Here’s a scary word: “repent”. It means being sorry and changing.
The Gospel of Mark sums up Jesus’ message like this: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14). Unfortunately, this tends to bring to mind a man with a sandwich board: “Repent! The end of the world is nigh!”
So here are some things Jesus did NOT mean when he told his followers to repent.
1. He didn’t mean that everything about your life till now is wrong and sinful and miserable, so you have to put it all behind you and start from scratch. We all have both good and bad in our lives and Jesus only asked people to renounce the bad stuff, not the whole lot. When one would-be follower asked Jesus, “How can I get eternal life?”, Jesus told him he only lacked one thing – he was too attached to his money. A lot of other things in his life were apparently just fine.
2. It doesn’t simply mean trying to be a better person. It means admitting to God that you do wrong and that there is bad in your life, and asking him to forgive you.
3. On the other hand, it doesn’t simply mean saying a prayer of apology to God, having the slate wiped clean, and then carrying on as before. It means making a change for the better in the way you live your life. Some translations of the Gospels have “turn from your sins!” instead of “repent!” Repentance is about turning away from sins and turning to God. It’s about rejecting what’s bad and choosing what is good and comes from God.
4. Jesus wasn’t only talking about a one-off turnaround that changes everything in your life and never needs to be repeated. No one is ever completely transformed or perfected in one moment, and so repenting is the start of a life of repenting, of saying sorry and working at living for and with God.
Are you ready for this step of faith? If you’d like help with a prayer, here is one:
Thank you for the life you’ve given me. Thank you for the ability to know right from wrong and to choose between good and bad.
You know and I know that I haven’t always made the right choices. I’ve done and said and thought things that don’t please you, and that hurt other people and me, too.
I’m truly sorry.
I think of your son, Jesus, who lived and died for the sinners of the world – me included. Please forgive me for all that I’ve done wrong, just as he promised you would. Please give me the help and strength I need to do what is right and good, and to become more like the person you want me to be.
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Jesus was someone who stretched the faith of people around him. He constantly dared people to see things differently, to act differently and to take steps of faith towards God.
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