The message of repentance is among the most basic, primary teachings of the Christianity. It is the first and most enduring message preached in the New Testament. The experience of repentance is the essential starting point for every single person who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ.
The critical nature of the message of repentance is first reflected in the brief account of John the Baptist’s ministry. His message is summarized as “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” in Mark’s Gospel (Mar 1:4). Similarly, Matthew quoted the essence of John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mat 3:1-2).
The public ministry of Jesus Himself was also marked by the message of repentance. The very first words that Jesus’ preached were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mar 1:15, Mat 4:17). Similarly, when the twelve disciples were sent by Jesus on their first preaching mission they replicated the same message. “They went out and preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12).
After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the task of spreading Jesus’ message was delegated to His Apostles. After waiting for the promise of the Spirit at Pentecost, as Jesus instructed, the Apostles began to evangelize. In response to the conviction of the people, the very first directive delivered by Peter was, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Act 2:38). As the Gospel message spread, the Book of Acts continues to document the focus of repentance and its essentiality for salvation in the preaching of the Apostles (Act 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20).
Unfortunately, the role of repentance is ignored or minimized in the teaching of many today. Believing on or confessing Jesus is strongly emphasized, but repentance is overlooked. The call of Jesus Himself was not simply to believe, but to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). To diminish the importance of repentance is to disregard the teaching of Jesus and the entire New Testament.
This all begs the question, “What is repentance?” Many fancy theological definitions have been formulated, but the meaning is quite easy to understand. Biblically, the term repentance simply means “a change of mind.” According to the teaching of the New Testament this change of mind is accompanied by a change of action and direction (Luke 3:8-14, Act 3:19, 26:18-20).
If we dig a bit deeper into God’s Word we can gain a richer understanding regarding what the experience of repentance entails. Repentance involves: an acknowledgment of sin (Mar 2:17), a confession of sin to God (1Jo 1:9), a mourning for committing sin (2Co 7:10), and a resolution to forsake sin (Luk 3:7, Act 26:20). Certainly one does not necessarily need to consciously grasp all of what takes place spiritually during repentance. But it is important to recognize that we must turn away from sin and turn towards God.
We must never think that repentance is only a message to and experience for those becoming new believers in Christ. Quite the contrary, it is a duty that is to be continued throughout the entire course of our lives. There must be no end of repentance until there is a full end to sin, which will not happen in this life. Even the most devoted and noble of Christians find themselves in need of repentance. As long as we live in this world our thoughts, attitude, and behavior are susceptible to temptation. We all betray our best intentions from time to time. We sin – sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of repentance!