Repentance and the Hope of Advent
The holiday countdown has begun again. So, how do we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus? How can we help others do the same?
The Christmas story doesn’t begin (or end) with the New Testament Gospels. Throughout Scripture, the coming of God’s Messiah is prophesied. Christians believe that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God and second Person of the Trinity, came into the world He created (John 1) and will come again to make all things new (Revelation 21–22)—the season of Advent is a time for reflecting on both. It’s time to remember that we didn’t just need Him back then, we need him right now.
The celebration of Christmas begins with a sobering reminder: we need a Savior.
The Prophetic Word of God
The book of Isaiah contains beloved prophecies popular at Christmastime, such as:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
But what is the context for these promises?
Judgment of sin.
The people of God need His divine intervention. Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” (Matthew 1:22) clarifies that the relationship with our Creator has been broken. All of creation is broken. We have wandered from and rebelled against Him. The prophetic Word of God makes this reality clear in a passage often remembered around Easter. The virgin-born child, the Son of God, came to take away our sin.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
God keeps His promises. 700 years later, Mary gave birth to Jesus. And though He arrived humbly and unnoticed to most of the world, Jesus’ ministry began with a bold and public declaration.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As disciples and disciple-makers, don’t rush past repentance to celebrate the kingdom of heaven coming near.
Repentance Is an Ongoing Rhythm of Discipleship
The call to “repent” is not limited to our initial response to the gospel. Yes, repentance is a turning point in one’s life, but it’s also an ongoing rhythm of discipleship. Christians must take up the cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). We see this modeled throughout Scripture.
Peter emphasized repentance as he preached the first gospel sermon at Pentecost and as he continued to lead the Church—quoting Isaiah 40 in a letter, from the same passage John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear . . . For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 1:13–17, 1:23–2:3
The gospel hope of salvation and spiritual growth are rooted in the ongoing rhythm of repentance and faith in Jesus.
In Your Life and Ministry
Our desire is to help each person see the truth of the gospel and realize their need for the ongoing practice of repentance. Sin doesn’t disappear from our lives once we place our faith in Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is continually at work—convicting us of sin and conforming us to Christlikeness through repentance and faith.
We believe that repentance encompasses confession, surrender, turning away from sin, and turning towards the freedom and life Jesus offers. As we continue in the daily practice of repentance, we see growth and movement towards God. We acknowledge that our relationship with Him still requires His divine intervention and ongoing presence. We long for the day when He comes again and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
While it may not feel very “Christmas-y” in our culture today, preparing to celebrate the promised Messiah and returning King still begins with the prophetic call to reflect and repent.
Consider the following questions in your own context.
- Are you boldly proclaiming the full gospel message—including repentance (whether through preaching, teaching, writing, conversation, or practice)?
- What are you doing to lovingly lead people back to this step of faith again and again?
- Is the gospel message clear for both salvation and sanctification—growing in maturity and Christlikeness?
- Has repentance become more of an abstract idea for “them” or for your past rather than a healthy experience for us as God’s people right now?
- How are you providing intentional opportunities for genuine confession and repentance?
- Where is the Holy Spirit at work in your own life, revealing the Word of God in fresh ways and reminding you of your own need for a Savior?
Repent. For the kingdom of heaven has come near. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. This is good news. This is reason to celebrate. 2,000 years later, the message is the same. Prepare the way for Him this holiday season.
To help people in your church establish an ongoing rhythm of repentance (along with six other rhythms of discipleship) check out our 10-week discipleship experience: Rooted.
If you’d like to preview another resource that helps you and the people in your church or small group better understand the Person of Jesus Christ and the nature of salvation, check out our newest resource: Theology and the Mission of God.
Finally, if you’d like a free tool for sharing stories of how your life was changed and continues to be changed through faith in Jesus, sign up for our newsletter below and watch an email about December’s free resource.