughts were centered upon defining the true meaning of repentance. We discovered that the word used in the original language does not mean “to feel sorry for our sins,” or “to change our behavior,” but the true focus is “to change our thinking.” We referred to the common illustration, that we often hear, that repentance is compared to traveling on the wrong road, then realizing that you are on the wrong road, so you apply due diligence to turn around and take a different road. But, this illustration does not explain to us how we got ourselves onto the wrong road initially. Neither does it help us to make certain that the next road we take will be the right one! The essence of true repentance is to help us understand why we are making our journey in this life and to set our course, permanently, on the right “road.” The most important thing we discovered is that we need a full and proper understanding of what it means to repent. If we are to properly respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Repent and believe in the gospel,” then we need to know exactly what He is expecting from us.
Jesus’ message, the gospel of the Kingdom, was first extended to the Jewish people. As we have observed, these first invitees were already God’s people. They were already abiding in Covenant relationship with God. They were already living their lives, to the best of their ability, attempting to do what was right in God’s sight. For the most part, they were good, moral people, with a sincere devotion to being God’s people. It was to these people that Jesus came and spoke of repentance! The Kingdom of God was “at hand” but would only be applicable to those who would change their way of thinking.
But let’s think about this… If the call to repentance is not a call to changed morality, but a call for God’s people to change their way of thinking, what was it that needed to change? And why is this changed thinking so important?
To answer these questions we need to understand the underpinnings of the Old Covenant. When God established the original Covenant with the Jewish people (through Moses at Mt. Sinai) the Covenant was based upon God’s Laws (we refer to them as the Ten Commandments). These Laws gave God’s people a basic understanding of what God expected of them in their relationship together – about how to live in proper relationship, with God, and with their fellow man.
But here is the most important point as it refers to our discussion… The Old Covenant was based upon one central issue. It was based upon human responsibility. The Law required human effort to DO the Law. If, and when, God’s people failed to DO the Law, they were required to DO the proper sacrifices to get back into God’s good graces – so they could DO the Law once again. The entire Old Covenant was founded upon the necessity of human effort both in keeping the commandments OR in securing God’s forgiveness to restore relationship. The essence of the Old Covenant was all about what God’s people DO. The key to the Old Covenant was human effort.
By the time Jesus arrived on this earth, this “keeping the Law” had evolved into a monumental undertaking. According to many experts, the simplicity of the original Ten Commandments had been expanded to hundreds of commands – as religious leaders and teachers laid out the intricate details of how God’s Laws should be observed. It is no wonder that Jesus expressed His exasperation with the leaders and teachers of the Law by exclaiming, “Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry…” (from Luke 11:46) Yet, to be Jewish meant that you were expected to faithfully DO the Law – even in the most minute of details. It was into this setting that Jesus came and offered the wonder and simplicity of the gospel.
Centuries of indoctrination, and religious practice, had produced a simple, yet debilitating, mindset within God’s people. Relationship with God came to be based upon how well one observed the Law – and upon the conclusion that “if I do enough good things, God will grant me His favor.” Relationship with God had become performance-based. But it was a “yoke” that brought nothing but tedious toil and wearisome labor. It is no wonder that Jesus looked upon all those so heavily burdened all around Him and declared, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
So the mindset of God’s people, when Jesus arrived, was fixed upon the understanding that human effort, and a whole lot of human effort, was necessary to have a relationship with God. But Jesus came to proclaim a different message – a message of tremendous freedom and liberation.
Jesus came to usher in a New Covenant. With the changing of the Covenant came the necessity of a different way of doing things. What Jesus understood, and what He was adamant in getting across, was that you cannot approach the New covenant with a mindset fixed upon the Old. You just cannot put new wine into old wineskins (see Luke 5:37-38). So to enter into the new kind of relationship with God, through the New Covenant, it was essential that a new way of thinking be embraced.
Here is the most essential thing: The New Covenant is never based upon what human beings DO in relationship with God, it is based upon the specific promise that the Almighty King of all things has DONE, and desires to DO, everything necessary in and through us to accomplish His purposes. The gospel of the Kingdom is about God’s work, and God’s working. Simply stated, it is all about God’s grace – given for us, given to us, and given to work through us to accomplish everything He desires to do.
In order to walk in the fullness of the Christian life, we must adopt the mindset that the New Covenant is not based upon human effort, but is solely based upon God’s effort in us and through us. We cannot approach the New Covenant with the mindset of human performance, exerted to win God’s favor. The Kingdom of God is all about what God has done for us – and about God being at work in and through His people to glorify His Name. Only true repentance can enable us to receive the Kingdom of God. Our mindset must be fixed upon God’s handiwork to redeem us, to restore us, and to work through us to accomplish all that He desires to do on this earth.
This is the beginning understanding of the great adventure that awaits us…
Coming next… Broccoli Theology