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Revelation 9:20-21 “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

God’s word to the peoples of the world is not only an offer of grace, nor even less simply a call to live rightly, nor even less still a promise to make all our dreams come true if we just have faith. We have not heard all that God wants to say to us unless we have heard his command to repent.

Ezekiel said “Repent and turn from your transgressions” (Ezek. 18:30).  John the Baptist said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Peter said “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).  And Paul said God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Repentance has never been easy. No one likes to be told “Die to yourself.  Kill that in you.  Admit you are wrong and change.”  That’s never been an easy sell. It’s much easier to get a crowd by leaving out the repentance part of faith, but it’s not faithful. It’s not even Christianity. Of course, there is a whole lot more to following Jesus than repentance, but it’s certainly not less.  “Repent,” Jesus said, or “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

Repentance has always been hard, always will be hard.

Regret, now that’s easy. Suppose you walk into work one day, furious for no good reason. You get paid well and treated nicely, but you feel like supervisor is unfair. You should have got the promotion, even though you were less qualified and less experienced.  Nevertheless, you march into the office and let your supervisor have it. You tell him where to stick this job. You tell him exactly what you think about him and his wife and mother and his grandmother and his dog. Next thing you know, you’re fired. Later that night, you feel just sick about the whole thing.  How could you have been so stupid to say all that. Now you’re out of work. That’s regret. You don’t have to see your sin or admit wrong and be humbled to feel regret. You just have to feel bad about the consequences of your actions. It’s easy to have regret, but that’s not repentance.

Embarrassment is easy too. Suppose you’re out in the lobby after church and a group of you are chatting about “her.”  No one has talked to “her,” but you all talking about her–what’s wrong in her marriage, what’s wrong with her kids, what’s wrong with her house. You aren’t strategizing how to help her. You’re just talking about her. And then you realize she’s been looking for her coat right behind you the whole time.  She’s heard the whole thing.  And as she bolts out of church crying, you feel just terrible. You are so embarrassed. Now, it may be that you are really struck in your conscience and you are moved to ask for forgiveness. But it could be that you are just embarrassed at being caught. You feel terrible, not so much with having gossiped, but that she heard you gossiping. You wonder what she thinks of you now and if she will tell others about this incident. Sure, you feel terrible, but it’s out of love for your reputation, not out of hatred for sin. You’re simply embarrassed, and that’s not repentance.

Apology is not repentance either.  To be sure, repentance often involves an apology. But just because you’ve issued an apology doesn’t mean you’ve repented.  We’ve all heard and given pseudo-apologies.  “I’m sorry if you were offended.”  “I’m sorry if you took things the wrong way.”  “I’m sorry I said that about your kids.  It’s not that I think their bad kids, their just wild, unruly, and undisciplined.  I’m sorry you’re so sensitive.” Or even when the apology is sincere, it may not be a sincere statement of repentance.  It may just be a sincere statement of feeling remorse or shame.

So regret is easy, embarrassment is easy, and apology is easy.  Repentance, on the other hand, is very hard and, therefore, much rarer.  Repentance involves two things: a change of mind and a change of behavior.

Repentance means you change your mind.  That’s what the Greek word metanoia means– a changed (meta) mind (noia).

You change your mind about yourself: “I am not fundamentally a good person deep down.  I am not the center of the universe.  I am not the king of the world or even my life.”

You change your mind about sin: “I am responsible for my actions.  My past hurts do not excuse my present failings.  My offenses against God and against others are not trivial.  I do not live or think or feel as I should.”

And you change your mind about God: “He is trustworthy.  His word is sure.  He is able to forgive and to save. I believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. I owe him my life and my allegiance. He is my King and my Sovereign, and he wants what is best for me.  I believe it!”

Repentance is hard because changing someone’s mind is hard.  In fact, when we’re dealing with spiritual matters of the heart, God’s the only one who can really change your mind.  People are simply not predisposed to say “I was wrong! I was wrong about God and about myself. My whole way of looking at the world has been in error.  I want to change.”  That’s repentance.  And it’s amazing when it happens.

