You know the guy, right?
Bullhorn in his hand.
Spit flying from his mouth.
Clenched right fist in the air.
Cardboard sign that matches his words: REPENT!
Crowd of silent listeners and hecklers surrounding him.
Surely you've seen him too. He makes the rounds at sporting events, on boardwalks, outside of concert venues, and at political rallies.
I might not remember the first time I met him, but I remember one incident from my childhood. It might have been my first encounter. I was on my way to the San Diego Chargers game and I heard him yelling with a snarl on his face, "Sinners will go to hell. REPENT!"
He said the name Jesus somewhere in his presentation, but I'd never heard the word Jesus uttered with the kind of anger and vitriol he spewed from his mouth.
The word "repent" carries all kinds of connotations depending on your experience.
Most often I hear it associated with feeling sorry for the sins we have committed. But repentance is not just about feeling sorry. It's so much bigger than that!
In my last post, I suggested that it's impossible to obey the gospel. How do you obey a piece of news? Instead we welcome, receive, and celebrate news. We can obey God, but it's seems difficult to obey information.
And yet, Peter and Paul command us to the "obey" the gospel in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17. The word obey has several translation options. Most translations translate the word in 2 Thessalonians as "obey," but it can also be translated "to respond" or "to accept."
I still stand by my premise that it's impossible to "obey" good news.
But I believe it is possible, and expected, that believers will "respond" to the good news. And our response to the good news should be repentance. But the kind of repentance I'm referring to is bigger than the "REPENT!" guy on the street corner offers.
Check this out...
In the Gospel of Mark, the first words out of Jesus' mouth are, "The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news."
It's this exciting announcement that something new is breaking into the world. Things are not as they once were. Jesus has come to bring God's reign to earth. He has come to make things on earth as they already are in heaven. And that's why he doesn't just preach the good news about their spiritual condition. He comes healing people and changing their physical condition.
And what are we to do because of this announcement? Jesus tells us. He says, "Repent and believe the good news." In other words, we are supposed to respond to the good news through repentance and belief.
As I've said, we usually associate repentance with feeling sorry or asking forgiveness for things we've done wrong. And those things are certainly part of repentance. But repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means "to change one's mind" or "to change one's behavior."
Saying sorry isn't enough.
Repentance is a change of mindset and direction.
Jesus isn't just trying to make us feel sorry for our sins. Jesus' first words are an exciting announcement about a world on its way that we can live into now.
In other words, to repent is to imagine the way things will be with Christ returns, and to align our future with God's future. Jesus wasn't wanting a bunch of sorry people to follow him. He wanted to give us a vision of his future and to let us know that the Holy Spirit would empower us to live a life in tune with the way things will be when he restores all things.
Now, that's good news!
Good news doesn't demand obedience. Good news demands repentance. Good news demands realignment. Good news demands a new way of life. God is ushering in change and he needs change agents who will join him in putting on heaven on display right here on earth.
And if you don't think good news demands repentance, then you've never had a child.
Holly and I are days away from welcoming our third child into the world. That's right; we're moving from man-to-man to zone defense.
We announced the good news months ago to our friends and family. No obedience is needed, but you better believe repentance is needed.
Because things are about to change in our lives. Any of you who have had a child know what I'm talking about. It's not enough for us to celebrate the birth of our child. We will have to change quite a few things about our current schedule to live in tune with the good news of a third child.
In other words, our world is about to get rocked whether we want to admit it or not. To repent, in our situation, is to prepare to live in a new way as a result of another child. We have to adjust our budget. We're catching up on sleep now. We moved to a new place so our child would have a room of his/her own. The announcement of good news of a third child has changed everything!
The kingdom needs fewer people calling for repentance with scowls on their faces on street corners and more people calling for repentance with balloons and birth announcements in hand ready to usher in a whole new world.
The call to repent isn't bad news.
The call to repent is good news.
It's a call to align our lives with the world God is going to bring.
It's a call to practice resurrection.
It's a call to give people a vision of what their lives could be like.
It's a call for the church to live as a colony of heaven as ambassadors on earth.
It's a call to live the abundant life.
So, what are you waiting for?
Repent and believe the good news.
Repentance isn't something we yell from street corners.
Repentance is something we show people that they can't resist.
It's a call to "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."
And that's far better fruit than Eve ate in the Garden of Eden.
It's the fruit of the kingdom.