“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Ask many non-Christians what message Jesus Christ taught and you will certainly get a variety of answers. Notions such as love, peace, acceptance, and treating others as you wish to be treated might top the list of lessons that the Lord shared with others. And although they couldn’t really point out the place or context where the Bible records it, they know that Jesus said something about not judging others so we should all just keep quiet about how people choose to live and behave.
Sadly, some Christians don’t understand much more than unbelievers when it comes to the essentials of the Gospel. For what purpose did Jesus come to earth? What message did He bring? What does He expect people to do in response to His work and message? Fortunately, there are within the Gospel records concise statements which Jesus made that summarize His message succinctly. And while it can become easy to lose sight of the Lord’s core teachings amongst the parables, similitudes, and metaphors; Jesus’ words in verses such as Mark 1:15 leave us little room for misunderstanding.
Two key words are present in Jesus’ admonition contained in this verse: repent and believe. The first of these has elicited a great deal of controversy and more than a few schisms in the Body of Christ. So much of the New Testament reassures the believer that his salvation rests squarely on the Person and work of Jesus Christ that any suggestion that a sinner must do anything in order to be saved has been deemed heretical by certain factions within the Church. Ironically, the command to believe is just as much an imperative as the command to repent, and few would argue that belief in Christ is an unnecessary element of Salvation.
“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,” (Acts 17:29-30)
The idea that repentance is required has been rejected and opposed so vehemently by many within the Church simply because it carries the connotation that Salvation can be either secured or maintained based upon our own obedience to the Commandments of God. And if this is what is understood by the term repentance then, yes, such a notion is definitely unscriptural. But in reality, repentance is nothing more than the complement of belief. It is belief in action, so to speak, wherein the one who comes to genuine faith in Jesus Christ, by definition, loses his “faith” in the flesh and the ways of this world.
A very good illustration of this can be seen by considering that to “repent”, in its simplest definition, means to “turn in a different direction.” It means that we have changed our mind and are now looking at things the way that God looks at them. When we repent, we no longer see sin as something harmless, natural, and acceptable. We see it as God does and agree with Him that it is transgression against the laws of a holy God. When we repent, we turn toward Jesus Christ. Anytime that we turn toward something or someone, we automatically turn away from something else. If I am driving my car South along the highway and I stop and make a U-turn to go North, then in one action I have both turned toward the North and turned away from the South. Two separate actions were not necessary. The same turning that headed me North also turned me away from heading South.
So it is when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. By genuinely turning toward Him, we also are turning away from sin. For what is sin if it is not a moving away from God? To suggest that repentance is unnecessary when a person comes to Christ makes as much sense as saying that a person may turn around and drive North while continuing to head South. Does this mean that the one who comes to Christ will never sin again? Of course not! It is certainly possible to backslide and begin again to head in the wrong direction. And then we feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and repent of whatever sin we have found ourselves involved with and turn again toward the Lord and return to heading in the right direction.
Therefore, we should not view repentance and belief as a type of methodology, a sequential process with one step preceding the other. But we should see them as two sides of the same coin. If we truly believe the Gospel, then we will repent and turn toward Jesus Christ. If we do not believe, then a spurious “repentance” can do little to save us.
“Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28-29)
If we could sum up in a single sentence what it means to do the work of God, for a person to do what their Creator expects of them, then this is it: “Believe in Him Whom He has sent.” It’s not about a concept, or a doctrine, or a philosophy. It’s about an Individual, Jesus Christ. Believe in Him. Some people have a hard time accepting that there is only one Way to be saved and see it as unreasonable that God would insist that we all come to Him through Christ alone. But Christ is the One Whom God has sent. Not Buddha, or Muhammed, or anyone else. Jesus Christ. This is God’s Way which He chose for us to come to Him. How can we tell God, “thanks for providing that way, but I think I’ll just come to you some other way?” What if we handled earthly authority in this same manner? Take for instance the paying of taxes. In the United States, the Federal government has very specific laws regarding the filing of our income tax. Would it make sense if I told the I.R.S., “Yeah, I know you want me to file my taxes on a 1040 form but I decided I would rather just jot some information in crayon on the back of a napkin.” Would they accept this? Of course not. They have a specific way that I must file my taxes and I am not at liberty to decide that I will do it in some other manner.
God’s plan of Salvation cost Him dearly. He paid a great price by allowing His own Son to die a horrific death so that our sins could be forgiven. What an insult it is when a person tells God that they reject what He has done and would rather come to Him another way!
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article "Am I Going To Heaven?"]
[For more information on what exactly a Christian should believe, please see my article "What Must We Believe - 10 Components Of The Gospel Message"]