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)

Probably a good many people in this fair land made sweeping resolutions for the New Year. Maybe even you did. Those resolutions will no doubt cover a broad spectrum of topics: lose some weight, get in shape, find a new job, learn a new subject, and so forth. But there’s one subject I’ll wager very few of us have included in the list of things we resolve to do in the year to come.

Repentance.

“I resolve to repent of my self-centeredness.” “This year I’m going to stop lying to cover my backside.” “My New Year’s resolution is to give up always trying to be the center of attention and show a little more consideration for the people around me.” Just doesn’t happen, does it? People simply are not given to repenting. And there are some good reasons for this.

Reasons Not to Repent
I can think of at least three reasons why people do not seek the grace of repentance any more earnestly than they do. The first is that sin is our natural habitat. We are born into this world sinful and self-centered. It’s part of the original equipment of every human being. We spend all our childhood basically perfecting the skills of selfishness that, in adulthood, stop being “cute” or “infantile” or “juvenile” and start making us inconsiderate, boorish, and mean. The law of sin continues operating in every one of us, as Paul reminds us (Romans 7:21-24). It’s so convenient just to be myself. It feels so right. Why try to go against my very nature?

There is a second reason that repentance is not high on most people’s list of things to do: sin can be downright pleasurable. We enjoy sinning. Delight in it. Try to get away with as much of it as we can, because, doggone it, sin is fun! Who’s going to give up all the fun that comes with those little flirtations, that carefully placed gossip, those indiscretions of this or that kind, that mean spirit that makes everyone cower in our presence, those exaggerations that easily bleed into lies? What’s wrong with a little fun? No harm, no foul. We simply like to sin. Repent? What will you offer me to replace the fun I’ll be giving up?

The third reason repentance is so unpopular today is because to repent means to admit wrong. If I’m going to repent from something then I have to admit I’m doing something wrong. I’ve made a mistake. I may even have done a bad thing, or, heaven help me, actually be a bad person. In our “I’m OK, you’re OK” culture, we don’t want anyone to feel bad about himself, no matter what he does. Even in our churches we don’t like to talk about repentance, because we want people to be smothered in “feel-good-about-me-ness” when they’re in our midst, so they’ll be sure to come back next week.

So we don’t hear much talk about repentance, and, if the continued drift of our pop culture into the slime and sewers of immorality is any barometer of the tastes of the audience, I’d say there’s not much actual repenting going on out their in the hinterlands, either.

Yet repentance, as John the Baptist — and Jesus — showed, is central to the message of the Gospel. Without repentance, there can be no saving faith, no forgiveness of sins, no entrance into the kingdom of Heaven.

Repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven
The incarnation of Jesus Christ, which we have lately celebrated again, heralds the establishment in space and time of an eternal realm of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit of God — the kingdom of God, or, the kingdom of Heaven. John came preaching the kingdom of God, and so did Jesus and the apostles. The message of the Gospel is that a new order has broken into time, a new King is on the throne, new protocols are in effect, a new course has been charted for all of history, and everyone is involved, no exceptions. A new Spirit is now calling the shots, directing the flow of events, preparing the stage of history for the final act, and calling out a people to take their place in the divine economy.