Welcome to the Commands of Christ blog series where we will examine together the nine foundational commands given by Jesus which are essential for new disciples to understand and obey.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
The first command of Jesus’ public ministry was to repent and believe. He spoke this command indiscriminately to all who would listen and it was a call for radical inward change toward God and man.
When Jesus said “Repent,” He was talking about a change of heart toward sin, the world, and God; an inner change that gives rise to new ways of living that exalt Christ and give evidence of the truth of the gospel.
What does it mean to repent? The New Testament Greek word translated as “repent” is METANOEŌ. It has two parts: META and NOEŌ. The second part, NOEŌ, refers to the disposition of your inner self, your “default setting” toward reality. The first part, META, is a prefix that means movement or change. META, or “change,” plus NOEŌ, or “disposition” equals “to change your disposition towards life and reality, to have a transformed default setting about what’s important.”
Jesus explained that when our default setting is changed by the Holy Spirit, it shows, as we “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Genuine repentance is an inner change of heart that produces the fruits of new behavior. Acting differently, speaking differently, and living differently (these are the fruits) are the inevitable outward result of being made completely different on the inside (that’s repentance).
An excellent example of this inner change producing fruits of new behaviour is Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax-collector by profession. This was a job synonymous in people’s minds with deceit, theft and lies. At that time, the chief tax-collectors were reliable servants of Rome. While they ensured that taxes were paid, they managed to enrich themselves in a number of legal and illegal ways, at the expense of Jews who were poor. By this method, Zacchaeus became rich and acquired lots of material goods. He wasn’t a person for whom other people felt admiration, love and respect. He was someone who exploited his fellows. His relations with them were hypocritical and based on his own advantage.
But something sparked inside of him when he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho. Perhaps he was having a crisis of his soul, realizing that the riches and possessions did not lead to the happiness he so desperately wanted. Perhaps he had heard that Jesus had granted the wish of the blind beggar at the city gate and hoped that he might do the same for him. So he decided to see who this Jesus was. But the crowd was big and Zacchaeus was small and he couldn’t possibly see Jesus. So he climbed up into a sycamore tree near where Jesus would need to pass by.
As He entered the town, Jesus saw the crowds of people with a look that was full of authority, yet loving and merciful. His eyes came to Zacchaeus, who was up the tree. The Lord called him by name. This personal call from Jesus to Zacchaeus indicates his personal preparation for salvation. He climbs down from the tree, full of happiness and joy, and welcomes Jesus into his home. He publicly acknowledged the sinfulness of his ways and began ‘bearing fruits in keeping with repentance’, by giving half his substance to the poor and restoring fourfold to anyone he had wronged. ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold’. This is what repentance and faith look like.
Jesus made it clear that repentance and faith are like opposite sides of the same coin. Mark 1:15 records the inspired summary of Jesus’ message as He began His ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance and faith go together because if you believe that Jesus is the Lord Who saves (faith), you have a changed mind about your sin and your self (repentance); and if you repent, it’s because you trust that Jesus is the Lord Who saves.
That’s because faith, as Scripture defines it, is trusting that Jesus is who He said He is and that He does what He said He would do. The important thing about this biblical definition of faith is that it focuses on who Jesus is, not on you or your efforts. Here’s what that means for you. Think of faith as having three parts: knowing, agreeing and relying.
The knowing part of faith means that you learn from the Word of God Who Jesus is and what He has done to save sinners. That why the Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
The agreeing part of faith comes as the Holy Spirit convinces you of the truth about Jesus. You agree with God’s testimony and admit, “What God says is true.” This is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”
The relying part of faith means you stake your life on the truth you know and agree with. This is where faith becomes personal, as you entrust your eternal soul to Jesus only.
The first two parts of faith — knowing and agreeing — are like going to an airport, watching people get on airplanes, and seeing the airplanes take off. By observation, you come to know that these big winged objects can carry people thousands of miles at amazing speeds; and you agree that it happens all the time. The third part of faith, relying, is like you boarding an airplane. It’s one thing to know and agree that planes can take people to faraway places. It’s another thing to get on a plane yourself.
Biblical faith is just like that. You come to know from God’s Word the truth about Who Jesus is and what He has done for you. Then, the Holy Spirit convinces you of the truth of God’s Word, and you agree that the gospel is true. And then you take it personally: you renounce reliance on your own efforts to achieve salvation, and place your life in the hands of Jesus, trusting that Who He is and what He did are sufficient to save you.
Romans 3:23-26 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God has passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Repentance and faith are absolutely essential for the disciple of Jesus. Have you repented? Have you placed your faith in the gospel, believing that what Jesus did in his death, burial and resurrection cleanses you from your sin and secures a relationship with the God who created you?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Let’s be encouraged to come boldly before God not only to confess our sins, but also to repent and believe.