There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.( Luke 13:1-5)
The greatest spiritual breakthroughs I have had, over the 30 some years I have been a christian, have often come as a result of an insight into the meaning of a simple word or concept. Words such as ‘righteousness’, ‘faith’ or ‘holy’, or concepts such as ‘purity of heart’, ‘the blood of Jesus’ or ‘spiritual warfare’, permeated the songs, prayers, scriptures and sermons of the Christianity which I plunged into in the late 1970’s.
As I suppose many others have done also, I incorporated those very words and concepts into my own spiritual life, assigning whatever definitions to them that I already had, either by my own past, or by gut instinct.I didn’t do this consciously of course.
As I continued at the feet of Jesus, soaking up the Christian teaching through pastors and teachers of the only true faith, it has been when someone opens up a simple but adequate definition of these terms and concepts that my spiritual life has abounded.
I hope in this short series of articles, I can communicate the same kind of breakthrough for someone, as I examine one of those words. I speak of the word ‘repentance’.
The gospel begins with this word, for in Mark,(the earliest gospel) , both Jesus and John the Baptist commence their work, by preaching ‘repentance’ to Israel.
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins…Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.(Mark 1:4,14-15)
As a former Catholic I must confess that my understanding of the term was muddled, for I confused it at first with “Penance”, which is the (False) system of personal recompense for acts of sin committed, usually assigned by the Priest after confession.Penance is an act of abasement or self-mortification to show sorrow for sin.
As a newly saved Christian, I knew that I no longer needed confession or a Priest to pronounce my absolution. But when I saw Jesus and John call all men to “repent” I still confused the thought with attempts to “make up” for sins I had done, or at least it meant to show that I am sufficiently sorry for them.
Furthermore I didn’t know, that I didn’t know the true meaning of repentance.
I just assumed that It was something about being sorry. I am afraid there are many in church who when they hear the word ‘repentance’ in a sermon or a prayer, the word is just as murkily vague, they know it is negative for sure, and has something to do with feeling bad or sorry, but that’s about it.
But as a result of several gracious factors; good books, personal Bible study, and hearing good sermons, the vagueness around the word has cleared up.
First of all repentance means to change your mind.
The greek word is metanoia, and it means to change your mind.
What was John the Baptist doing as he stood before Israel and called upon them to repent? What is it that we are trying to get people in our generation to do, when we go forth to witness to them? What was it that Jesus sought to get people to do through his preaching, when he warned,“Unless you repent you will perish”?
Everybody on earth has worked out consciously or unconsciously, a ‘plan of salvation’. The problem is that most of those are wrong! Mine was that one day my good deeds would out weigh my bad, and I would ‘get into purgatory’, and eventually heaven. I didn’t think I knew anyone bad enough to go straight to hell, (maybe Hitler?), or good enough to go to heaven(Mother Teresa?), most people I knew were in the middle, headed for purgatory.
I am soooooo very glad that I didn’t die clinging to that false hope, for I surely would have died in my sins, and perished forever, from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power, in the lake of fire. God got through to me and gave me metanoia, ie, a change of mind.
The answer is the same for all, we are trying to get people to change their mind, so that they won’t ‘perish’, ie be ruined forever!
Why do people need to change their mind?
Because unless they change their mind about certain subjects, they will not be able to receive the Salvation of God.
For example, John Baptist was dealing with an error which his audience was clinging to that was ‘inoculating’ them against the Word of God’s coming judgment. They thought that because they were children of Abraham (in the flesh), they were immune to any Judgment.
…O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.( Luke 3:7b-9)
Judgment upon Israel was looming, in the days of John the Baptist and of Jesus, but the people were captivated by a ‘vain imagination’, that mere physical descent with Abraham was enough to save them. They didn’t believe they needed God anymore than they already ‘had’ him, as children of Israel. They thought they were saved, but in truth they were a God rejecting ‘brood of vipers’.
(There are many in America, just like them, Christian in name, steeped in the church, but no real affinity for Jesus or the things of God!).
John’s task was to get them to see that though they were born of Abraham, it is spiritual affinity with Hm that counts. Spiritually, were they anything at all like Abraham? Had they left the world as he did ? Were they pilgrims, clinging to the promise of worldwide redemption through the ‘seed of Abraham’, the Messiah? Were they looking for a heavenly country or an earthly one?
John also warned them not to be dismayed, that among the stones (gentiles, dead to God) God would raise up other true children of Abraham.
John’s preaching was an attempt to get them to ‘change their minds’ about themselves, and their very status before God.
Jesus also preached repentance. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus ,‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’, Jesus didn’t really answer the question. Instead he asked him a question about the meaning of the word ‘good’.
“Why do you call me good, there is none good but God…?”.
In order to be saved, people need to be made to think. Salvation is about thinking deeply, it is preceded by a ‘change of mind’ that is akin to a paradigm shift.
Jesus knew that it would do no good to share some kind of a ‘plan of salvation’ with the young man, because unless he changed his mind about the word ‘good’, he would never be saved! As long as he was sure that he was ‘good’ and equally sure that as two ‘good’ men, he and Jesus could discuss salvation, this young man was lost. “There is none good but God…”.
Repentance is many more things, which we will go into, but first of all, it is simply metanoia, a change of mind.