“Repent!” The word conjures different notions in people according to the varied experiences that they have had with it. Some describe the idea as that point when they “left the road to Hell and began on the road to heaven.” Others have imagined simply unadulterated judgment (usually from “those church folks”) without a bit of that grace, which “those church folk” also speak of concerning themselves. In Systematic Theology Repentance comes before Justification, which comes before (or at least parallels) Sanctification. More practically, much of theology teaches a continued return to repentance, daily. But the question remains, biblically speaking, what was the intent before 2,000 years of baggage (positively or negatively) affected the word?
The Greek word translated “repent” in many of the English translations of the Bible is the word metanoia. It simply means a change of mind. Thus, taking the word at face value, one could be going the “right way,” have a change of mind, and decide to go the “wrong way” (Incidentally, in many circles this action is termed “back-sliding,” which term I despise! Bygones…). The biblical context of the word speaks of a positive change of heart that is expressed in a positive change of lifestyle. I prefer a more general, but direct, sense of the word – “think.” According to its definition, metanoia is any point and time in our lives when we must actually “think” (as opposed to just going through life reacting to actions based on emotions and feelings, and ignorance). Biblically and theologically speaking, those times when we “think,” are times when we are tapping into the mind of God; conversing with God. Philosophically, the mind of God is the epistemological seat of human thought; the fount from which reason and logic flow.
The New Testament idea of “repenting” comes as a result of God’s in-breaking into the life of humanity. When Jesus first came on the scene – God’s in-breaking into humanity – the message was “repent and believe the Gospel.” Humanity generally, and Israel in particular, was helplessly locked away in its own form(s) of religion. Jesus broke in and said, “Think! It will lead to belief in the reality of the Good News!” Humanity (nor Israel) can reach God on its own accord, thus, “Change your mind and heart! Believe the Good News of God’s love, which is expressed in a changed way of life!”
God is daily breaking into our lives, still. Not because we are going the wrong way, but often because God wants us to learn anew. God wants us to “repent;” “think” differently about things or something. Repentance is a continuous cycle – daily cycle, even – where we are continually challenged to “think,” and “think” differently. When we are first challenged by the Good News, “repentance” is where we first learn (or at least relearn) how to “think” and “think” differently. Today, living life in the Good News of God’s love, we are still challenged to “think;” to “think” about new paradigms, new ways of expressing life in the love of God, and what it means.
Sometimes God’s in-breaking is a positive point of “repentance” and sometimes it’s a negative. But either way it is God breaking into our lives, to which we must “think” – observe what is happening, reflect on what is happening, discuss with others what is happening (all of which can and should take the form of prayer), and then act on what we’ve learned from what is happening. Repentance is not some magical exchange, but a thought process. It is not a blunt instrument of judgmental ignorance, but an invitation into the heart and mind of God. To “think” is the proper response to the in-breaking of God at any point and time in our lives. If you will “think,” then you can believe the Good News of God’s love for humanity (Mark 1:15).