Repent – of What?
Far too often we find ourselves failing even to live up to the standard that we expect of ourselves. But what is the standard that God expects of a Christian? This is where Jesus makes things really hard for us…
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The principle that anyone who wishes to become a true Christian must admit their sin – and turn away from it – is central to the teaching of Jesus.
From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Mat 4:17)
The word, ‘repent’ in the original Greek is, ‘metanoeo;’ and its meaning is defined as, “to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction): – repent.” (Strongs Analytical Concordance). Thus, its primary meaning is ‘to change the way you think:’ but this entails far more than a mere intellectual assent to a different way of thinking.
John the Baptist began to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming with the message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mat 3:2) Those who received his message were expected to publicly acknowledge their faults and their need to change by submitting to baptism – a ceremonial act of cleansing – in the Jordan river. But this, however humbling it might have been, was not enough; John also insisted that they must produce ‘fruits worthy of repentance’ (Lk 3:8). When asked, “What then must we do?” he answered, “He who has two coats, let him give to him who has none. He who has food, let him do likewise.” To tax collectors, he said, “Collect no more than that which is appointed to you;” and to soldiers, “Extort from no one by violence, neither accuse anyone wrongfully. Be content with your wages,” (Lk 3:10-14).
So repentance requires far more than just a change in our value system and more than a public (and possibly humiliating) acknowledgement that we have done wrong. It must result in a change of lifestyle from selfish and wrongful actions to compassion and justice.
Raising the Bar
Jesus began his public ministry by echoing John’s call and similarly requiring people to be baptised (Jn 3:22-4:2; Mat 28:19; Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38). But Jesus does not merely endorse what John said about producing fruits worthy of repentance: he dramatically raises the standard! We find this vividly illustrated in his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount.’
In this he tells us:
“Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mat 5:17-20)
“You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’ But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.” (Mat 5:21-22)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28)
“It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,’ but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery.” (Mat 5:31-32)
“Again you have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall perform to the Lord your vows,’ but I tell you, don’t swear at all… But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one.” (Mat 5:33-37)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Mat 5:38-41)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you… (Mat 5:43-44)
And, as if all that wasn’t a daunting enough prospect, Jesus summarises this part of his discourse by saying,
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:48)
But surely that’s impossible – or is it? Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus and his disciples had to say about this.
Sin No More
There are two occasions when we find Jesus telling people to ‘sin no more.’
Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.” (Jn 8:10-11)
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “Behold, you are made well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”(Jn 5:14)
In the first of the above examples, it can be argued that Jesus is simply referring to the specific sin of adultery. But in the second there is no reference to any specific sins. Was Jesus seriously suggesting that it is possible to live without sin?
Is this really as unthinkable as it sounds? The apostle Paul comments,
“No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1Cor 10:13)
If that’s the case, it seems that Christians have no excuse for sinning in future. So – what if we do?