Repent and Believe

When I’m preparing for seminars at LST I end up running down all kinds of rabbit holes. I’m also trying to reconcile the historic and often conservative teachings of scripture that I’ve been brought up in with the expanding view of God that I am embracing. My narrow view of the gospel has too be blown apart to accomodate the things I hear Jesus teach and the things I feel God doing. That process might start with some of the key words of the ‘evangelical gospel’ – ‘repent’ and ‘believe’.

‘Repent’ is often heard as a precursor to faith, as a prerequisit to meeting God. It’s framed as ‘admitting I’m wrong, that I’m utterly helpless, that I need God’. While I don’t question any of those ideas – in fact every one of them is important and useful to understanding Christianity – I’m less convinced that they summarise the entire meaning of the word. The greek word in the New Testament is ‘metanoia‘. Yoder explains it as ‘a new mentality’[1] as he’s trying to explain the Jubilee program of Jesus. N.T. Wright often tells the story of how he found ‘metanoesein kai pistos emoi’ (repent and be faithful to me) in Josephus[2]. It comes as Josephus is negotiating with a Jewish rebel (called Jesus) in Galillee (some 30+ years after Jesus of Nazareth’s death), trying to persuade them not to keep fighting against Rome. He explains to them why it’s impossible to win, what the results will be, how the rebel will be forgiven if he changes his allegiance. He asks them to change their viewpoint to match his, to trust that he sees things correctly – to repent and believe.

So two things strike me about this understanding. ‘Repent and believe’ is not just about admitting guilt or ‘utter depravity’. It may include that, but it goes far beyond, to accepting God’s view of the world, transforming my perspective to match what I percieve him to say about it. Because of this, metanoia (I hesitate to use the word repent, it has too much baggage) is something we continually need to do. Second, trusting God is not a one-time event or a switch of sides as it might have been for Josephus or the Galillean rebel. It becomes an on-going process of shifting my view of the world to match God’s, trusting that not only will he redeem me, he can redeem every situation.

  1. [1]Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 32
  2. [2]Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, 22