Reasons to Repent: The Good News of the Kingdom
- 2007 24 Jan
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.
“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.
The coming of the kingdom means simply that God is now actively prosecuting His plan to restore all things unto Himself in an irresistible manner, working through His Word and Spirit to bring His rule into existence on earth as it is in heaven. Wherever His scepter sways, lives are restored, cultures are renewed, societies flourish in good works, and the needy and oppressed know compassion and freedom.
But there’s a catch: no one can enter this happy domain without repentance. Entrance to the kingdom, Peter reminds us, comes by the ticket of faith and repentance (Acts 2:38). Faith alone — some word of confessing Jesus, or some public act of going forward in His name — is not sufficient. Indeed, this may not even be real faith.
Faith with repentance is true faith, because it involves turning away from that which is contrary to the new economy of God’s kingdom, in order to take up, embrace, and seek that which is characteristic of this new realm. Through repentance one solidifies the act of saving faith and opens the door to a life of good works. All this together — faith and repentance leading to good works — is what life in the kingdom is all about. Or, as John the Baptist put it, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
The kingdom — the rule of King Jesus over all the cosmos — is the ultimate reality. All are called to seek that kingdom and its righteousness. But none will enter that realm who have not learned to practice repentance as part of the cost of admission and proof of citizenship.
Simply put, repentance is one of the hallmarks of one who has entered the kingdom of God. Without it, there is no citizenship, no matter how much one may protest his or her “faith” in Jesus.
Reason to Repent
So the kingdom of God provides good reason to repent. Life in that kingdom is good. Those who have truly entered into that realm discover that the blessings of knowing God and living according to His law are far more enjoyable, satisfying, edifying, and lasting than those old ways of sin that they used to think were so much fun.
Life in the kingdom is exciting! It’s like riding the crest of the wave of history, seeing far off in the distance just where and how that wave is going to break on the beaches of eternity, and navigating exuberantly across the face of that wave as the power of God drives it and you forward onto the shores of paradise.
Life in the kingdom is meaningful. You’re living for something far greater than yourself. You discover the joy of loving God just because He’s God, and of loving others because He enables you do so.
Life in the kingdom is peaceful and full of hope.
Life in the kingdom provides strength and reasons to persevere through the trials of life without becoming bitter, resentful, fearful, or mean.
Life in the kingdom is beautiful, in that it produces moral purity, encourages aesthetic pleasure, and fills the soul with the wonder of mystery.
John the Baptist knew the truth of the kingdom of God. Jesus did, too. Countless millions of believers from every age, every culture, and every walk of life have embraced this truth as well. The kingdom of God! This is the place to be!
But you can’t bring the baggage of sin with you. And if you try to sneak in, still clinging to that nasty old stuff, all the benefits and joys and delights of that ineffable realm will simply elude you. You’ll still be the same old unhappy, inconsiderate, self-centered person you always were, in spite of your “profession of faith,” for the simple reason that, without repentance, you have not yet entered the kingdom of God.
So how’s this for a resolution — New Year’s or any time: Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
The Way of Repentance
Practicing the discipline of repentance involves three things. First, you will only repent if you are completely confident that you can admit your sins to God and not have to worry about being annihilated. Jesus has taken all God’s wrath against you and borne it away. Come to God through Jesus, every time repentance is in order, and claim His suffering for your sin. Seek the grace of repentance for the sake of Jesus, and on the basis of His having endured all the wrath of God that you deserve.
Second, you will not be likely to practice repentance if you are ignorant of the law of God. As Paul taught in Romans 7, he didn’t know what sin was until he began reading and meditating on the law of God. If you choose to ignore the law of God — that glorious standard of holiness, justice, and goodness (Romans 7:12) — then you’ll have a hard time being sensitive to those times you violate that standard. So, if you want to practice repentance, taking up daily meditation in the law of God is the indispensable requirement, the sine qua non (Psalms 1).
Finally, you will be greatly aided in your practice of repentance by maintaining some kind of accountability at the human level. Be willing to be confronted, rebuked, and corrected by those who love you, and you’re on your way to a fruitful life of repentance. Share your needs for repentance with those who love you; seek their prayers and support; let them rejoice with you in the victories God grants. Repentance will become more a part of your life in the kingdom of God if you have others to help you along the way.
Great joy, freedom, hope, and power accompany the life of repentance. Make it your way of life, beginning today.
How would society be different if our churches were more faithful in teaching about repentance? How can you help your loved ones know the joy that repentance and kingdom living can bring?
T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of seventeen books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics, (Waxed Tablet). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, TN