In the classic book detailing his conversion to Christianity, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton compares his journey to an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England, while under the impression he was in the South Seas.  That’s how Chesterton came to Christ.  He rejected Christianity and set out to find what was really true.  And when he found the truth, he discovered he was back home again.  What he found had been there all along.

Here’s how he describes his metanoia, his change of mind:

For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me.  I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before…No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.

I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century.  I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age.  Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth.  And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.  I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths.  And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine.

When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom…The man from the yacht thought he was the first to find England; I thought I was the first to find Europe. I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

Chesterton changed his mind.  He admitted he was a fool and a joke.  He had professed all the latest ideas.  But the one thing he was sure was most wrong, ended up being right.

Repentance also involves a change of behavior.  It’s like a train conductor driving his train down the tracks straight for the side of a mountain.  It’s one thing for him to realize and admit that his train his going in the wrong direction.  It’s another thing to stop the train and it get it going in the opposite direction.

As you probably know, prior to becoming a Christian, John Newton was a drunken sailor and a slave trader.  He was converted in a storm at sea.  His life whole did not change at once.  But because his repentance was genuine, he did change.

I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament.  Thus far, the Lord had wrought a marvelous thing: I was no longer an infidel: I heartily renounced my former profaneness, and had taken up some right notions…I was sorry for my past misspent life, and purposed an immediate reformation.  I was quite freed from the habit of swearing, which seemed to have been as deeply rooted in me as a second nature.  Thus, to all appearance, I was a new man.

From there he had a long road of being transformed from one degree of glory to the next. He changed his mind and his behavior slowly began to follow suit. It took time, but he bore fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). He did not change in order to become new, but  that he was a new man had to be proved by his change.

If we preach a “gospel” with no call to repentance we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel.

If we knowing allow unconcerned, impenitent sinners into the membership and ministry of the church, we are deceiving their souls and putting ours at risk as well.

If we think people can find a Savior without forsaking their sin, we do not know what sort of Savior Jesus Christ is.

There are few things more important in life than repentance.  So important, that Revelation, and the gospels, and the epistles, and the Old Testament make clear that you don’t go to heaven without it.

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28 thoughts on “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand”

  1. StephenT says:

    I hear the truth in what you’re saying, but please be mindful of how, to some readers without as informed a perspective as your own, the gospel can sometimes get diluted.

    More and more I hear that the Good News is becoming an “offer” from God that we must rightly handle with strenuous acts of WILL, or all is lost. Like salvation itself, I a so thankful the repentance is a gift of God.

    Jesus didn’t purchase a “possibility” for you:

    “When Jesus went to the Cross, He didn’t purchase the “possibility of salvation”. (As if He opened a door for people to walk through, if they so chose). No, Jesus took names to the Cross.”
    –Paul David Tripp

    We must be wary of arousing Charles Spurgeon’s “deepest pity”:

    “All the sound doctrine that ever was believed will never save a man unless he puts his trust in the Lord Jesus for himself. Mr. Macdonald asked the in inhabitants of the island of St. Kilda how a man must be saved. An old man replied, “We shall be saved if we repent, and forsake our sins, and turn to God.” “Yes,” said a middle-aged female, “and with a true heart too.” “Ay,” rejoined a third, “and with prayer”; and, added a fourth, “It must be the prayer of the heart.” “And we must be diligent too,” said a fifth, “in keeping the commandments.” Thus, each having contributed his mite, they all looked and listened for the preacher’s approval; but they had aroused his deepest pity: he had to begin at the beginning, and preach Christ to them. The carnal mind always maps out for itself a way in which self can work and become great; but the Lord’s way is quite the reverse.”
    –Charles Spurgeon

  2. Shaun L says:

    An interesting note on Newton too is that after his conversion it took some time for him to come around on slave trading. He continued to actively trade for around 5 years after his conversion, and even afterwards continued to invest money into the trade. Over the course of years his mind was changed by the grace of God and eventually he was instrumental in the abolishion of the slave trade. It was 34 years after he stopped sailing/trading before he wrote his book: ‘Thoughts upon the African slave trade’ which was sort of a confession of the horrible things he had seen and been a big part of.

