Discipleship Starts with Repentance


I was on my way to an important meeting in an unfamiliar part of town. Though I had never been to this particular sandwich shop before, I had a rough idea where it might be, based on the street address. Yes, I had a GPS with me, but who needs one of those when you already have a vague idea where you’re going and an ill-founded confidence that you’ll get there?

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

I got lost. When I could deny it no longer, I consulted Maggie (that’s what we called our GPS, though I don’t think that was her real name). She had four words for me: Turn around when possible.

Not bear left. Not slight right.

Turn around. It was Maggie’s way of saying I was going the wrong way, and the sooner I reversed course the better. Confronted with this reality, I changed my mind about the direction I was headed. I made a U-turn and followed Maggie’s instructions. To use a biblical term, I repented.

Jesus used that word repent a lot. Scripture says that early in his ministry Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). What did Jesus mean by calling us to repent?

Essentially, he was calling us to change our minds (that’s what the Greek word metanoeō means[1]). It was an appeal for us to admit that we’ve gone the wrong way and to turn around and pursue a new direction, because it’s the only way we’ll ever get to experience the gracious rule and reign of God.

Eugene Peterson described repentance this way:

Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.[2]

Had I disregarded Maggie’s directive to repent, I probably would have missed my lunch appointment. That would have been an embarrassing mistake, but one from which I would have recovered. That’s more than can be said when someone chooses to disregard Christ’s call to repentance.

Until we repent we’re still going our own way, which means we’re still lost. 


[1]BAGD, s.v. “μετανοέω,” 511-512.

[2]Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 29-30.