When he went to Galilee to start his ministry, Jesus fulfilled the long-awaited prophecy of Isaiah that a Messiah, a King, would come and lead the Jewish people from darkness into light. He started his ministry by telling the people to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
Repentance – an Uncomfortable Word for Many
I don’t know about you, but when I was younger and heard preachers talking about repentance, I thought it sounded rather daunting, but I have come to understand it differently and would like to share with you why.
We all have certain habits that we could probably do with ironing out of our lives, be that taking too much pleasure in cakes and pies, resulting in weight gain. Or a habit of spending too much at the shops or online, resulting in debt. Or it could be an addiction to something else, which has negative consequences.
Whatever it is, there are fairly obvious ways to overcome these things and improve our lives. This would be the sensible thing to do for anyone, Christian or not.
Although it would be good to leave such bad habits behind, it is not exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke of repentance.
Perhaps the word has lost something in translation?
A Renewal of the Mind is Perhaps an Easier Concept to Understand?
Because the biblical term repentance means more than just breaking bad habits; it means a change deeper within our selves.
There are many stages and depths to renewing our minds; it is a lifelong journey. Because there are multiple levels of deep-seated convictions buried within us. They are difficult to disguise, but they reflect out into the world.
For example, the Israelites had, for centuries, battled with their enemies in war and exile. The mindset of physical and bloody battle was ingrained deeply within them as the one and only way to achieve their goals of peace and freedom. Many lives were lost in this way, with no long-lasting improvement to their circumstances either.
Today we have different pressures, resulting in modern-day fixed mindsets. All of us have incorrect perceptions to a greater or lesser degree, according to the trials of our lives. It could be a victim mentality, a competitive streak, a desire for power over others, or other things.
Jesus gives a Lesson on Renewed Thinking
In Matthews’s Gospel (Matt. 20:20-28), Jesus offers sound guidance on the biblical way of thinking when a mother asks Jesus; When your kingdom comes, could my two sons (who were disciples) have high positions of power? The other disciples were very angry when they learnt about this request, possibly because they also selfishly sought influential positions in the new kingdom. It was like they all believed his kingdom would be run as a worldly governmental system with a limited amount of power brokers managing the masses.
But Jesus told them all the Kingdom of Heaven is not like that of the world where Gentiles lord it over others and powerful men act as tyrants. He said you must change this way of thinking because no one will seek power over another in my kingdom. Instead, they will seek to love one another better.
When Jesus went to Galilee;
He told the people that the Kingdom of Heaven had come close; he meant in himself and said they should repent or renew their way of thinking. He said this because he wanted them to renew their expectations as things would not happen as they expected them to in his kingdom.
Jesus would not be going into a physical battle against the enemies of Israel; in fact, there would be no bloodshed but his. So, it would be best for them to change their understanding and mindset to adjust to this new way of living. This is what he meant when asking them to repent.
What does this Mean for us Today?
Today, probably more so than at any other time, there are many different mental health therapies available to help change the way we think. But this is a secular method of what Jesus meant to renew our minds.
Jesus’ renewal of the mind is far more profound. It is more than thought therapy; it requires a change in our hearts and souls. It involves a circumcision of the heart so that we genuinely have no desire to seek power over others or think ourselves more important or of higher status than anyone else. Or any of the other various false mindsets we may have developed.
Biblical repentance, or renewal of the mind, is about giving up our agenda of preconceived worldly ideas. It is a total change of attitude, which can be transformational and draw us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven today.
Most of us make New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year to rid ourselves of bad habits – I know I certainly do.
Perhaps we could take that a bit further this year by thinking about Holy Resolutions as well? We can do this by thinking about how we might develop and renew our mindset. Jesus explains quite clearly how to do this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Then, as we renew our minds and refresh our souls, we can begin to find real inner peace and strength, which will naturally shine the light of Christ out into the darkness of the world.