    I brought it up because we see in Newton a repentance that was very organic and gradual. It was years of the Lord working in his heart and changing his mind that brought him to see more the fullness of his sins which led him into greater depths of God’s grace. Its a comfort for me because I was once (and at times still am) an extremely base person and repentance in my life often seems like its broken lol. But when I see the contrast cast between the old and new man in the life of John Newton, a crude drunken sailor transformed into a gracious, kind, and loving pastor, and when I see that this transformation was very gradual and not without errors and bumps in the road, it gives me assurance that the Lord is patiently: ‘working within both to will and to do.’

  3. Sean L says:

    Like the gentleman above, I also hear the truth of what you are saying. However, I also would encourage a more nuanced explanation of how repentance is the fruit of God working in the life of a person. A person who has truly understood and appropriated the gospel will be a repentant person, but that repentance finds its genesis in the grace of God (2 Tim.2:25).

    When the gospel is truly understood and believed, repentance is a certain fruit. There is no easy-believeism. But let us take great care that we do not preach a gospel that calls people to repentance but inadvertently suggest that repentance is a self-born fruit. That is not the apostolic gospel either.

  4. J. Eric says:

    I enjoyed the article on repentance. All but quoting G.K. Chesterton. Great writer and wit he was, but Chesterton was a Roman Catholic and proud of it, often at the expense of Protestants.

    Why do reformed people keep quoting Chesterton?

  5. Nick says:

    Apologies for focusing on a criticism when there is much to praise, but the Greek word “meta” doesn’t mean “changed.” It would be good if you could correct that part of your article. We’re not at liberty to say that Greek words mean what we might want them to mean.

  6. a. says:

    “If we preach a “gospel” with no call to repentance we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel.”

    -Stephen T: I hear the truth in what you’re saying, but
    -Sean L: I also hear the truth of what you are saying. However, I also would encourage a more nuanced explanation
    -recent TGC post: “Jean has taken it on the chin (and in the groin) for preaching the gospel of grace without qualifications”

    we must proclaim unashamedly all the word, just as the Lord has, just as given us.

    “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt 4:16-17

  7. StephenT says:

    My concern was not that the “word” was at risk of being diluted, but rather the gospel is a risk of being diluted (mixed with law).

    “Similarly, the gospel is not receiving Christ or believing in him, or being converted, or joining a church; it is not the practice of discipleship. Once again, the gospel faithfully declared and rightly received will result in people receiving Christ, believing in Christ, being converted, and joining a local church; but such steps are not the gospel.”

    — D. A. Carson
    Themelios, VOL 24, Issue 1, Apr 2009

  8. StephenT says:

    oops. Carson quote is from volume 34, not 24.

  9. anaquaduck says:

    The gospel (good news)might also be given a fuller flavour through godly living (good works)as they are combined as a witness or testimony to a world that is on the path of devastation unless it repents & turns to Christ.

    The gospel could be applied in a Matt, Mark, Luke, John context but also Gen to Revelation.Either seem valid.

  10. a. says:

    I’m sure we’re saying the same thing Stephen T.

    “and rightly received”
    the good news of the gospel is that people are saved.

    TGC confessional statement: We believe that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ—God’s very wisdom. Utter folly to the world, even though it is the power of God to those who are being saved, this good news is christological, centering on the cross and resurrection: the gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed, and the authentic Christ has not been proclaimed if his death and resurrection are not central (the message is: “Christ died for our sins . . . [and] was raised”). This good news is biblical (his death and resurrection are according to the Scriptures), theological and salvific (Christ died for our sins, to reconcile us to God), historical (if the saving events did not happen, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are to be pitied more than all others), apostolic (the message was entrusted to and transmitted by the apostles, who were witnesses of these saving events), and intensely personal (where it is received, believed, and held firmly, individual persons are saved).

