The Importance of Repentance(By Christopher Long, BodEquip Ministries)
This morning I had a message that the Lord spoke to me in my sleep just prior to my awaking. When I awoke, it was burning in my heart - one of those things that you just KNOW was the Lord. It was very simply that I needed to share this Word from His Word: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2 ESV)
Pretty early on in the Gospel of Matthew we are introduced to this phrase.
"In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” - (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)
John the Baptist comes on the scene, preparing the way for Jesus. And he comes preaching a message of repentance.
One chapter later, as Jesus's own preaching ministry begins (after His wilderness temptations/"wilderness season"), He comes bearing the same message:
"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" - (Matthew 4:17 ESV)
A consistent message, for sure. Both John the Baptist and Jesus said the same thing right out the gate. All that Jesus ever did and said that followed that we read about was centered around that theme.
A new era had begun; God had a message for all humanity - and that message was one of "good news of great joy" (see Luke 2:10).
We're still in this era today (though it is going to end one day). But for now, Jesus is still saying the same thing to us humans today: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
If you're anything like me, when you've heard or read this phrase in the past, perhaps you've seen it with kind of angry overtones. A "repent or else - you horrible sinner!" tone - almost intended solely to condemn...A vision of an angry John the Baptist or Jesus out yelling this phrase, not much different from those people that in the name of Jesus will hold up condemning signs saying things like "You're going to hell!" and "Burn in hell, sinner!"
Certainly the reality of heaven and hell is serious. Certainly the reality of sin, which leads to death, which leads to judgment, which leads to hell, is indeed a serious subject. Wrath is a very real thing, and the Bible teaches that God's wrath is coming. John the Baptist mentions this "coming wrath" just a few verses later in Matthew 3:7-8. In fact, he specifically exhorts: "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. ... Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:8,10 ESV)
That's serious talk!
And if it doesn't produce a twang of holy fear in us, I don't know what will.
God's wrath is indeed coming and it is indeed real.
It will be coming to all who refuse to receive His message and repent!
But that's just why this message from God, uttered and validated by both John the Baptist, and Jesus, isn't angry at all. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It's not an angry shout, but a pleading cry out of Love!
It's saying in essence: "Look, God has made a way for you to be completely forgiven! The kingdom of heaven is available to you and here for you. It's right here! The time is now! God's made the way! He wants you! He wants you with Himself for all eternity! He loves you that much! All you have to do is receive it. And you receive it by believing it and thus repenting of your sins."
In some churches and Christian circles, this whole concept of repentance seems to be glossed over. Somehow becoming a Christian became all about just saying you believe in Jesus. But the totality of the Gospel necessarily includes repentance. And it's not just an afterthought, either. The "Good News" isn't good for us unless we first admit and repent of the bad. This is not a step that can be skipped.
I'm not going to get into the word games that some get into on what "repentance" means or doesn't mean. It can be boiled down pretty simply: You acknowledge your sin in reality and you are genuinely sorry for it. You don't hide from it. You don't try to cover it up or explain it away. You don't rationalize it. You agree with God that you have done wrong and you acknowledge that the just penalty for your sin is death eternally, because God is holy and perfect and sets the rules on what is right and wrong - and you have not measured up. While you may or may not seem "better" than any fellow human, compared to God's standard, you have failed. You fail the test. You get an "F". Period. You don't deserve to be in perfectness with a righteous, good, holy God, because you have not been righteous, good, or holy when compared to the perfect standard of God!
But God wants YOU! He LOVES YOU! He knows you're not perfect and He offers you forgiveness. God is the only one that CAN forgive you of your sins, because He is the Standard-Setter, the Perfect One!
And His message to you is "Come to me. Repent of your sins. Seek me and my forgiveness and you will find it."
