Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Mark 1:14-15 – RSV
We return to this important summary of the overall message of Jesus to look at the conditions for entering the Kingdom. We must prepare to grapple with the essence of what Jesus is telling every person who will listen. We cannot pretend to understand Christianity if these words do not have life-anchoring significance for us.
“Repent and believe the good news!”
The first condition is repentance. In Christian theology, repentance has two aspects. First, we must abandon our loyalty to whatever holds authority other than God. Second, we must turn and move in the direction of obedience to God.
Some misunderstand repentance as a perfect abandonment and an absolute obedience. In our fallen state, such is not possible for us. Therefore, the Bible tells us that repentance is also a continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.59 The call to repent continues in the life of every person who follows Jesus. We are to be serious and lifelong repenters as the Holy Spirit reveals more and more of those things that hold our hearts more than the love of God. This call is not simply to believe some short form outline of “How to get saved,” but is a reorienting and rebirth of life at fundamental levels.
It is not the gospel if we preach repentance without Jesus; it is not the gospel if we preach Jesus without repentance. Jesus was a preacher of repentance, much like the Old Testament prophets. To call to repent is to confront the deadly fact of sin and the absolute necessity of abandoning our loyalty to sin in all its aspects if we are true disciples. The message of repentance is not comfortable. It is only good news to the person who is affected by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and sees the truth about his/her spiritual condition.60 Jesus doesn’t say to the racist, to the greedy person, to the abuser, or to the addict: “Keep going the way you are going and be saved.” Instead his call is to repent, turn from your sin, and go in a new and different direction. You are not saved by repentance, but you are never saved without it. Faith and repentance are joined together as one thing. Belief without repentance is not true, saving faith.
The importance of repentance is taught throughout the New Testament. In Jesus’ most famous parable, “The Prodigal Son”, repentance is a major theme.61 Jesus also condemned whole cities for not repenting.62 Peter’s first instruction on the day of Pentecost was “Repent!”63 Paul states that God’s kindness to undeserving sinners is what should lead us to a desire to repent.64
Some churches, in seeking to avoid being heavy-handed about requiring repentance, have discarded the requirement entirely. The surgical removal of this aspect of the Gospel message is serious! I would go as far as to say that any Gospel that does not clearly proclaim repentance is a false gospel worthy of condemnation.
So let me be very clear about this: One of the most spiritual destructive mindsets among Christians is that grace is so free and unconditional to sinners that repentance is not necessary. Christianity has been cursed and millions of Christians’ lives have been rendered empty and powerless because they have never been told in no uncertain terms that it is time to stop and go in a different direction. We have seen this distortion of Christianity preached by person after person on the national stage. Cheap grace. Cheap forgiveness without repentance. It is shameful, and Jesus wouldn’t recognize it. Jesus wouldn’t recognize a person that said my response to my sin is simply to blow it off and go do whatever I want. God is not calling us to sackcloth and ashes, though I’ll tell you what, in many of our lives a little sackcloth and ashes wouldn’t hurt us from time to time.
You can’t take hold of the salvation that Christ offers unless you let go of the wrong direction you are going. So Jesus echoes the message of John. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus calls us to recognize we are sinners at war with a holy God. We must stop, lay down our arms, throw up the white flag, and say I am through with that direction, and I am ready for a new one.
The second condition for entering the Kingdom is to believe the Good News. We discussed the Good News quite a bit in the previous chapter, but I think it is important to reiterate just what we are to believe. Notice the parallel between verse 1 and verse 14. Mark has told us that his entire book will be good news about Jesus the Son of God. Jesus is preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. Is there a difference between the good news about Jesus and the good news of Jesus? I do believe many Christians excuse themselves from dealing with the message Jesus preached because they think believing in Jesus is sufficient. Mark would not understand such a distortion. For him, there is no separation between the message of Jesus and the person of the Savior. In the mind of the inspired author they are the same. Now that the Messiah has arrived, the Good News becomes the announcement of not just what God is doing but through whom all is being done.
The Good News is the message of Jesus and the message about Jesus. It includes the arrival of the Kingdom, but also contains the cross of Christ, his empty tomb, his current reign and his future return. This is not Good News to those who live as God’s enemies, but it is the greatest news to those who are ready to lay down the weapons of rebellion and surrender to the one, true and only King.
So what does Mark mean by belief? The New Testament uses a word for belief that cannot be reduced to the sort of belief so common today. Modern vocabulary has given belief the connotation of a personal opinion that one adheres to for reasons entirely of your own. Have you ever heard someone say “You mean all I have to do is believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven?” Such a question shows the modern definition of belief as a sort of optional, minimal assent to a proposition that may have nothing whatsoever to do with truth. We “believe” in politicians, sports teams and UFOs.
I want to assure you that this is absolutely not what Jesus means. New Testament belief has more in common with the sort of belief we associate with life commitment. Marriage is the best example. The persons giving their lives to one another “believe in” the other person with a totality of their being, their future and their possessions. This is the sort of belief expressed by the person who chooses to jump out of a plane with only a parachute between himself and death. Jesus is asking, in short, for a life-altering, life-anchoring bet on the truth of who he is.
Understanding this as simply “a point in time action with continuing effects into the future” is probably misconstruing the meaning of belief. Belief in Jesus that does not continue is not true belief. Perseverance is one of the characteristics of true faith.65 Faith may be a long and winding journey with many peaks, valleys and seasons of more and less fruitfulness, but genuine faith continues to believe in Jesus and to seek to follow him. The Bible offers no comfort to the person who once believed but does so no longer.
Does this belief differ from that expressed in John 3:16? Not really. The “Eternal life” that is spoken of in John is the life of God that is available beginning in the present. As such, it is John’s version of saying “The Kingdom of God is upon you.” In passages like this, where Jesus seems to be inviting decision, he is in reality inviting a reordering of life based on recognition of the Kingdom of God and recognizing the Messiah as God with us. N.T. Wright has rightly pointed out that this is a proclamation telling us about a whole new world.66 Our response to it truly amounts to either entering, or refusing to enter, a “new creation”. For the person who accepts the Bible as authoritative, this is why we need both John and the Synoptics. In their quite different approaches to Jesus, they present the whole picture, which will not allow any separation between belief in Jesus and following the message of the Kingdom.
Repentance and belief must go hand in hand. So, when someone asks me what they must do to go to heaven, I give an honest answer: Admit your sin, repent and surrender all you know of yourself to all you know of Jesus.
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Understand Jesus Christ in the fullness of the Gospel presentation: mediator, kingdom-bringer, reconciler, teacher, Lord, discipler… and you will have understood all the “good news.”
 See for example 2 Timothy 2:25
 Luke 5:32; 2 Cor. 7:9-10
 Luke 15:11-32
 Matthew 11:20
 Acts 2:38
 Romans 2:4
 Matthew 10:22; 24:13
 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, HarperCollins, 2008.
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