14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:14-15)
We who emphasize God’s grace and the New Covenant, are sometimes accused of not preaching repentance and thereby taking sin “too lightly”. But as a matter of fact, the quite opposite is true. We have realized that the sin problem was so serious that there was only one remedy: that God sent His own son, Jesus Christ, to earth. The Creator of the universe became man and walked among us! Jesus, who was without sin, took upon Himself the sins of the whole world on the cross. God’s own Son became sin, so that we that were sinful could be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
At the same time, we believe that the work of Jesus on the cross had ramifications that went far beyond only accomplishing a temporary solution to the sin problem. Through the cross, sin was put away – once and for all (Heb. 9:26)! We thus do not take sin lightly. What we do is that we exalt the redemptive work of Jesus to its rightful place!
Traditional repentance preaching has almost always been legalistic and counterproductive. By telling people that they must change their behavior, stop doing evil deeds and start doing good works, we have put the cart before the horse. We humans are namely not capable of repenting so that we live a righteous life on our own. Before we received Jesus, we were spiritually dead and born with a nature inclined to sin and disobedience (see Eph. 2:1-5). The only cure is that we are born again and receive a new and righteous nature on the inside! This cannot happen by our own good deeds, but only by grace through faith in Jesus!
A holy lifestyle and a changed behavior are not preconditions for repentance. They are the result of that true repentance has taken place!
The word for “repentance” in the original Greek, metanoia, does not mean “a changed behavior”, but a “change of mind” – i.e. that we change the way we think (which eventually will lead to a changed behavior).
When Jesus preached “repent and believe in the gospel”, His audience was the Jewish people, who strived to adhere to all the rules and regulations in the law of Moses. All of their lives were built around a performance-based religious system. Jesus’ message was:
“Change the way you think. The law of Moses cannot give you eternal life. Repent from believing that you can deserve eternal life and God’s blessings through your own performance. Instead believe in the gospel. Believe in Me.”
The kind of “repentance” Jesus advocated, was the introduction of the good news about God’s grace, so that people could change their thinking and understand God’s true nature so that they could life in intimate fellowship with the Father!
Consider the lady that was caught in the act of adultery in John chapter 8. According to the law of Moses she was to receive the death penalty. Instead of judging her, Jesus extended His grace to her by saying, “Neither do I condemn you”. Only after that did Jesus say, “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11). When do you think repentance happened in this woman’s heart? Before Jesus had acquitted her or afterwards? The woman knew that she in accordance with the Jewish law deserved to be put to death. Nothing in the Scripture indicates that she “repented” by calling out to God, or to the Jewish leaders, for mercy. The repentance – the change in her thinking – happened only after that she had an encounter with God’s unconditional love, as Jesus refused to condemn her. It was the grace and mercy she received from Him that gave her the strength to “go and sin no more”.
The meassage about grace and the New Covenant does not give people a “license to sin”. People are already sinning without a license! The whole Old Testament is a testimony about that laws, rules, and regulations can never accomplish true holiness in people’s lives. A holy lifestyle is only the result of God’s grace working in our lives.
The message about grace and the New Covenant is actually all about repentance and sanctification. We encourage both believers and non-believers to repent from “dead works” (Heb. 6:1) – from trusting in their own good works and performance, unto only trusting in Jesus and His finished work. Like the Apostle Paul, we pull down strongholds and arguments that exalts themselves against the knowledge of God – by the mighty weapons of the Gospel!