Series: Sword of the Spirit – Unit: The Rule of God
Lesson: The Kingdom – Topic 4: Repentance
Teacher: Colin Dye

Announcer: Welcome to Sword of the Spirit, written and presented by Colin Dye, senior minister of Kensington Temple and leader of London City Church. Sword of the Spirit is a dynamic teaching series equipping the believers of today to build the disciples of tomorrow. We pray that you find these programs inspiring, and a catalyst in deepening your knowledge of God, your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and your intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

Colin Dye: Hello, and welcome to The Sword of the Spirit, a school of ministry in the Word and the Spirit. Our topic is the Rule of God; God’s kingdom in your life. And we’re looking at how we should respond to God’s kingdom. What’s His call in our life? And in this session I’m going be talking about how God wants you to turn your life right round back into the direction of God and put your trust in Jesus Christ.

And so the kingdom begins with a call to repent. Both Jesus and John—John the Baptist—make it absolutely plain that this is the primary call of the kingdom: repent. We must make absolutely sure that we know what the word means. I’d like you down, you might want to do it, a definition of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart leading to a radical turnabout of life. Read it again. Repentance is a change of mind and heart leading to a radical turnabout of life. Now most people when they hear the word ‘repent’ or ‘repentance’ immediately assume it means change of behavior. They associate repentance with a change of behavior. They think it means stopping doing wrong things and being sorry for those wrong things. Now it is that, absolutely. You cannot have genuine and true repentance without a change of behavior. But we must get the order right and the order is flagged up for us by the meaning of the Greek word ‘repent,’ or ‘repentance,’ which means a change of mind. It doesn’t mean a change of behavior, but it includes that. A change of mind, which as I say, leads to a change of behavior. But I’m going to hold with this change of mind emphasis for quite some time, so stay with me. And it’s very important. Let me tell you exactly why I’m doing this. If we think repentance simply means changing our behavior, we could have moral reformation without true repentance. You see, somebody can change their behavior without changing their heart. Now, repentance means a change of heart and a change of mind. That’s where it begins. You see things differently. You see yourself differently. You see God differently. You see sin differently. That’s why I’m emphasizing it like this. But don’t think, and even when you read through the manual, where this point change of mind is made very strongly, don’t think that I’m ignoring change of behavior as you will see.

Right. Let’s look at the word ‘metanoia,’ made up of two words: ‘meta’ and ‘noia.’ ‘Meta’ means ‘after,’ suggesting change, and ‘noia’ means ‘mind’ from the word ‘nous,’ meaning ‘mind.’ Now, it’s vital that we understand what biblical repentance really means. It begins with and essentially is a radical transformation of thought, of attitude, of outlook, and direction. Repentance is a mental revolution. It means changing your mind about God. Changing your ideas about His nature and His rule. It means changing the way you think about Jesus, the way you think about sin, holiness, and the way you think about yourself Repentance means simply stopping thinking the way you think and starting to think like God. Now we’ve seen that the Jews in the New Testament had many wrong ideas about the kingdom. They had many false assumptions about the Messiah. So the call for repentance, to them, in the context of the announcement of the kingdom was a call for a fundamental change of mind concerning the nature of the kingdom itself and their understanding of Messiah. And for most people, friends, nothing is harder than that. Now, repentance is not simply a New Testament concept. It builds on the Old Testament. So we’re going to look at some Old Testament words before we come back to the New Testament. Here’s the first one: ‘nacham.’ In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ‘nacham’ is usually translated ‘repent.’ It’s hardly ever used to describe men and women repenting. It normally describes God repenting. I’m going to come to it, but I thought it would be good for you to take down a couple of references where it is used of men repenting. Jeremiah 8 and verse 6 and Jeremiah 31 verse 19. There the word nacham is used of people, but it is normally used of God. Let’s go quickly to the first reference. Genesis 6 and verse 6, we’ll see what it means here. This is just before the flood and it says in Genesis 6 and verse 6, “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart.” That means that God repented that He made men and women. He was grieved about it. He was sorry about it. That’s the word nacham. 1 Samuel 15 verse 35, speaking about King Saul, “And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless, Samuel mourned for Saul and the Lord regretted He made Saul King over Israel.” And so here we have the same word again: nacham. God repented, you can translate it literally like that. The Bible translation here translated it as regretted, meaning, it’s a strong thing, but it does lead to a change. A change in mind. Amos chapter 7. We read there of the judgments that God said are going to come upon Israel. And Amos pleads, he says, “No. Don’t send the locusts.” In Amos 7 verse 3, it says, “So the Lord relented concerning this. ‘It shall not be,’ says the Lord.” The word relented there is nacham. God changing. God repenting, so to speak. “It shall not be.” And again, the next plague, the next judgment, Amos cried out again and God relented again. So these passages are hard to understand if we think of repentance simply as being stopping doing evil things. Although there is a change here. When God repents, something changes. He is going to bring judgment and that’s what He announces. That’s what He promises. But then through intercession, that judgment is averted. Praise God. God isn’t changing His nature. God isn’t repenting in some profound sense that makes Him fickle or what have you. No, God is staying true to His nature, but He changes His mind about what He was going to do. It’s a very strong word. A very strong revelation. That God does relent, praise the Lord. When we repent God relents. Hallelujah. Now, so when we understand that repentance means changing our mind, we can understand those passages about God very, very much more clearly. It would be good to go to Jonah chapter 3 and verse 10 and show there, it says here, it uses both of these concepts—both of man’s repentance and God’s relenting. In Jonah 3 verse 10, “Then God saw their works that they turned from their evil way and God relented from the disaster that He was going to bring upon them.” And so we must appreciate that when God changes His mind, it is consistent with His unchanging nature and purpose. He doesn’t change like fickle human beings. And also this kind of language has to do with the fact that there is a real interactive relationship between God and His people. God is not just some metaphysical iceberg. No, there’s interaction. There’s a relationship. And this change is an accommodation to our humanity. Because if God is going to bring us into relationship with Himself and His wrath means that His judgment is upon us, He’s going to destroy us. There’s going to be no relationship there, but if we repent, He will relent and the way that God makes that justifiable is by sending Jesus to bear the price of our sins. So because of Jesus God can relent when we repent. And so when God relented of the judgment upon the Ninevites, He did it out of a desire to bless, and because of the repentance of the people. That’s nacham.

