1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” - and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.
7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - 3 a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’”
4 And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptise you with water, but He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert, 13 and He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus came into our world, which in reality is His world, to change both the minds and the ways of people. As He began His years of public ministry, He announced the central theme and emphasis of His mission and message. And His whole message is summarised in His challenge to us in Mark 1: “Repent, and believe the good news!”
There was a time when people would walk around the streets carrying signs and placards with the words, ‘Repent, for the end is nigh.’ The general mood and attitudes related to these scenes were dread and fear. People had an image in their minds of this furious and angry God glaring down at them, pointing a finger and threatening them to repent, or else. These are the reasons why whenever we hear the word ‘repent’ we think of it as a negative thing, and we’re filled with guilt and remorse because we’re just a bunch of miserable sinners.
But the Biblical concept of repentance is a positive, and a glorious thing. It’s no coincidence that Jesus uses the word repent in the same sentence as the words good news. This invitation to us to repent and believe is positive rather than negative. It is a gracious invitation from a holy God to receive this most precious of gifts called salvation. Being saved is not a negative thing – it is positive, and so if repentance is one of the steps to salvation, how can we regard repentance as a bad thing? It just doesn’t make any sense.
The call to repentance and faith is not a threat or a call to a morbid mind-set. This is not about us wringing our hands in shame and fear of God. The call to repent is a gracious invitation from Jesus to us to prepare mentally and spiritually for participation in the wonderful work of God. I need to point out that this doesn’t mean that we can simply shrug our shoulders and think that our sin doesn’t matter. It does matter. It matters a lot. It mattered so much that Jesus had to die for your sins, so yes, there are times when we quite rightly are ashamed by our sin – but He died for them, and that is good news.
So just what is repentance then? How are we to understand it as the Bible explains it?
There are two common errors regarding repentance, both of which can be quite dangerous.
The first mistake is to think of repentance as a purely intellectual activity. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. Well of course that is part of it, but only part. I remember many times crying that I was sorry when being given a hiding, only to be told, “You’re not sorry for what you’ve done. You’re sorry you were caught.” Of course, my parents were quite correct, because I would often do the same things again that I’d just been given a hiding for. Repentance is not just an intellectual activity – there needs to be evidence of repentance in our behaviour too.
The second danger is to go to the opposite extreme and think that repentance is a work that has to be done before coming to Christ. To think that we need to clean up our act before He accepts and forgives us is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. That old hymn says it perfectly: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.”
Repentance is emphasised throughout the New Testament. The words repent, repentance and repented occurs 54 times in the New Testament alone. Jesus began and concluded His ministry emphasising repentance. At the end of Luke’s Gospel just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46–47). When Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, we’re told in Mark 6:12 “they went out and preached that men should repent.” (Mark 6:12).
Peter ended his wonderful sermon on the day of Pentecost with the words, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:39) Paul, when he preached the Gospel in Athens, the city of pride and sophistication said, “God commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
But just what is repentance? As we spend time studying Jesus’ teaching, it becomes clear that He was calling for something other than a fear of punishment for sin. Repentance is not so much an emotion as it is an attitude toward God, and this is the key to a better understanding of Biblical repentance. Jesus was calling for something other than an emotional crisis or a guilt trip. He loves us, so why would He want us to be filled with emotions like remorse, shame, and sorrow? One of the biggest mistakes when it comes to understanding true repentance is to think that is something we need to do in order make things right with God. I’m a sinner, and I’ve offended Him, so in order to make things right, I need to somehow appease His anger. That’s a work-based salvation that depends on us. The only thing that appeases God and makes things right on behalf of sinners is the blood of Christ.
So what Jesus was calling for was something more than acts of penitence in which human effort is required to make restitution for our sins. Jesus was calling for something more than New Year’s resolutions and turning over a new leaf. By calling us to repentance, He is giving us both an invitation and a challenge for us to completely reverse our thoughts about God.
Repentance is not about saying, “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.” Jesus was saying that a complete change of mental outlook and lifestyle is necessary if we are to participate in the kingdom of God.
He was challenging the people of His day and the people of our day to experience a complete inward change of attitude and outlook concerning God, sin, life, and eternity. When Jesus changes our lives He doesn’t make a few minor tweaks and adjustments. Everything changes, including our attitudes towards God, ourselves and each other. We see our sin completely differently now, as He gives us a new heart and a new life.
Genuine repentance and saving faith are inseparable. The invitation of Jesus was, “Repent and believe the good news.” This radical inward change of our hearts and our attitudes toward God is only possible by the hearing of the gospel - the good news of God’s love and mercy and grace as it is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What is the Gospel?
The gospel tells of the God who revealed Himself as infinite, with an indescribable love for sinners. The gospel tells us of the unselfishness of God who has so lavishly given Himself for us. The gospel tells of the God who seeks the sinner. The gospel tells of the God who forgives sin. The gospel tells of the God who loves us individually. God loves you as an individual as well as other people in the world. The gospel tells us of the God who wants to be our heavenly Father. He is not only our Creator. He is not only the one who provides for our daily needs. He is the great God Almighty who wants to become our heavenly Father. And repentance is a vital step towards entering into this loving, personal relationship with Him. But if repentance is not something we can do for ourselves, what is it then?
