The First Word of the Gospel

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14 – 15

Repentance is an accepted, but unpopular idea within the modern Church. To ears attuned to having our best life now, repentance sounds somewhat ‘retro’, associated with old-timey fire and brimstone preaching. It’s almost as if repentance is just Hell repellant. This is a sad observation when we talk about the good news, because repentance is the first word of the gospel.

There is so much to be gained for disciples of Jesus when we develop a full grasp of the true meaning of repentance. It is more than being emotionally sorry for sin or the act of simply turning away from those things that dishonor the Cross. Repentance is turning toward God, it is facing our Lord Jesus and keeping Him in sight as disciples.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jeremiah 17:9

The emotion of sorrow expressed for sin is both good and bad. It is good that we are distressed in heart for those things that fail to bring glory to our Savior. Here the heart does us a favor by making us mindful of our thoughts and actions. Without action however, we can be led astray by that same heart convincing us that we have repented of sin. James speaks to this behavior in chapter 1, verses 22-24 when he describes the man who hears the word but fails to follow it. Sorrow can remind us of the beauty of God’s word but it must be followed by action. We must turn our hearts toward God, recognizing the error of our ways and hope and peace and joy in His.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds.

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:1-3

Oh, the beauty of repentance! The act of turning back toward the Lord is so much greater than just averting our eyes from sin. There is no promise of restoration in the sweeping of our vision as our eyes may land on another of the temptations that surround us. No, we must turn our hearts fully in the direction of the Lord, and in doing so, we become the recipients the renewal that our souls groan for (Romans 8:26).

Do we meditate on the privilege of repentance? There is an underlying assumption that the sovereign God of perfect holiness owes us, His creations, a chance at forgiveness, the opportunity to be sorry. How dare we assume on any such thing! It is only by His grace and mercy that those in constant rebellion have a chance to repent. The Father portrayed in the parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) owed no such mercy to the rebellious teen who demanded his father’s treasures and the right to drift headlong into depravity. But such was the love of his father who watched the horizon day after day for any sign of his returning boy, that when the prodigal turned back in humility he was restored as though he had never wandered. The chance to repent of our rebellion and turn back to our Father is not owed to us. But God, who so loves the world, made the sacrifice that does away with the penalty of our sin, and blesses those who repent and believe that He has done this for them with life.

 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Repentance, the first step in the receipt of the good news, is to become like a child. It is to recognize that we are immature before God. It is to acknowledge and believe that we cannot have life in full apart from God. Repentance is the act of turning toward God in His grace and believing in our total dependence on Him for life and for salvation. Repent and believe the good news.

* The title of this post was borrowed loosely from Richard Roberts important book, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel.