Did you know repentance is the very first thing Jesus preached when He started His ministry? For this reason, repentance is flagged as a key teaching in The Jesus Said Project. Without it, you can never be Jesus’ disciple.
Jesus’ First Teaching: REPENT!
In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, it is recorded that the first thing Jesus preached is ”Repent” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15). Jesus said, ”I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Obviously, this is very important if Jesus said it early on, repeated it so often, and claimed it as one of the reasons He came in the first place. For something so important, do most people really understand what repentance is?
Repentance = Changing Your Mind
Matthew 21:28-32 is a key phrase to answer this question. In the story, there is a man with two sons. He asked each to go work in the vineyard that day. One said he would not, but ”…later he changed his mind and went”. The other son said he would go, but never did. Which one repented? The first son, because he changed his mind and did the right thing. That is what repentance is: changing your mind. (The Greek word is ‘metanoeo’, which just means ‘to change one’s mind.) It is changing what you think is right or what you want to do, and instead aligning what you think and do with what God says is right. (Does it sound like you need to read and study the Bible a lot, to be able to know what God says is right? You bet!)
The story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32) is a well known parable. Most people focus on its lesson of forgiveness, but it also teaches about repentance. Note how in verse 21 the son clearly repented, completely changing his mind and attitude. Once he repented, he saw himself as lost, unworthy of the father’s forgiveness.
The concept of repentance is also illustrated in Luke 19:8-10. Zacchaeus changed his mind about how he had been living. He made a public declaration that he was changing and also announced that he was going to make restitution to those he had stolen from in the past. Of course, if these had been empty words with no real heart change, Jesus would have seen right through it. However, in Zacchaeus’ case, Jesus confirmed his repentance (i.e., changed mind) was real, by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”
Are Some Sins Worse Than Other Sins?
When studying repentance, people often think some sins are worse than other sins. For example, murder is a worse sin than coarse joking, right? But this is not what Jesus said. In Luke 13:2-9, Jesus said there is no such thing as someone being “…more guilty…”. Instead, Jesus said, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish.”
It is a human concept that some sins are worse than other sins, making some people worse sinners than others, but this is not what Jesus said in this scripture. For another example, read Mark 7:20-23 where Jesus lists murder right along with folly, not distinguishing one as less ‘bad’ than the other. The bottom line is that Jesus said ALL people must repent of ALL sins.
Rejoicing or Woe: What Choose You?
Repentance is such a great thing that the angels in heaven rejoice when just ONE sinner repents (Luke 15:7, Luke 15:10). On the other hand, when repentance doesn’t happen, there is nothing but woe, woe, and more woe! In Matthew 11:21-24, Jesus denounced by name cities where He had performed miracles, but the people had failed to repent. Jesus said they will go to hell on the day of judgment . The news was just as bleak for the Pharisees in John 9:39-41. They heard the good news, but failed to change their mind (repent), thinking they were ok the way they were. Jesus said they remained in darkness (sin), so their guilt remained.
Repentance: Strong Medicine from Jesus
By now, you can see that repentance is not one of the gentle, comforting teachings of Jesus, like when we hear Him give us His peace, or that He is preparing a place for us in heaven, or that He is with us always (John 14:27, John 14:3, Matthew 28:20b). This teaching is one of ‘stronger medicine’ from Jesus. In The Jesus Said Project, we are studying ALL of what Jesus said, so we will not gloss over these stronger teachings.
The reason many churches are anemic today, so lacking in the power of the Holy Spirit, is that all they preach is “just believe”. They do not teach “Repent and believe” as Jesus said in Mark 1:15. If you truly believe in Jesus, this means you believe in all He was and all He taught. You do not just believe in His existence and that He came to save sinners. Even the demons believe this, and demons are not saved (James 2:19)! No, believing in Jesus means believing all of Him: believing in who He said He was and believing in what He stood for. Logically, this must include repentance (changing your mind) as part of believing in Jesus, aligning what you think with what Jesus thinks. Do not worry about how you will change, just set your mind to do so! If you repent, truly believe, and are saved, you cannot help but be changed by the power of Christ in you (Colossians 1:26-27).
This is one of my favorite teachings. Why? For so many years, I was in the dark regarding what true repentance was. Like many people, I thought it was just being sorry for your sins and wanting to do better. It turns out that is a very superficial understanding of repentance, and is definitely not what Jesus taught. He asks for, demands, and deserves much more.
What He demands is your will. You must give up what you think, what you feel is alright, and change your mind to agree with what God thinks, and what God says is right. That is repentance. You give your will to God when you repent, when you decide to change your mind, and then trust He will lead you in areas of your life that need to be changed. This is what believing in Jesus really means.