We are all commanded to make disciples. The first step in making disciples is sharing the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the requirement for becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ to be born again. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3-7 that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again; being born of water and the Spirit. Jesus told him this with absolute certainty, prefacing it with, "I tell you the truth". He also ended by telling him not to be surprised or amazed at His command, "You must be born again".
So if we know that we are required to share the Gospel and the requirement for entering the kingdom of God is to be born again, how does someone get through the process of hearing the Gospel resulting in being born again?
Why is this question so important? As we share the Gospel, we need to recognize the fact that repentance is essential and I would argue the key component to someone's salvation. We often talk about repentance and repenting our sins but many do not understand what repentance really means.
Before delving into explaining what it means, I think it's important to point out the significance of repentance and the fact that it has been threaded throughout Scripture. It's not something that we only find in the New Testament. It was the message of all the prophets. They continually warned the people of Israel not to sin against God, and when they did (which was frequent, just as we do today), their message was one of repentance. Hosea warned the Israelites to return to the Lord and repent in chapter 14. Jeremiah was said to have the most to say about repentance as he constantly instructed the Israelites to turn from their wicked ways, and their dependence on idols and false gods. Isaiah's repentance is recorded in chapter 5 of his writings.
As we look to the New Testament, repentance was the main message of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1-2). Jesus began His ministry with this same message, beginning with His disciples, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near." Matthew 4:17. It was also His message and instruction to His disciples at the end of His ministry as recorded in Luke 24:46-47, "This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem. This was the same message preached by the disciples as they were scattered throughout the world (Mark 6:12), the same message that was preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:37-38) and what the apostle Paul preached during his missionary journeys Acts 17:30. Repentance has always been the key component for salvation as well as for our usefulness as an instrument for God.
The term repentance is often misunderstood. It has always been a command and should not be viewed as an option. It is required for salvation and required throughout our sanctification process because of our sinful nature. Understanding what repentance is not is just as important as understanding what it is.
First, repentance is not remorse, it is not simply being sorry for our sin. In Luke 18:23, the rich young ruler went away "sorrowful", but he didn't repent.
Repentance is not regret or wishing we didn't commit sin. Pontious Pilate washed his hands in regret over his turning Jesus over to the crowds (Matthew 27:24).
Repentance is not resolve. It's not like a New Year's resolution where we resolve to commit to a new pattern of moral standards and living.
Repentance comes from a Greek word which literally means "to change one's mind". It is a change of mind that affects a change of will and, in turn, brings about a change of behavior or action. This process is clearly illustrated in the story of the prodigal son that we find in Luke 15. He found himself broke as well as broken in the midst of pigs in a pen. We see in verse 17 that he "came to himself". This was a deliberate admission of sin which brought about a change of mind and volition, which resulted in a change of will. This change of will was followed by changed actions. Repentance, in terms of salvation, should take on the same pattern. We need to acknowledge our sins, confess them, and take on a whole new way of living. We cannot continue to live as we did prior to being born again. We have become new creatures. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Ephesians 4:24 tells us to "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."
Sharing the Gospel and evangelism should always have repentance as its focal point. Knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for sins, was buried and rose again are all true statements, but it must become personal for each believer. We must believe that He died for our sins and we must repent of our sins. As we live out our new lives, we must continue to confess our sins, repent, and here comes the tough part, repeat that sin no more. This can only be done through the power and strength of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
Too often, sharing the Gospel message begins with or dwells on the various benefits that salvation brings about. It often points toward our ticket to get to heaven or the means to avoid the wrath of God's punishment. These are realities that are bestowed on us after repentance, a change of our will which aligns with God's will, and demonstrated by the actions in our lives.