You may not have considered this before, but repentance is not a human action. Rather, it is a supernatural miracle. James 4:8 says “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” Repentance is a miracle from God, but we are called to draw near to Him too. This is not a miracle in which we are passive. Most of the supernatural healings of the New Testament involved the person who was sick attempting to do what was impossible in response to a command. This was the response of faith.
A good example would be the man with the withered hand in Matthew 12. Verse 13 says, “He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” Was the healing before or after he stretched it? It was neither. The faith and the healing were actually simultaneous. As the man began to exercise faith by beginning the attempt to move the arm, so miraculously he was enabled to do so.
This helps us to understand how salvation works. We call on someone “dead in trespasses and sins” to repent, and the gift of faith and repentance come simultaneous with their response, giving them both the desire and the power to turn from their old lifestyle and follow Christ.
So you see, repentance is not about something we need to do, but rather something that comes to us by faith. I’m a sinner, and I naturally do things contrary to the will of God. But as a Christian, God gives me both the will and the power to live a life of faith and repentance. This makes repentance more of an ongoing attitude to life, rather than simply something I can tick off on my to do list.
Spiritual healing works the same way as the physical. When Jesus called Zacchaeus to faith, he responded immediately in repentance. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” And Jesus’ immediate response was, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8-9)
So is repentance something we have to do? No. It is something God gives us. This is why nobody can ever claim that they can’t repent because they lack the power, because God will always supply it. James 4:8 again: “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
What all of this means is that repentance is not something we have to do before God will accept us. It is a whole new attitude to Him, ourselves, the world and of course, our sin. Someone once said that repentance is merely agreeing with God about your sin, and I think that simple definition hits the nail squarely on the head.
It is simply a turning away from our old direction as we turn to Christ. It is the other side of the coin of faith, and the two are inseparable from each other. It’s a change of attitudes and lifestyle. As we live a life of repentance, we find ourselves living this new life not because we have to, or because if we don’t God will get us. No, we live this new life as a joyful response to the saving grace of God.
Biblical repentance is changing your mind about Jesus Christ and turning to God in faith for salvation. In Acts 3:19 Peter says, “Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Turning from sin is not the definition of repentance. Rather it is one of the results of genuine, faith-based repentance towards Jesus. It is a response to the gracious invitation to come to Him to receive forgiveness and healing.
Someone once described Biblical repentance as “not some little silly, ‘I’m sorry.’ Repentance is not simply a fear of God. Repentance is not a monk fasting and afflicting his body in a monastery. Repentance is not remorse because of sin’s consequences. Repentance is not penance performed before the pope as you kiss his toe. Repentance is not being sorry for what I’ve done wrong. It is not confessing one’s sins to a priest. It is not just conviction of sin. It is not the signing of a pledge of abstinence. Repentance is that thing when you come before God and see yourself as you are, and see Him as He is, and you say with Isaiah ‘Woe is me, I am unclean.’”
Repentance and faith are inseparable, and are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Saviour without first changing your mind about who He is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from a conscious rejection or repentance from ignorance or disinterest, it is a change of mind. Biblical repentance, when connected to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Jesus to faith in Jesus. Repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God draws that person to Himself. Repentance is something that God gives, and it is only possible because of His grace. No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts.
John MacArthur writes, “Repentance is not just a change of mind; it is a change of heart. It is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. Repentance in the context of the new birth means turning from sin to the Saviour. It is an inward response, not an external activity, but its fruit will be evident in the true believer’s behaviour.”
The gospel is good news from God to you. Jesus Christ died for your sins on the cross because of God’s love for you. Everything Jesus has done and continues to do is for the purpose of offering you the miracle of salvation. Psalm 32 speaks of repentance and rejoicing as God gives us the power to live lives that honour Him. “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”
That is what Jesus was talking about in His gracious invitation in which He said, “Repent, and believe the good news.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Repentance is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament.
Jesus consistently taught people to repent and believe the Good News.
What is your understanding of repentance, and how do you think you may have misunderstood it to be a negative thing?
One of the common mistakes we make is to think that repentance is something we need to do. We must get our lives in order and be a better person before God will accept us.
This belief though, is contrary to the Gospel of grace.
Discuss how this incorrect understanding of repentance conflicts with the Gospel of Jesus.
The words ‘repent’ and ‘rejoice’ are often regarded as opposites, yet from a Biblical perspective, repentance is a joyful thing.
Do you agree with this statement? Why, or why not?
Read James 4:7-8
Here we are given an insight into just what it means to repent.
A point made on Sunday is that repentance is a miracle – something that can only come to us by the power of God.
This goes against so much of what we may have believed about repentance.
Discuss in your group the different ideas people have about the call to repent.
Close in prayer. Ask the Lord to continue to open our hearts to His gracious invitation to “Repent and believe the Good News.”