At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he started out by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Since this statement is Jesus’ first recorded words in the Gospel, then it sets forth one of the main themes of his ministry. Given its importance, what does Jesus mean by “repent and believe?”
The Louw Nida Greek lexicon defines the word, “repent,” as “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” Repentance is a new relationship with sin. Instead of embracing sinful thoughts and actions, a repentant individual now agrees with God that sin is lawbreaking. As a result, he desires to hate sin and to love God.
The New Testament uses the term in three ways. First, repentance is a description of those saved from God’s wrath. Jesus says “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). If sin is still your friend, then God is your enemy. Second, heaven rejoices when sinners repent. After telling the parable of the woman who found her lost coin, Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Heaven erupts in celebration over one sinner who turns from his rebellion against God. Third, by God’s grace, a changed life produces the fruit of repentance. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). A person may believe in God’s existence, but if he still loves, cherishes, and enjoys his pet sins, then God’s grace has not transformed him. Therefore, he is still lost.
If one side of the coin is repentance, then the other side is believing. The Greek lexicon defines it as “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.” Jesus uses this term in John 3:18. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” If a person does not trust in the Savior alone, then Jesus says that this person is already sentenced for hell.
When a person believes in the Lord, he trusts in Jesus’ truth claims. He believes that Jesus is the Son of God, died on the cross for sinners, defeated the grave three days later, ascended to heaven, and will one-day return. However, believing is more than mental assent.
For example, if I build a wooden chair and allow you to inspect it, you may agree that it is well-built and can support your weight. Yet, you do not show that you trust in the chair until you bend your knees and set your entire weight upon it. At that moment, you personally trust that the chair will support you. In the same way, many people know that Jesus is God and agree that the gospel is true; however, they have not personally trusted in Jesus Christ alone for the removal of sins and everlasting life.
Do we only repent and believe once? No! Christians continually turn from sin and believe in Jesus. It is a fruit of being born again. Therefore, if you are a Christian, continue to flee from sin and run to Christ.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.