In the last post, we looked at several New Covenant promises as detailed in 2 Old Testament passages, Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31. Summarizing some key aspects of the New Covenant promises we focused on the gift of a new heart, i.e. regeneration, and the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, we observed that Ezekiel 36 was the likely background for Jesus’ statement to Nicodemas in John 3 that “you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.” The conclusion was that regeneration is necessary to entering heaven. Now with that in mind, we turn in this post to the necessary evidences of regeneration: faith and repentance.
In the Gospel of Mark, we find a fascinating account of Jesus unlike the other Gospels. Much like the headlines of a newspaper, Mark is concerned with focusing on the details of our Lord’s ministry and rapidly advances his narrative with the phrase “immediately” (used at least 9 times in Chapter 1). Whereas Matthew and Luke provide the genealogy of Christ along with details of His birth and childhood, Mark’s approach is to commence with the 3 year earthly ministry of Christ. For this reason, we read Jesus inaugurating His ministry with the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 So much could be said about this, but we’ll look briefly at the first two phrases before resting on the imperative statement of Jesus to “repent and believe in the gospel.”
“The time is fulfilled” – It’s not a mere coincidence that Jesus’ ministry begins just as John the Baptist’s is ending. In fact, we learn that John the Baptist has just been imprisoned in the verse prior to this one. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. He’s the one whom the prophets of old have foretold, “one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3 quoting Isaiah 40:3) In the sense of fulfilled here, all that the Old Testament, both the Law and the Prophets, has foretold reaches its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Similarly, the time that God had planned to bring forth His son has come as well. (See Galatians 4:4). The time of waiting is over, the King has arrived.
“The kingdom of God is at hand” – Up to this point, John has functioned much like a herald for a king, “Hear ye, Hear ye, now comes the King!” In Medieval times, a herald was one who preceded the king’s entrance to make the announcement of his arrival. A working definition is “an official formerly charged with making royal proclamations and bearing messages of state between sovereigns.” This is precisely the way in which John the Baptist performs his ministry, especially as seen in Mark 1:2, 3, 7. Now that King Jesus is on the scene, He can officially state that the kingdom of God is at hand, or perhaps more literally in your midst. Jesus’ use of kingdom of God here is significant in that it provides continuity with the Old Testament idea of kingdom. William Lane points out that kingdom, “links his [Jesus’] proclamation to the self-revelation of God in the OT and stresses the continuity between the new and older revelation.” It’s likely that Daniel 2:44 can be seen in the background here with the inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever”
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” – We usually hear that the Gospel is “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” but here we see Jesus command belief in the gospel at least 3 years prior to His death, burial, and resurrection. Is He demanding a future looking faith? Is He calling people to believe that He will die on the cross? Or is He properly defining the term Gospel for us? It would seem to be more of the latter. The Gospel here is an announcement, that the “good news” has arrived. This gospel, or good news, is none other than Christ Himself. Jesus is commanding repentance and belief in Him. Repentance is more than simply turning from sin. There must be a hatred of it, a rejection of past ways. But repentance must be connected with faith, for to turn from sin without setting one’s gaze on Christ is pointless. Repentance and faith can only be commanded in conjunction with the Gospel. The Gospel must be announced, it must be preached (Romans 10:14). Jesus is commanding repentance and belief in His Gospel, i.e. the very person that He is as the Son of God.
Some have tried to separate the necessity of faith from repentance resulting in easy believism. Others have so over emphasized repentance that it would appear faith takes a backseat. On some level, a logical order might seem to apply to these demands, i.e. faith first and then repentance. But no such distinction is necessary because they are two sides of the same coin and to separate one from the other violates both. Instead, a far more sane approach to understanding how repentance and faith are ordered is to view it as believing repentance and repentant faith. Spurgeon comments:
“The repentance which is here commanded is the result of faith; it is born at the same time with faith—they are twins, and to say which is the elder-born passes my knowledge. It is a great mystery; faith is before repentance in some of its acts, and repentance before faith in another view of it; the fact being that they come into the soul together.”
As we’ve seen, a new heart is necessary, but so is repentance and faith in the gospel. It follows then that the new heart given by God is the soil, the Gospel is the seed, and repentance and faith are the first fruits.