(notes for a class designed for people who are new to Christianity)
In Mark 1v15 Jesus said:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So this morning’s study will be in two parts: firstly, what does it mean to repent? and secondly, what does it mean to believe in the gospel?
The meaning of the word repent includes 3 things: to change your mind, to feel sorrow, and to return.
In Matthew 22v36-38 a lawyer asked Jesus:
““Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
Of course none of us has done that. We all enjoy the gifts God provides us with (everything in this world that we enjoy), and that’s good, but we have a tendency to love those gifts rather than loving the God who gives them to us. Jesus said the great and first commandment is to love God. Pretty much all other sins we commit are because we love other things in place of God. People steal because they want possessions more than they love God. People commit adultery because they want romantic relationships more than they love God. People lie because they want to protect their reputation more than they love God.
When Jesus calls us to “repent”, he’s calling us to change our minds about those other things we enjoy and see God as more glorious, to feel sorrow because we’ve failed to love and honour God as he deserves, and to return to loving God above everything else.
For an example of someone repenting, we’ll look at Luke 15.
In v1-2 we can see that Jesus is talking to tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes are listening in too.
In v11 he begins telling a story about a man who had “two sons”. In v13 the younger son “squandered his property in reckless living”; he represents the tax collectors and sinners (non-religious people). In v29 the older brother says “these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command”; he represents the Pharisees and scribes (very religious people).
Both sons wanted things their father could give them rather than a relationship with the father himself. The younger son wants the share of property he will inherit when his father dies (v12), while the older son wants a young goat – he wants food for a party with his friends (v29).
The younger son realised he’d sinned against his father and repented (v18-20). He went back to his father, and the father celebrated and welcomed him back with a big party. In Middle Eastern culture, grown men don’t run (it’s undignified), but this father ran to meet his son because he was so excited.
That’s a picture of how God reacts when we repent and turn back to him. v10 is actually the conclusion of the previous parable, but they go together: “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” When we repent it makes God joyful.
The older brother is not happy about this. In v29 he thinks he’s earned his father’s favour by working hard and obeying the rules, but now he’s discovered that his father’s love doesn’t work like that. In v30 he points out that his younger brother spent his father’s money on prostitutes, but the father was still delighted to welcome him home.
The younger son didn’t have to do anything to earn his way back into the family. In v19 he was preparing a speech where he would offer to work for his father, but he didn’t even manage to finish his speech before the father put a robe on him and started making orders for the party. Likewise, we don’t do anything to earn our way into God’s kingdom; we just repent and God will welcome us immediately.
The older brother didn’t like the fact that his younger brother was welcomed back so enthusiastically, so he didn’t want to join in the celebration – v28 “he refused to go in”, and sadly the story ends with him still outside. He doesn’t repent. We don’t want to be like that.
Believe in the gospel
To believe in something is to accept that it’s true. I believe you are sat in front of me because I can see you. My eyes are telling me you’re there, and I accept that what my eyes are telling me is true. I believe that you really are there. Likewise we are to believe that the gospel is true.
So what is the gospel that Jesus says we should believe in?
Christians often quote John 3v16 as a summary of the gospel, and we’ll start there too.
Whoever believes in God’s Son will not perish but have eternal life.
Why would we perish? We’ve all broken God’s law. In other words, we’ve all sinned. And Romans 6v23 says “the wages of sin is death”. Because we’ve broken God’s law, we deserve to die.
Read Romans 3v23-26:
“or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.“
There are some big words in there.
For us to be “justified” means God makes us innocent. We’ve all broken God’s law, but we can have that guilt removed.
The phrase “freely by his grace” means that we don’t do anything to earn our justification. We don’t work to remove our guilt, God does it for us as a free gift because of his grace. God’s grace is part of his character (what God is like, his personality). It means he loves to give us gifts without us doing anything to repay him. Being made innocent is one of those gifts he loves to give us, not because he wants us to do anything in return to pay him back, but because of his grace – because he loves to give us free gifts.
The “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” means Jesus pays the price for us to be made innocent. Because we’ve sinned we deserve to die, but when Jesus died on the cross he paid that price for us.
Then there’s the word “propitiation”. God is angry at our sin, but propitiation means that instead of God’s anger being directed at us, it was directed at Jesus instead. When Jesus was on the cross, God turned all his anger over our sin towards Jesus and punished him for it. So now when God looks at us, our sin has already been punished, so there is no anger left.
v25 says we receive this gift “by faith”. The word “faith” is quite similar to the word “believe”. To have faith in something is to have complete trust or confidence in it. The end of v26 tells us who we need to have faith in: Jesus. We receive these gifts of justification, redemption and propitiation by putting our faith in Jesus. We put our confidence in him and what he did for us on the cross.
So if someone was to ask us: how do you know God’s not going to be angry at you for breaking his law? Our answer is that we have confidence in Jesus, that God directed all his anger for our sin at Jesus on the cross.
If someone was to ask: how do you know God won’t punish you for your sin? Our answer is that we have confidence that Jesus already paid the price for our sin when he died on the cross.
We’re confident that God sees us as innocent, not because we’ve tried really hard to be good, but because of his grace. He’s made us innocent by his grace; he’s given it to us as a free gift.
That’s what it means to believe in the gospel, to have saving faith.