“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Jesus – Mark 1:15 ESV)
The Bible tells us that this was Jesus’ message – wherever He preached.
His message was full of promise… a new way is coming… the Kingdom of God is near. And to be granted access to this new Kingdom, two things were required: Repent! And believe!
But do we really understand what Jesus was seeking? What does it mean to repent? To believe?
Most of us have been taught that repentance means to change our ways – to stop doing one thing and start doing another. Or… If you are going the wrong way in life, stop… turn around and go a different way. We have generally accepted that repentance is about feeling sorry for what we have done, and getting our behavior right – stop doing bad things, and start doing good things.
You might be surprised to learn that this is NOT what Jesus had in mind.
If we really think about it, He spent most of His time proclaiming the gospel to Jewish people – and as far as morals go, they were pretty good at keeping their religion. And, they were already God’s people – why would they even need to repent!
Everything becomes clear when we understand that the word “repent” really means. It does not mean “feel sorry for your sins” or “change your behavior” – but: “change your thinking.” Or more accurately… change HOW you think.
Here was the problem with the Jewish people, and the Law of Moses. Everything was based upon human performance. You did your best to DO the Law. And if you failed, you had to DO the sacrifice. Everything was: DO the Law… DO the sacrifice. Over and over, day after day…
To get on God’s good side… you had to do all the work.
Now, the Law was important (why, is the topic for another day), but because it was so dependent on human efforts, a certain mindset became hardwired into God’s people: Doing the Law became “the way” to righteousness – and if you didn’t do it right, you found yourself on God’s “baddy list.” So everything depended upon you, and your ability to do what was right.
Do you see the problem here?
Actually there are two of them…
Problem One) We, as human beings, actually like the Law – even if we are not very good at keeping it. Why? Because the Law gives us a checklist to follow, to gauge our performance (and to gauge how well we are doing in comparison to those around us). On our good days, we can feel pretty good about ourselves – especially when those around us aren’t doing so well. And on our bad days, the Law provides a way out (okay, those sacrifices are icky and messy, but at least we have done what we needed to do to have a fresh start again). Just follow the rules. Do your best.
Problem Two) If we can do righteousness on our own – why do we need God?! If righteousness is up to us, as individuals – it becomes based upon our resolve, our careful observation, our sustained efforts, our diligence. And the better we do, the more God seems to like us.
But the message that Jesus came to proclaim was earth-shaking. It was a message about access to God’s Kingdom, not based upon what we do – but upon what God does. It was about a righteousness that was not earned by all our religious efforts, but offered as a free gift. In fact, everything in the Kingdom of God was a gift – not earned, not deserved, not gained by our diligent efforts.
This changes everything.
Tomorrow, we will explore these changes…
Prayer focus: God, help me to be mindful to simply receive from Your Hand, and be thankful!