“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).
The text for today followed immediately after Jesus’ baptism and the subsequent time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. His ministry began with the message of repentance. The fact that He chose the message of repentance to launch His ministry demonstrates its importance. To my recollection, every true and powerful revival throughout history started, and was perpetuated by, the message of repentance.
Repentance is an “about face,” a turning around, away from sin. For John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples and others who spread the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension, repentance was as much a part of the Gospel as faith, for our faith is made manifest by the way we live our lives!
I remember playing hide-and-seek as a child. The person whose turn it was to be the seeker needed to repent, turn around, and count to a specified number before beginning the search for the other players. As I remember the game, the seeker often turned to sneak a peek as the others were hiding to gain an unfair advantage. In the world of the Gospel, however, we only gain an advantage by keeping our backs turned to sin!
The gospel preached in so many places today leads people to believe that all that is necessary for us is that we believe. This “gospel” oversimplifies, thereby diluting, the message of Christ. It is true that faith in Jesus brings forgiveness of sin, but it also brings us the freedom not to sin that we did not have before our faith!
John preached that people should “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Paul said, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:9-12 ESV).
I think that we need to reintroduce repentance to the Gospel of Christ. We need to teach preach that “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2 ESV). This is good news; we don’t have to sin!
Consider the role that repentance plays in your own Christian walk. Consider whether it is an active part of your faith. And consider the role of repentance in the message of Christ that you share with others.