Repentance and the Kingdom of God
John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ's ministry by "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins," (Mark 1:4). He called on the people to change their former ways of life so that they could embrace the new life that Christ would reveal to them. The baptism that he offered was both a sign of this new life, and a precursor to the baptism that would come through Jesus Christ: "I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit," (Mark 1:8).
John's call to a new way of life is best expressed by his well-known phrase "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," (Matt. 3:2). It is this phrase that is shown alongside John the Baptist in most of his icons. He preached repentance because he knew that the people would not be able to receive Christ's coming Kingdom unless they rejected their old ways and embraced the new way of Christ. John knew then what many Christians today forget: that apart from a heart that is open to God through repentance, the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven are shut.
Repentance is often misunderstood as being merely sorrow for sin. But that is only the first step in repentance, not the whole process. If repentance ends with sorrow for sin, then it can lead us to despair; it can lead us to believe that we are incapable of improving, of doing better than we have done in the past.
True repentance takes a full view of who we are as human beings, with both our failings and our victories, and asks: How can I do better? What can I do to make my actions tomorrow better than they were today? And repentance is a conviction that it is always possible to do better, that our battle against our sins is not a losing battle. Repentance is a firm belief that with God's help we have endless possibilities for improvement, that there is no ceiling on what we are capable of when God's power leads us.
The word 'repentance' in Greek (μετάνοια) means a change of mind. To repent means to turn away from our old ways of thinking about ourselves and the world. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind," (Rom. 12:2). Repentance means allowing our minds and our hearts to be transformed in the Holy Spirit through the power of Jesus Christ.
As we begin our New Year, let us resolve to open our hearts to the transformation that comes through Jesus Christ. Let us turn away from the things of the past, and turn toward the renewed life that Jesus Christ offers us. Having repented of our old ways of life based on egotism and pride, let us "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator," (Col. 3:10).