Now we have another Hebrew word—‘sub.’ There it is. In older translations, it actually means—let’s give you a slightly fuller one—it means to turn back; to retreat. In older translations, the Hebrew word ‘sub’ is often translated as ‘repentance’ when men and women are the subject of the action. In other words, it’s men and women repenting. But ‘sub’ literally means ‘to turn,’ ‘to change direction.’ And there are passages here which you can look up for yourself, where enemies turn back. It’s like turning direction. It’s turning back. It means turning back rather than changing the mind, and it’s used in the Old Testament for turning to God. Returning to God. Often it’s talking about returning to God with all your heart and soul. And now we can begin to build on this concept of repentance. It begins in your mind. You don’t turn back to God until you change your mind. But once you’ve changed your mind, if your mind has truly been changed, so will your direction change. It’s not enough to say repentance means a change of mind. So for example, you’re driving on the road from London to Birmingham and you realize you’re going in the wrong direction. You thought you were going from London to Birmingham but actually you’re going from Birmingham to London and you see the signs and you say, “Oh I recognize I’m going the wrong way.” You’ve changed your mind, haven’t you? Because before you thought you were going the right way, but now you’re not. You know you’re not. You’re going the wrong way. It’s not real repentance, however, until you stop the car, turn around and go back the right way. So it begins in the mind, but the implication clearly is this: That the change of mind leads to a radical turnabout of life. And in the notes I’m emphasizing the change of mind for the purpose I said earlier. That we don’t assume that just because people change their behavior that they have changed their heart that they are born again. Many people live lives which are outwardly right and pure, but inwardly they are from God. Let’s have a look at 2 Kings chapter 17 verse 13. A very powerful passage: “Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah by all of His prophets, every seer saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statues according to all the law which I commanded your fathers and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’” Here we have the need to return to the Lord, to stop sinning, and begin to obey Him. 2 Kings 23:25, “Now before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all of his heart, with all of his soul, and with all his might according to the Law of Moses, nor did any after him arise like him.” And so we see the importance of repentance including turning to the Lord. That, as we shall see, is like the fruit of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind leading to a change of life. And just as the branch depends upon the root and the fruit depends on the root, so the change of behavior, if it’s true repentance, depends on the change of your mind. And we see, time and time again in the Scripture, God calling us to change our heart and to change our mind and to change our ways. So ‘sub’ does describe a positive mental action. It doesn’t primarily mean stopping doing something. It means positively turning to God. Returning to God; and to return to God, it means you turn from sinful thoughts, sinful attitudes, and sinful actions. But it’s always beginning with your thoughts and your attitudes. It begins with the heart and then it touches your life. These things are the consequences of turning to God, not the cause. When you turn from your sins, that’s a consequence of turning to God with your heart.