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
In a very real sense, the "kingdom of heaven" was indeed at hand when Jesus, who came from Heaven, was standing there. The whole reason Jesus could proclaim that message (and John the Baptist could utter it in preparation for Jesus to utter it), is that Jesus Himself came to make that way - He WAS (IS!) the Way! (John 14:6)
The beautiful thing is that now it isn't even a matter of us coming to "get forgiven" - Jesus has already paid the price for us to be forgiven. We just have to take hold of what has already been provided for us. Jesus came to this world from Heaven to live the perfect life that we could not live and pay the penalty for our sin, so we COULD be forgiven! God is a righteous God and sin still has consequences. We have free choice. But Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. He's already dealt with the whole sin problem. We just have to accept Him and what He's done for us.
And step 1 is that we repent of our sins.
Step 2 is we accept and receive the forgiveness available to us through Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf.
We turn from what we WERE doing to embrace Jesus!
And, by the way, it's real easy to tell whether genuine repentance has taken place. If it has, a person will act different. They will act in accordance with that. They will, as John the Baptist stated bluntly: "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3:8). They won't be perfect, but their life will show things - bring forth fruit in increasing measure over time - that shows that they have repented of their sins and accepted the sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf.
And this leads me to a further application of the statement of John the Baptist and Jesus:
I believe this statement also is a Word from the Lord this year to those who go to church and claim to be Christians.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
As a whole, many in the Church have been very loose with God's standards. Many have rested on a one-time act of repentance (or worse, no repentance but only a supposed "belief" in Jesus), but have not been working with Jesus to actually obey God and live as He wants them to. In other words, the fruit of repentance has been real lacking. Repentance isn't just a one-time act, but an attitude. A person who one time maybe half-heartedly repented of their sins and so-called "accepted Christ", but later on by the totality of their actions you'd never know they were "saved" and are not obeying God's Word (or even trying to do so), are not "bearing fruit in keeping with repentance." Repentance is an on-going attitude in acknowledging that you are not resting in yourself and how awesome you are but are resting in the finished work of Christ on your behalf, and out of that relationship want to live right. The danger comes in when people rest on a one-time act of a profession of faith but then do not continue to appropriate their faith on a continual basis. We want to make sure that we are fully trusting in Jesus and resting in Him as our Savior. But part of that is also recognizing that this is not a license to just live as we want. We're not going to be perfect here, but we do need to acknowledge that what God's Word says is sin, is indeed sin, and we need to work with Jesus to live as He wants us to and continually rest in the forgiveness provided us in Jesus. We have to be active and not passive in this! Do not be deceived on this or misled! Don't merely rest on some one-time act you did some time in the past. Today (as the Bible says numerous times) is the day of salvation. Today. Keep short accounts with God, trusting in Jesus. The Bible is very clear on this point, and I believe that there are many within our churches that need to hear this Word of the Lord this day:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Finally, there's one more thing I want to say. So far we've looked at the "Repent" part, but John the Baptist and Jesus then said that "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Certainly that means forgiveness of sins is available. But the Kingdom of God is about so much more. It's about full restoration of relationship to God. It's about salvation in all its fullness. It's about God With Us! It's about everything we could ever need being available to us through relationship with God. The Kingdom of Heaven is still at hand. Jesus died and then rose and is now in Heaven, but because of what He did, the offer is still the same. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand for all humanity. We can experience fullness of life and live in that Kingdom reality. This isn't just "good news", it's off-the-charts-incredible Good News!
God is a good, giving God that loves you and is for you and He calls you to dwell with Him in His Kingdom. How awesome is that?!!
This article is Copyright by Christopher Long 2011-2019. All rights reserved. You may quote/reprint this article for any non-commercial purpose without obtaining permission as long as you use the entire text and that all text, including this and all following notices, is not modified or removed in any fashion. For any other usage, you must obtain written permission from the author.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is version 1.3 of this document (February 23, 2020). Any personal references relating to timing or specific events are likely from when the article was first written for the first version and may or may not currently be accurate.
Previous versions: 1.2 (February 23, 2020), 1.1 (May 21, 2015), 1.0 (February 23, 2011)
This document is provided as a ministry outreach of BodEquip Ministries. http://www.bodequip.org