“Repent and Believe”–musings on Mark’s Gospel


by Dr. Rachel Coleman

Sometimes there are words and phrases in Scripture that have become so familiar that we begin to lose sight of what they really mean or what their true impact could be. In recent weeks, I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark with an online community (www.seedbed.com/daily-text-subscribe ), and my attention was caught by Jesus’ initial announcement of his ministry in Mark 1:15. He said, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (NRSV). Those two commands, “repent and believe,” are the heart of his invitation to us—but what do they really mean? What does it look like to “repent and believe in the good news”? So I’ve been on a journey to “track” that theme as we’re reading through Mark. We’re only in Mark 3, so there’s a lot more observing to do, but one thing is becoming abundantly clear—“repent and believe” is much more than giving intellectual assent to a set of truths about Jesus, God, or the kingdom. “Repent and believe” involves a whole host of concrete actions. Here are some things that stand out to me so far.

First, “repent and believe” means to “leave and follow” (see Mark 1:16–20). In order to follow Jesus, those first disciples left behind all their former sources of security—regular jobs, family traditions, prior identities (“Simon the fisherman,” “sons of Zebedee”). Their new center of security and identity was their relationship with Jesus and their relationship with each other in the community that was forming around Jesus.

Second, disciples demonstrate their repentance and belief, their leaving and following, by seeking Jesus (see Mark 1:35). There is a deep desire for his presence, an awareness of not being able to face the demands of the day without knowing that he is with them.

Third, when repentance and belief are real, there will be a starkly visible contrast between our “before Jesus” and “after Jesus” conditions. That marked difference will be a witness to those who watch us and we will be intentional in offering that witness. (See the story of the cleansed leper in Mark 1:40–45, where Jesus told the healed man to “go, show yourself to the priest.”)

Fourth, “repent and believe” means a definitive change of position. For the paralyzed man to be healed, he had to “stand up and walk” (Mark 2:1–12). For Levi to answer Jesus’ call, it was necessary for him to “get up and follow” (Mark 2:13–17). That change of position may be an actual physical act, as it was for the paralytic and for Levi, or it may be a reversal of attitudes and perspectives, but a definitive new movement is required. In Mark 2:18–22, Jesus describes this newness as a willingness to become “new wineskins” that can hold the bursting vitality of the new wine (the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ presence with us).

Finally (at least to this point in the journey through Mark), “repent and believe” includes abandoning the desire for honor and acclaim. In Mark 3:20–29, we see that Jesus’ family thought he was nuts and the religious leaders of the day thought that he was in league with Satan. Healing, preaching the good news of the kingdom, teaching what God looks like “with skin on”—instead of generating honor and respect, these activities led to disrespect and dishonor. If this is the “Jesus pattern,” we can expect that it might also be ours.

Loving the journey and looking forward to new glimpses of what “repent and believe” look like in lived-out realities. Will you join me on the journey?




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