REPENT AND BELIEVE
Mark 1:14-15 NET
14 Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God. 15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”
We have been studying two foundational imperatives this month: repentance from sin and believing in God’s gospel. It is in today’s passage that we learn from Jesus himself how foundational these two actions are. When our Lord began his preaching, it could be summarized by these words: “repent and believe the gospel.” We have seen in our study that neither of these is a new command.
Today I want to share seven reasons to repent and believe the gospel. Three of the seven reasons are implied from today’s text.
First, we are commanded to repent by our king (15).
When Jesus started proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near, he was declaring that he had been appointed King of that kingdom. When he next said “Repent and believe the gospel!” he was commanding all of his subjects to do something. The form of the word (μετανοεῖτε) is a grammatical imperative. He did not give anyone an option. He did not say that the gospel was one of the paths to God that a person could take.
He did not add a condition to his command. If he had said “if the world will let you, repent” then perhaps that would have excluded some people. Many who have repented and turned to faith in the gospel have paid for that choice with their lives. Their political and religious leaders demanded that they reject Christ. But their king did not put an exclusion clause in his command. Jesus commanded them to repent, and so they did.
Many have had to renounce their own families to obey the command from their king. They knew that Jesus did not say “if your family will let you, repent.” His command came with no conditions.
Second, the gospel demands a response (14)
What Mark referred to as the gospel is the whole story of how God has intervened in the history of humanity by sending his Son to be our king. As our king, Jesus will renew all creation, destroying all evil and removing sin from the earth. But we cannot be passive about this news.
The gospel is not good news because it promises that everything is going to come out alright. Jesus’ words to us were not “let it be.” No, the gospel is good news because the ship we are on is going to be torpedoed – but we have the chance to get off it and get into a lifeboat before it happens. If we choose to do nothing, we will go down with the ship!
A third reason to repent and believe is found in our Lord’s statement that it causes joy in heaven.
Jesus said, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent” (Luke 15:7).
Maybe you think you can take your chances on being one of the ninety-nine who does not need to repent. I would not. If you have never repented, I can guarantee you that you are not one of the ninety-nine. Besides, the real question for all of us is this: do we want to bring joy to our heavenly Father? If we do, Jesus told us that we can do that by repenting.
A fourth reason to repent and believe is that the alternative is perishing.
Luke records a time when Jesus was talking to some people about two horrible events: a massacre by Pilate of some Galileans and a disaster in Jerusalem when a tower fell on some bystanders.
“Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things? No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!” (Luke 13:1-5).
If you are ever in a disaster situation like that, it makes you think. You naturally begin to question why it happened. You might even wonder about the victims. You might wonder what they had done to deserve such a tragedy happening to them. But Jesus urged his listeners to think about something else. He urged them to realize that we all deserve that fate. Repentance and faith in the gospel is our only way out of a similar fate.
Our history might lead us to bring up some other disaster, like 9-1-1, a plane crash, or COVID-19. But Jesus was teaching us that no one escapes the big one. The big one is the second death – destruction in Gehenna. That is the big disaster still looming in the future for everyone… everyone who does not repent. The torpedo is slicing through the sea surface as I speak. No one on board will be safe when it hits. That is why the news about the lifeboat is good news.
The Bible says that “this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Those are the two options. Either repent and believe in Christ or perish in the big one when it comes.
I want to share a quote here from a very old book. The edition from which I will be quoting is dated 1845. The author is John Oswald Jackson.
“This is for you, if unsaved, THE great question; all others fall beside it into the shade. Compared with this, all domestic, commercial, political questions are as the small dust of the balance; they are but as drops to the ocean; in a word, they are for time, this for ETERNITY!! And let me in fidelity say, that if you are conscious that you have not yet experienced this repentance, you are in the most perilous condition imaginable. However amiable and learned; however rich and refined; or however poor and despised; what ever may be your inward disposition or outward character; your internal feelings or external circumstances; still, unless you have repented, the God of truth and tenderness declares solemnly you must perish!”1
A fifth reason to repent and believe is that the same king who commanded it will be the judge appointed to decide our permanent fate.
The apostle Paul taught that “although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
It will not be only Christians who are held accountable for obeying this command of Christ. That command extends to all people everywhere. The one who preached the good news to his people will hold the entire planet responsible for believing it. The God who created this planet has set a day in which it will be judged. He has appointed a man to do the judging. That man is not me. I could not handle that responsibility and neither could you. But God has appointed one who is capable of answering this question. He is the one who commanded us all to repent and believe his gospel. He knows whether or not we have done it.
A sixth reason to repent and believe is that just being sad about one’s sin is not enough.
Note what the apostle says here:
“For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Paul points out that there are two kinds of sadness – one intended by God and the other, worldly. Only one kind of sadness leads to life. The other leads to death. Both are true sadness. But only one kind of sadness saves. That is the sadness given to us by God to produce repentance. So, my question for you today is not whether you are sad about your sin. Cain was sad about his sin. Judas was sad about his sin. Worldly sadness just leads to death.
A seventh and final reason to repent and believe the gospel is that it is available for every living person right now.
Jesus commanded all the Galileans to repent and believe the gospel (15). No doubt there were many Galileans to whom Jesus spoke who had wrecked their lives with failure after failure. But Jesus did not stop at each one and give each one a specific regimen of works of restitution and penance. No, the command to repent and believe is a one size fits all command. Repentance is designed as the beginning of a life of sanctification. Repentance serves as the foundation of a life of good works. But no amount of sanctification or good works ever precedes the initial act of repentance.
Repentance (μετάνοια) is by definition a change of mind. You do not have to work for a change of mind. You don’t have to ease into it by slow progression. There are not twelve steps to take. Repentance is not graduation – it is enrollment.
Repentance is something you can do all at once, in response to a single command. The same is true of belief. Faith is like a lamp. It can be off and then turned on in a second.
Now, once the light is turned on, there will be a thousand adjustments every day that you and I will have to make. But these adjustments are not repentance. They are the natural result of turning on the lamp. Now that we see the light, we know what steps to take and which steps to avoid. The light helps us to examine ourselves and to root out evils that we had no idea were here inside us. But none of that is repentance. Repentance is a once-in-a-lifetime decision to obey Christ – to enter his kingdom, to believe in his gospel.
Consider, brothers and sisters, whether you have repented in that sense. Have you turned from a self-centered life of sin and allowed God to turn his light on in your heart?
For most of you, I can imagine that you do not have to struggle with that question. You can remember the time – for some of you the exact day – when you gave your heart to Jesus. I’m not asking you to do it again. The light needs only to be switched on once.
If you are confident in your repentance and faith in the gospel, I merely want to encourage you to express that confidence. There are people all around us who have not yet obeyed Christ’s command. We are called to bear witness to them. Many still ride the fence. We need to make it clear to them which side we have taken. Many have not yet brought joy to their creator in heaven. If we have, it should have resulted in a bit of joy for us. The world needs to see that. If we have repented, we are guaranteed not to perish in the fires of Gehenna. That knowledge should give us confidence that gets people’s attention. If we have truly repented, we should feel more joy than sadness.
Jesus commanded us to repent and believe his gospel. If you have done that, you are on the right side of history. If you haven’t done that yet. All it takes is flipping the switch.