From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
Within two weeks of Luther posting his 95 Theses, they began to be printed and distributed throughout Germany. Within two months, they were being read and debated throughout Europe. The first thesis, and perhaps the most important reads, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Repentance, for many today, is a one-time thing done and never again. But Jesus’ call to repentance in this passage isn’t meant to be understood as a one-time act of obedience, but a way of life brought about by faith in Christ. In Biblical Greek, the word for repent is ‘metanoeite’, and in Matthew 4:17 is a present imperative. This means repentance is ongoing for the life of the believer.
Repentance is self-denial, a daily dying to the old self of sin and death and rising again to the new life clothed in the righteousness of Christ. It is quite literally hatred of the old self. It is the recognition that I am nothing in God’s presence apart from His mercy. Lived in connection to Baptism, it is transformational, not that the old self is made good, but that the old self is drowned, and a new self is born.
These days, so many churches confess a different repentance and a different God. For the modern church, God is not wrathful or just, but is tolerant and turns a blind eye to everything. They teach a salvation without the cross and the steep price for sin and a Christian way of life absent of repentance and self-denial. Deviant lifestyles are affirmed, and the cost of our Lord’s blood, His death on the cross, is trampled underfoot.
But in fact, our Lord and Master continues to cry out, “Repent!” And as our Lord teaches through Paul, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). In Baptism, we are clothed in Christ and in repentance we continue to wear Christ. Further, our Lord Christ has given us many warnings and admonitions saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations,” (Luke 24:47) and “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
We do not know when the Lord will return, and we do not know if our own soul will be required of us this very night. The Lord cast Adam out of Paradise immediately after his fault, without delay. At once all humanity was cut off from the pleasures of God’s perfect garden and clothed in garments of dead creatures (Genesis 3:21, 24).
So, the question is this: What reason is there for putting off repentance? Is it so you may continue to live in and according to sin, to remain enslaved to it? If not this, then is it because God is good and you “presume the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience” (Romans 2:4)? In truth, the goodness of the Lord should instead draw you to repentance rather than more sinning. Do not put the Lord your God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Instead, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Almighty Father, everlasting God, by Your holy law, bring me to repent of my sins this day and draw me to be born anew by Your Word and Spirit, that I may live this life clothed in Christ’s righteousness and holiness, free in His forgiveness, and doing the good works you have prepared. In His name, amen.