The first words of true mission are an invitation to repentance. To repent means to change, to turn, to believe the good news. Repentance and faith, so far as I can tell, are like two sides of the same coin. While some theologians separate them, in order to distinguish them, the gospel seems to keep them closely bound together. In some texts we read about faith in our Lord Jesus Christ while in others people are urged to repent and then believe the good news. John the Baptist began his ministry of preparation for the coming Messiah by saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:1-2).
The Greek word metanoia is used in the LXX (OT Greek translation) to describe both God and man having repented about something. We read, for example, that God repented of having made Saul king of Israel. The rabbis used the word to primarily express how a person changes their mind about an evil life. God’s people were constantly called upon to repent because they continually moved away from the covenant. And the prophets believed the Messiah would lead all to God by conversion, a conversion which would follow upon repentance.
In the New Testament repentance plainly means to take a new direction in one’s life. Deep conversion, which is a life long procession regardless of how it begins, is rooted in repentance. This is not, however, our effort or our morally righteous “work” but God’s gift that results in our turning around. The gift results in my willingness to follow Christ and to co-operate with God in changing my direction.
Evangelicals are right to call upon people to repent. But they are wrong to think of this as a “one time” turning. It is a first step in a new direction. It is the beginning of a process. My whole life, and my attitude toward God, needs to be converted daily and repentance is God’s grace to pursue this change. I do make a decision to repent. But I make it daily if I am a disciple of Jesus.
Various theologians have argued about which comes first, repentance or faith. I do not think the Bible is clear on this question. A case can be made, theologically, for either coming first. Yet I prefer to think that faith comes first since faith is the God-given ability to believe that God truly loves me and personally desires my fellowship with him in Christ Jesus. When I believe this to be true then I am motivated to turn from sin and to God again and again. If I do not believe that I am loved turning will be nearly impossible in many instances.
Today ask God to grant you “eyes that see” and a “heart that believes” so that you might turn from sin and follow God’s call in your life. Begin each day with faith and repentance. In fact, live every moment in faith and repentance. Surely no true Christian can argue that faith and repentance are at the very center of the good news of Jesus. God’s gracious gift in Christ grants us the “eyes that see” so that we can repent and follow Jesus as our Lord!