We started this series by asking what it really means to “repent and believe,” since this is the fundamental invitation given by Jesus in the Gospels. (See the previous parts of the series here.) The parallel way to describe “repent and believe” is “leave and follow”—and in Mark’s Gospel, both sets of imperatives clearly involve the whole life of the disciple, with sometimes radically challenging implications. In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 7—8.
In Mark 7:1–23, Jesus has some pretty sharp confrontations with the religious folk of his day. He renders a sharp indictment against them: “You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (v. 13). That’s a serious charge—that their religious traditions actually “nullify” (cancel, disregard, render void) the word of God, by setting up other standards and norms that obscure the clear desires of God for his people. The call for those of us who would “repent and believe” is to examine our own cherished religious traditions under the ruthless, piercing laser light of the Holy Spirit, in order to discern where they point people to God and where they actually obscure a clear view of God’s character and will.
And then, just in case we might be tempted to set ourselves safely outside the scrutiny of institutional or organizational behaviors and values, Jesus gets uncomfortably personal (Mark 7:17–23). “Repent and believe” means a willingness to allow that same ruthless laser light of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our “inner yuck”—the sinful attitudes that are the seedbed of sinful behavior.
It’s probably no coincidence that in the wake of these tough conversations with religious folk in his own homeland, Jesus takes the disciples on a ministry trip into “foreign lands”—Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis (Mark 7:31–8:9). “Repent and believe” and “leave and follow” mean going with Jesus across social, ethnic, and cultural boundaries to offer grace to people who are outside our tribe. And it also means sighing and groaning with Jesus (7:34) over the distortions, diseases, and disorders that bind the lives of the human beings we encounter in those uncomfortable places.
Finally, in that great juxtaposition of scenes at the end of Mark 8, we discover that “repent and believe” means allowing our “head knowledge” about Jesus to translate into a perspective on life that is fully shaped by Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ purposes. In that wonderful scene in Caesarea Philippi (you’d hear music building to a great crescendo here if this were playing out on screen), Peter makes a resounding declaration of knowledge about Jesus—“You are the Messiah!” (8:29). But almost immediately, Peter turns around and acts out of a totally contradictory perspective, asking Jesus to please do the Messiah thing in a way that will be more comfortable for his followers (8:31–33). Jesus’ rebuke to him (“Get behind me, Satan!”) is probably the sharpest one uttered in the Gospels. Jesus clearly diagnoses the root of Peter’s problem: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (v. 33, NLT). Ouch! “Repent and believe” means relinquishing my right to define what is good and right and necessary, and submitting to Jesus’ definitions.
Questions to consider:
- Have you taken the risk to set your religious traditions alongside the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to see where and if they align? What might be keeping you (and your faith community) from doing so?
- Will you risk the same Spirit-illumined examination of your own inner attitudes and beliefs?
- Where might Jesus be inviting you to cross some uncomfortable boundaries with him?
- What will it take for you to relinquish the “right to choose” what is good, right, and necessary, and submit to Jesus’ definition of those things?