Okay, those two Old Testament words, I’ve covered them. Now a New Testament word—another one. I’ve already touched ‘metanoia,’ here’s another one—epistrepho. Epistrepho. Now this is the New Testament equivalent of the Hebrew word ‘sub.’ It also means ‘to turn.’ It’s often translated as ‘to convert’ in the older version of the Bible. Now in Acts chapter 3 and verse 19, it shows that repentance and conversion are linked, but they’re a little built different. “Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be blotted out so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” It says, “Repent and be converted. Repent and turn to the Lord.” And so repentance, that change of mind, must be accompanied by conversion, which is total change in your behavior. And so repentance is one part of the process. Conversion describes the whole act of turning to embrace God with every part of our being and repentance highlights the mental revolution that is necessary for that to take place. So those who suggest that repentance just means stopping sinning, they’re not really clear on the meaning of the Greek word, they’re not really of the theological dangers that are part of that. They might be somehow suggesting, if they’re not careful, that salvation is dependent upon human effort; just on you stopping sinning rather than receiving God’s grace through faith. And that also repentance is simply a matter of outward behavior. And so in this teaching, as I’ve suggested to you time and time again, it’s called the “Rule of God,” not “Rules of God.” God’s kingdom is His rule, but the moment we start getting legalistic about it, even with this word ‘repentance,’ that you’ve not repented unless you’ve stopped this, this, this and this. And who is going to define it? Why, the church is going to define it of course. Its rules that are going to define it. As soon as you do that, you are moving yourself out of grace and you’re getting into legalism. But of course, it suggests—repentance suggests that you first have to change your mind before you change your behavior. If you don’t get that order right, if you change your behavior before you come to God, then you are going to be in trouble. You’ll have to dress your own life up and nobody can do that before you get to God. He accepts you just as you are. He doesn’t leave you that way. He loves you too much to keep you that way. He accepts you that way and changes you. Repentance does lead to a changed life. But if you emphasize that repentance is the change of your outward behavior and stopping sinning outwardly like that, you will lead to legalism and disappointment. God’s kingdom means God breaking in, touching our lives, changing us in a very real way.

Now let me say again: True repentance bears fruit. Luke chapter 3 verses 8-14 when John baptizes people and they start coming to him, they have some of the scribes and Pharisees. He actually begins to say, “You are you? Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come, you brood of vipers, you snakes?” Verse 8: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. And do not begin to say to yourself, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” God is laying the ax to the old root; He is giving a new root and the root of repentance means that you are rooted in Christ and that means the fruit is going to come in your life. And so of course, fruit is necessary, but the change comes from your mind. It’s repentance towards God, it’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and then it’s doing the works which are in keeping with repentance. And so change begins with the change of your mind and you are transformed by the renewing of your mind. Turn to Romans chapter 12 and verse 2. This point is such an important point. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” So Paul doesn’t use the word ‘repentance’ here, but that is what he is describing. He’s describing, first of all, a mental revolution which is the key to knowing God’s will, the key to being liberated so that once we reject the world’s way of thinking, we will then reject the world’s way of behaving and then the fruit of that will issue in transformed living. It’s this inner revolution in your thinking and your attitudes and in the direction of your mind and in the direction of your heart; it’s that that leads to changed lives; it’s that which leads this fruit of a changed life. Nothing else will. One of the difficulties I have with some of the repentance preaching today is that it’s ignoring that principle. It’s going straight to the outward and saying, “Stop in doing this; stop doing it. If you are doing this, you can’t possibly be a Christian.” And so forth and so forth. That’s not the Bible way. That’s bringing people under rules and regulations. It’s not Jesus’ way. First of all, you see God as who He is. You see Jesus as who He is, the Holy One of Israel, the Lord the Messiah, your Lord the King. And on the basis of that you fall on your face and you worship Him and you acknowledge Him as Lord and because He is Lord you rise from that place, carrying your cross and leading a changed life. It’s an inner revolution that produces the changed life.