  11. Kenton says:

    The gospel is that God has sent His son, Jesus the Messiah, to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people, in accordance with the Scriptures and in fulfillment of His promises. And God has raised him from dead and seated him at his right hand, in accordance with the Scriptures and in fulfillment of His promises, declaring him to be the Lord, appointed by God to judge the living and the dead when he comes to establish the kingdom of God and the age to come. Therefore, God commands all people to repent, turning from their sins and to God by faith in Jesus His son, acknowledging that he is the risen and exalted Lord, because all those who put their trust in him will find forgiveness of sins and a place among those whom God has redeemed and sanctified, who will inherit His kingdom and eternal life; while those who refuse him will inherit the wrath, fury, and eternal ruin that God has prepared for this world.

    That is the message that we preach, and it should be noted that the gospel is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who died for sins and was raised to be the Lord who will come again to judge the wicked and to save those who in repentance but their trust in him for the forgiveness of their sins and their deliverance from this evil age. That is why repentance and belief in the gospel are the obligated responses to the knowledge of the kingdom’s imminence.

    So yeah, it’s good to keep that clear, but even Paul included as part of his message to the Gentiles, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20 ESV) So we must be clear: doing good deeds is NOT the same as repentance, but true repentance results in righteous living, just as true faith results in faithful living.

  12. Phillip says:

    Repentance, a grace gift of the Spirit of Christ. Noteworthy is the statement of C.H Spurgeon in his “Christ’s Glorious Achievements,” chapter 4,Christ,the maker of all things new, page 97;”We see how we deserve to die for sin, and we accept the sentence, confessing our guiltiness before the Most High…, WE write down sin as henceforth dead to us, and ourselves s dead to it. We labour to mortify all our evil desires and the lusts of the flesh and all that cometh of the flesh.(Rom.8:13)My addition.

  13. Rhett says:

    “If we preach a “gospel” with no call to repentance we are preaching something other than the apostolic gospel.”

    One simple question, does this mean The Gospel According to John isn’t a gospel? John doesn’t use the word “repent” in his entire gospel. Especially when the word repentance in this blog seems to suggest only a repentance of behavior, rather than a leaving behind a relational breakdown (hatred of God and love for the world) to abiding in Christ.

  14. M.MacInnes says:

    As to John’s Gospel, although the author may not use the actual word “repentance”, his writing and quotations from Jesus clearly indicated that he saw what is in “repentance”, a “with knowledge/mind change”, an essential part of gracious life and living. See John 4:28 (forgetting the value of things treasured before); John 6:68/69 (changed mind about what Jesus has to say) etc etc. The evidences of a changed mind are there because of the mind with new knowledge.

  15. Kenton says:

    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

    This assumes repentance: belief leads to life, but disobedience leads to wrath. That implies that obedience is the result of faith, and disobedience indicates a refusal to believe. The underlying assumption then is that faith is expressed in repentance.

    More from John:

    Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14 ESV)

    Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:14, 22, 23 ESV)

    Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28, 29 ESV)

    She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ]] (John 8:11 ESV)

  16. Rhett says:

    The passages that have been mentioned make my point. If you take them in context in the narrative of John’s Gospel the goal isn’t for a cognitive (rational) change of mind nor relational behavior change, but rather a relational trust that Jesus was sent from the Father.

    3:35/36-is in the context of a whole chapter about real belief versus an incomplete or false belief (2:23-ff). Jesus wouldn’t “believe himself to them” because he knew what was in a man. Here we also see that those who believe that the Father loves the Son have life, and those who “disbelieve” or “not willing to be persuaded” that the Father sent the Son, the Father’s wrath remains on him. That is, it was already there and still awaits those who reject his Son whom he sent. Belief here is a response to the Son’s testimony not a cognitive choice.

    4:28-Leaving a jar behind isn’t a sign of behavioral repentance, nor a rational change of mind. But a heartfelt response to Jesus’ words and in her excitement goes to tell others her experience of the Christ.

