Repent, For the Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand

After the book of Malachi in the Old Testament, there follows four hundred years of prophetic silence before John the Baptist appears on the scene of redemptive history as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. He came in fulfillment of prophecy and with the spirit of Elijah to be a voice “crying in the wilderness” calling people to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Matt. 3:3; 11:14; 17:11–12).

John preached a very simple and clear message: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (3:2). That message was no more popular in his day than it is in ours, yet our need for repentance is as urgent now as it was then.

Repentance has fallen on hard times in many sectors of Christianity in the western world. Who would have thought it would be possible to attend church regularly and never hear a biblical message on repentance. Yet it’s true.

That certainly was not the case for those who gathered to hear John preach in the wilderness. Neither was that the experience of those who heard Jesus (Matt. 4:17; Luke 5:32). From the very beginning of the New Testament age, repentance has been an integral part of the Gospel message.

I recall a friend sending me this definition of repentance from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing what the Bible means by repentance: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience”.

When John preached repentance, he was calling his hearers to turn away from sin and to turn toward God in Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ into the world, He could proclaim with confidence that God’s kingdom is present. In fact, the presence of that kingdom on earth is the reason that John gives for calling people to repent.

The kingdom cannot be entered apart from repentance. For while it is correct to speak of salvation through faith alone, we must never forget that the faith that saves is more than simple belief in Christ, it is “a penitent faith.”

Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus declared that his death and resurrection were necessary so that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47). The apostles took this to heart and incorporated a call to repent into their preaching. This was the heart of Peter’s admonition at Pentecost (Acts 2:38) as well as when he spoke at Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:19).

The evidence that true salvation had come to the Gentiles was that God had granted them “repentance unto life.(Acts 11:18). Paul explained his commission as an apostle to the Gentiles in these very terms. He told Agrippa that, in response to the heavenly vision given to him on the Damascus Road, he began to preach that people should “repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20). At Athens, we find him doing exactly that to the intellectual elites of his day, declaring that God “commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30).

 Any evangelism that does not include a clear call to repent is not biblical evangelism. Jesus Christ is a great Savior for great sinners, but His salvation is granted only to those who renounce their sins and “turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18).

We misrepresent the terms of salvation if we do not preach the necessity of repentance.
John not only preached repentance, but he also insisted on it. When religious leaders came to him to be baptized, John spoke very plainly to them, exposing their hypocrisy. “O generation of vipers,” he said, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:” (Matt. 3:7–8). True repentance always bears fruit. (Paul gives us a helpful summary of what such fruit looks like in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 — making right the wrong).

That is what repentance is — turning from sin to God with a commitment to pursue a life of obedience to His will. What convinces a sinner to repent? Not only a sense of the sinfulness of his sin, but also the recognition that, because of Christ, God is full of mercy to repentant sinners.

The Gospel not only calls us to repent, but it also sets us free to live in repentance.
Lord Jesus, I confess my sin before you and ask for your mercy and forgiveness. You have said that when we repent of our sins that you are faithful and just to forgive our sins. Thank you for loving me so much that you would give up your life that I might have mine. Amen

Credit: Ron Kelley

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