Where is the word 'repent' in the picture of the gospel of Jesus?


The first email enquiry I had about this whole 'Jesus way' project asked this question. I therefore want to record some notes to outline my own thinking as I continue to explore the scriptures and reflect on study. The topic is 'repentance' and the question I want to address is 'Where does repentance fit in the gospel message of Jesus?'


It has turned out to be the most significant and discussed aspect of this study so deserves some consideration here.


I am quite clear that Jesus came to preach the gospel of repentence as we are told in Mark 1: 15, 'The time has come .. the Kingdom of God is near .. repent and believe the good news!' I am also clear that when the man was brought for healing and lowered through the roof, Jesus forgave him his sins. As I have explored in Grove booklet The 360 Gospel of Jesus, I am also quite clear that there are plenty of implicit suggestions about repentance in the Top Fifty Texts, which is why I have highlighted 'repentance' as a key part of the Gospel message and listed the texts which I think illustrate it.


The problem is that the word 'repent' does not appear on the tag cloud 'Wordle' picture in The 360 Gospel of Jesus by Grove books. The picture is on this website with a link to a download resource for discussion groups.


The email enquiry asked if 'repent' was there at all or just so small as to be difficult to see. I replied and said that it wasn't there at all. This is because the Wordle picture works when words are repeated. I supplied the enquirer with all of the Top Fifty Texts which only quotes the word 'repent' once. Have a look at the Top Fifty Texts yourself.


Now I do not want to be labelled as ' the Church Army Evangelist who believes that repentance is no longer a part of the gospel message'. My theology is generally fairly orthodox, so I believe the scriptures (both Old and New Testaments), church tradition (the teaching of the church throughout the centuries) and reason ( the logic of the need to turn from self to God) all make 'repentance' essential and an ongoing requirement for healthy Christian living.


So why is the single word 'repent' absent from the Top Fifty Texts and the word picture?


I am happy that another list of texts may have answered the question 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' but I am not sure there are many more to make the word 'repent' appear large in the word picture. Yes, Jesus said to the woman 'go and sin no more' and to the. ain through the roof, 'your sins are forgiven', but my reading of thd Gospels does not include Jesus saying (e.g. to Peter, Matthew, Zaccheaus, Nicoldemus), 'you must repent'.


The biblical narrative we have been given in the four Gospels illustrate a profound point. It is made even stronger than I have indicated in Sharing faith the Jesus way. I have a whole chapeter about Jesus meeting the need of the individual and how we should do the same.


The point is particularly made to the woman cought in adultery who was told to 'go and sin no more' and the rich young ruler who Jesus said had to give away his goods to the poor. We are not told that Jesus pointed the finger and said 'repent' ... rather he was more specific and, knowing what was in the way of these people finding new life, gave them specific instruction as to how they were to repent in there particular circumstances.


This is amazing! It even makes the point of 'repent' as part of the gospel message a stronger and more central element. Repentance was not general, it took a particular form as each individual had to address it. We all need to repent - and of different things - and Jesus, in his own way, helps us turn around again and follow him.


Zaccheaus already knew what he had to do and did not have to be told. I explore this fully in Sharing faith the Jesus way,  and suggest that this is all the more reason to pray and discern the Holy Spirit in our attempts to share the good news. The important thing is to share what 'they need to hear' rather than 'what I want to say' .. Jesus does the rest!


I'll put it this way, the bottom line is that, for Jesus and the people he addressed, 'repentance took a particular form'. We read the Gospel accounts of people who encountered Jesus and see how their lives took a new direction. Jesus did not go around saying 'repent' but helped people to do it as most relevant for them. As a result, I believe that this is our model and task today.


Having said that, I am well aware that if we were to be taking this study from the Epistles and the teaching of St Paul, instead of the Gospels and the teaching of Jesus, we might reach a very different conclusion. For that reason, the next page considers the different approaches in faith and practice between Jesus and Paul.