One of the most important subjects for Christians and prospective Christians to understand is repentance and conversion. It is unfortunately not a topic that is commonly talked about in many churches today. We are told by popular evangelists that all we need to do to become a Christian is to believe in Jesus. But what does that mean, how do we do that? Is it enough to know that a person named Jesus lived during the first century? To believe the popular portrayal of Christianity today, this is the case. But all this begs the question what does the bible teach?
The Heidelburg Catechism asks the question;
"What is the true repentance or conversion of man?"
Before we can look at the answer we need to talk about how this connects to being a Christian. As mentioned above, there are many today who will teach that the only thing needed to be a Christian is to believe in Jesus. But the scripture tells a different story. As we read about Peter's sermon at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, we get the first glimpse of a post-resurrection sermon and the right response to the presentation of the gospel. Peter tells the gathered crowd they must repent and be baptized. While this is the first time we see it post-resurrection, it is not the first time we see it in the New Testament. We see it in Matthew's gospel account with John the Baptist, Matthew 3. His message is calling the people to repent because the kingdom is at hand. This is also the message we are told that Christ himself is preaching, Matthew 4:17. There are many other references thought the New Testament about repentance and the need for it as the only proper response to the gospel. But this brings us back to our catechism question, what is repentance or conversion?
An answer in two parts
The catechism answers the question by saying;
"It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new."
Often times if we hear someone about repentance, it is described as a change of mind. But that is not how scripture describes it. It is not a simple changing of mind but a change of everything about us. Our old self dies with Christ and is raised to new life in Christ. This is the picture we get in baptism. We are buried with Christ as we go under the water and raised in him as we are brought back up. As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." If we say we are in Christ but nothing about our lives has changed, then we are lying. One of the principle marks of being in Christ is a love for the things he loves and hate for the things he hates. We are united with him in life and death. We mentioned before that John the Baptist called people to this repentance, part of this call was to tell the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This fruit is the proof of our true repentance. Every good tree produces good fruit and the bad tree produces bad fruit. It is not this fruit, that is the fruit of good works, that saves us or makes us Christians, rather it is the proof that we are in Christ, that we have been saved.
True repentance is the substance of conversion. It is a gift granted by God to his people. It is the complete change of life that says I am not who I once was and never wish to be anything like that again. My motives change. My goals change. I no longer seek to please myself or seek my own glory, but seek to please my heavenly Father and to seek his glory. I am not proud of my accomplishments but thankful for God's grace working in me. When I fail, and I will fail, I come to the Lord in humility, seeking forgiveness and for him to continue the work that he has started in me. When I succeed, I give thanks to God and praise him for the work that he is continuing in me. I am not my own but have been bought with a price. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The start of this journey is repentance. It may be a gradual process to come to repentance, but repentance is not something we do gradually. We are either facing Christ or facing away from him. We cannot serve both God and ourselves. To repent and be converted is to face Christ and to serve him only. To walk in the newness of life, doing the good works that he has prepared for us. If you have not yet come to Christ in repentance, I pray that you will, I pray that the Lord would grant you repentance that you might come to him and give him the glory that is rightfully his.
Soli Deo Gloria