Now when we go to the rest of the New Testament, we discover more about repentance. We find that Jesus began His ministry with a call to repentance. He ended his ministry with a call for people to preach repentance to all nations. Luke 24:47, and as I go through this list, I want to show you how important repentance is in the whole of the New Testament. Jesus taught that repentance was necessary for salvation. Luke chapter 13 verses 3-5, He says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” speaking about the tower that fell upon the people. “These Galileans, are they any more wicked than anybody else where this tower fell because they were killed like that?” He said, “No, you will all perish like this unless you repent. Or the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think they were any worse sinners than all the other men who dwelled in Jerusalem?” Mark 6 verse 12, Jesus sent out the twelve to call for repentance. Luke 5:32, Jesus calls sinners to repentance, not the righteous. He calls sinners to repentance. In Luke 15 verse 7, there is joy in heaven when sinners repent. Luke 15 and verse 7. Peter corrected his listeners on the Day of Pentecost. He corrected their ideas about Jesus by calling them to repent. “’Change your mind. Yes,’” he says, “’this Jesus, He has been crucified. You took Him, and you with wicked hands crucified Him.’ And they were cut to the heart. ‘What must we do?’ ‘Repent’ he said. ‘Change your mind about Him. You rejected Him, but now embrace Him. He is the Lord of all. God has made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ.’” Paul challenged those in Athens about repentance to change their mind about God. They had—they thought God was—well, they had many gods, and they even had an altar to unknown god, and he said, ‘This is not God. The God that I am declaring is the God of the Bible. He doesn’t need to be fed as if He gets hungry. He doesn’t need people to wait upon Him hand and feet. He is Spirit. He is God. In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” And they had to change their mind about God and he therefore commands all men to repent. Acts 17 verse 13: [correct reference is Acts 17:30] “These times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent.” In Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian leaders, he summed up his message as repentance towards God. Acts 21 and verse 20, [correct reference is Acts 20:21] he said, “This is what I’ve been doing. I’ve been testifying to Jews and also to Greeks, repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the summary of his message. Repentance and faith. That’s the summary of the response that we must make to the kingdom. Repent and believe.

Revolution in thinking, repentance is not self effort. It’s a gift from God. Acts 5 verse 31. “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” To give repentance and forgiveness of sins. Listen to this; it’s hard to understand, but repentance is just as much a gift from God as forgiveness is. Repentance is not you suddenly deciding, “Oh well, it’s a good idea, I think I’ll believe in God today.” You came to that place, yes, and you came to that point where you believed in Jesus. But it was God who brought you there. It is a kingdom operation. God’s kingdom brings repentance and we are so in need of God for His kingdom to come and to bring that.

We also see that repentance is linked to the two gifts of God in forgiveness and eternal life. And we’ve seen that repeatedly. Luke chapter 24 and verse 47, “And that repentance and remission of sins shall be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.” Acts chapter 5 verse 31, “Him has God highly exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Acts 11 verse 18. “When they heard these things they became silent and they glorified God saying, ‘Then God also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’” So the gift of forgiveness and eternal life comes through repentance, which means that if there is no repentance, then there is no life. So we can see from these verses that without repentance you cannot be a true follower of Jesus. Now we’ve got to get back to that in today’s church. It is not being preached and taught like that these days. Believing in Jesus is what’s emphasized. It’s called Easy Believism. Not that we want to make Hard Believism, no, I’m not suggesting that we should make it hard for people to believe, but we should preach the price and we should tell people that you cannot truly believe in Jesus unless you change your mind. Otherwise you just added your belief in Jesus onto the existing beliefs that you already have, much in the same way that many other religions accept Jesus. They’re quite happy to accept Jesus alongside their own religious beliefs. But when Jesus comes, He comes bringing the kingdom, which is an exclusive kingdom. He is Lord, He is the exclusive Lord and He wants to own all of your life. And if Jesus doesn’t own all of your life, then He is not Lord of your life. And so we must understand that repentance is essential to become a follower of Jesus. And until people repent, until they change their mind or have their mind changed by God about themselves or about God, they will not even be aware of their need to be saved. So what Jesus came to do in His life and death can only be received by people who recognize that in their own inability to save themselves, they need a new relationship with God. This change of mind about our condition and God’s nature is not in itself to save. [stutters] It doesn’t have power in itself enough to save, but it’s an integral part of conversion. We must then move from repentance to faith and we’re going to come onto that in the next topic in the next session. We’re going to move from repentance to faith; we’re going to show how that transition works and how that transition operates. So God bless you and we will see you in the next session.

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed this teaching on the kingdom of God today. And that you felt the power of God’s kingdom in your life. After all, the kingdom of God is the only kingdom that is really worth extending, first of all, in your life and then through your life to the others around you. We’ll be back next time for more teaching on the kingdom of God.

Recommended reading

Dye, Colin. The Rule of God
Kensington Temple, 2007

Additional reading

Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Eerdmans, 1984