    5-There is no sense whatsoever that crippled man in chapter 5 actually believes Jesus. He seems to be completely self protective and actually goes to the Jews after Jesus confronts him. (5:15) Compare this to the blind man’s response to Jesus in chapter 9 (similar to the Samaritan). The rest of chapter 5 is Jesus confronting the Jews who are attempting to convict him of blasphemy. Clearly rejecting the testimony that Jesus is from the Father and he does works of the Father. And the reason that they don’t believe isn’t that they are bad thinkers and have irrational thoughts, its that they don’t have the love of God within them (5:42). They love the glory from man rather than the one who is loved by the Father. Again not a cognitive/rational hardening or behavioral issue, its a relational matter.

    6:68-9: The know in John is a relational knowledge not an academic knowledge. It’s the kind of know in the OT that leads to babies. Peter’ words are in the context of disciples who believed Jesus but then in response to his words about being the bread of life, having to eat his flesh and drink his blood, turned back and no longer walked with him. There was a false or incomplete faith.

    8:11- Other than this not being in the earliest manuscripts and is probably not best set in the middle of a trial of Jesus, it still doesn’t seem to be that this woman is responsive to Jesus in anyway. It’s similar to John 5, there’s no clear sense of her believing in Christ. Its rather a story used for us to hear and believe that he is the Son. But if we were to look at the trial that goes from 5-12, its clear in 8 why they are not believing Jesus and seeking to kill him: they do the desires of their father the devil. They don’t love the Father nor his Son. This is the reason for the disbelief, the dishonor, etc. It’s NOT a cognitive rational choice, but rather their choices are governed the desires of their father. “For if God were your father, you wold love me, for I came from God, and here.” 8:42

    So repentance as seen in this blog isn’t really found in John. There is no change of mind, but rather a change of heart; a change of love from darkness to light. Also their is no real sense that behavior is the issue, the issue is the rejection of Christ’s word that he was from the Father.

  17. Kenton says:

    What you describe (“relational change”, whether of heart or love or faith) seems to me to be in fact repentance: to turn from x, whether self or sin or man or the world or Satan, to y, whether God or the word of Christ or Christ himself.

    It seems that you have an aversion to “choice” or “change”. To believe is to make a decision, and is in itself a change from not believing to believing. But this can be answered in a simple way:

    Who is it who believes? Who is it that repents? Who is it that trusts, that loves, that obeys, that comes?

    Now who is it that grants these things, that wills them to be, that enables their execution?

    Does the latter negate the agency of the former? Of course not, else Jesus could not command, “Repent and believe”, “Come to me”. Yes, you must believe rather than disbelieve – obey rather than disobey, honor rather than dishonor, love rather than hate, receive rather than reject – God and His Son Jesus. That it is God who ordains this to be, and His Spirit that empowers it, does not not negate the command. And the word for these is repentance.

    And even if John does not use the word, a third of the letters of the New Testament, including 3 out of 4 gospels, use the word directly, while the others speak of it in other terms. Even if we were to grant that John strays from the rest of the Bible and absolutely has no concept of repentance, that would not grant us license to do away with it, since we have to take into account what the whole says in order to accurately interpret and apply the one account.

  18. Kenton says:

    also, look at how Paul describes repentance:

    As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Corinthians 7:9-11 ESV)

    And in Titus:

    For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age… (Titus 2:11, 12 ESV)

    Obviously a change of mind and a change of behavior require a change of heart. But I think the assumption of the blog post is that Christians have already undergone a change of heart; therefore, they should also undergone a change in thinking and in behavior as well. That is the evidence of genuine repentance. And none of this means that we don’t preach repentance. We do, because Jesus did, and the apostles did, and the prophets did before them, and God Himself does through the ministry of reconciliation. They did not have the same qualms about it that we do, and that should indicate to is that our qualms about repentance, well meaning as they are, are not biblical and are not spiritual.

  19. Nick says:

    Re my comment above on “meta”: having done some more research I see that it can mean “changed” when used in composition. My bad. Apologies.

  20. Google says:

    It’s impressive that you are getting ideas from this post as well as from our argument made here.

    My blog; Google

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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