In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
A few months ago, I made the pilgrimage to Rochester, MN, home of the Mayo Clinic. For two weeks, I saw nearly every “ologist” known to modern medicine. It was an exhausting attempt to find answers to the medical enigma that was the previous four years of my life. One afternoon, after a day’s worth of appointments, I limped into my hotel room. Needing some time to unwind, I fell out on the bed, nestled into my pillow and closed my eyes.
My wind-down ended abruptly when I heard yelling outside the window. I assumed some drunk dudes were fighting over the tab or something. But I was nonetheless intrigued, so I made my way to the window overlooking my downtown Rochester. When I looked out the window, however, I saw three people – presumably a family – on a street corner, yelling at passer-bys. I couldn’t make out their words, so I tried to read their signs. All three held one, two of which I couldn’t make out. The third sign, however, was horrifically clear.
Time seemed to stand still as I watched those three yell at everyone within eyesight. I couldn’t discern their every word. Such discernment wasn’t necessary, though.
After several minutes, my wife, Tiffani, asked, “Why are you still watching that?”
Few words in the Christian vocabulary have become more inflamed than repent.
The biblical picture of repentance, however, is rich and convicting and transformative.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” This is John the Baptist’s message. When Jesus preaches his first sermon, he begins with the same phrase (Matt. 4:17).
The word literally means to “change your mind” or “go beyond the mind that you have.”
Eugene Peterson says, “The usual biblical word describing the no we say to the world’s lies and the yes we say to God’s truth is repentance. It is always and everywhere the first word in the Christian life.”
Repentance is not about shame or fear. It’s not a threatening word at all.
Repentance is an invitation. It’s an invitation to a different way of life. It’s an invitation to change the way you think. It’s an invitation to consider your life in light of the Life.
You don’t have to continue clinging to the past. There’s another way! You don’t have to remain enslaved to toxic thinking or addictive behaviors. Change your mind! You don’t have to find your worth in what you do or what you have or what others say about you. Repent!
A new kingdom is here! Say no to the world’s lies. Enter into this kingdom!
Advent gives us a new framework for repentance.
First, the arrival of Jesus says the motivating factor for repentance is love, not anger. Why should we open our hearts and minds to a different way? Because God dwells among us. God’s not angry with you. Repentance is not about making yourself right with God or earning God’s favor. God made his declaration over you when he left the throne of heaven. That declaration is love. Why repent? Because…Advent. Because God loves you so much he became a human.
Second, Advent says repentance is tied to the present reality, not some future judgment. Why does John preach a message of repentance? Quite simply, Jesus has come. True Life is among us. Heaven isn’t on the other side of some future judgment. Heaven is here, right now. It is the kingdom of God. And you can experience it. Dallas Willard once said, “The gospel of Jesus is about getting into heaven before you die, not after.” Yes and amen! But to enter into heaven now, you must repent. You must change.
Now, even though repentance is an invitation, it’s not easy. Before the Truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable. Yes, for some dang reason, we humans despise change. Even if our current actions are blatantly destructive. I was addicted to porn for two decades. Not once did I think pornography was a healthy outlet for pain and anxiety. But I continued drawing from the well.
Because change always costs something. Repentance hurts…the ego (or the flesh, as Paul calls it).
And maybe that’s why we turned repentance into a pre-requisite for eternal salvation. Let’s be honest, the biblical picture of repentance – the one that invites us to change, to experience heaven right now – is much more difficult to apply.
But for anyone who seeks True Life, the invitation is available. Advent is here. The kingdom of God has come. God’s declaration of love rests in a manger. You can experience heaven, right now.
What is hindering from experiencing true life? What is God inviting you to repent of right now?
Father, thank you for the invitation to repent. Open my heart, open my mind to anything that hinders me from seeing and experiencing you. May your Spirit in me give me the courage to change. Amen!