Many of God’s most important truths are found in the seemingly simplest of verses. This is the case with His showing us the essence of His process of transformation. Jesus lays it out for us near the very beginning of His ministry, as Mark tells us:
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:14-15
It’s easy to breeze through this one sentence Jesus speaks. It almost seems too short to contain very much of real substance, and the words are so familiar as to seem more like a broad generalization than a specific principle or precise prescription. But let’s look closely at what Jesus says here.
First of all, the verses give us a chronos kind of time reference. Jesus begins preaching in Galilee after John the Baptist has been put in prison by Herod Antipas. However, the word translated “time” is our word kairos. Jesus isn’t talking about the day and hour at which He says this; He is talking about the significance of what is happening. He’s alerting us to the fact that there is an opportunity to be presented.
And what is the opportunity? A whole new way of living. Kingdom living. Living God’s way. This is now available; it is “at hand.” It’s at hand because Jesus is there, and He is going to show them what life in the Kingdom looks like.
How can one experience life in this Kingdom of God? By following two imperatives, by obeying His two commands: “Repent” and “Believe.”
I don’t know about you, but when I see the word “repent,” I tend to think in terms of (1) feeling sorry for and agreeing with God about my disobeying His commands and (2) wanting to turn away from this disobedience. I associate repenting with specific sinning, whether by commission or omission. Or I associate it with my general condition of being a sinner by nature.
The Greek word translated “repent” is metanoeo. Notice the first part, “meta,” which reminds us of the first part of metamorphosis, which we discussed earlier. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Thomas Nelson, 1985) says this word means “to change one’s mind or purpose” and goes on to say, “always, in the New Testament, involving a change for the better, an amendment, and always, except in Luke 17:3-4, of ‘repentance’ from sin.” So metanoeo certainly includes what I normally think of.
However, I believe Jesus is saying more than just that. After all, what is sin? Romans 14:23 says, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” In the context of talking about God’s Kingdom-living, Jesus is telling us to change our minds completely about how we see and live life. Kingdom-living isn’t just about this life “cleaned up”; it is about seeing life from a whole new perspective, a true perspective, God’s perspective. It is about knowing God and learning His ways. It’s about relying on who He is and what He says.
And this all fits with Jesus’ word “believe” in Mark 1:15. In the Greek, this word is pisteuo, which Vine’s defines as “‘to believe,’ also ‘to be persuaded of,’ and hence, ‘to place confidence in, to trust,’ signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence.” Jesus is saying to live in trusting reliance upon -- i.e., to put into action -- God’s ways, not our ways.
This is exactly what God tells us again and again, in various ways. Some examples are:
"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
for we walk by faith, not by sight 2 Corinthians 5:7
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
This last passage is a particular favorite of countless Christians. But how many of us connect it to God’s transformation process and Jesus’ words to “repent and believe.” Not leaning on our own understanding means not seeing and living life our way or the world’s way. Acknowledging Him in all our ways means learning to see every aspect of life His way. Trusting Him with all our heart means putting our complete reliance on His ways, even (or especially) when everything within us and everyone around us is shouting, “That’s crazy!” or “That will never work!”
One more passage needs to be mentioned, for it is perhaps the strongest restatement of Jesus’ initial call to “repent and believe.” God gives it to us in each of the synoptic Gospels.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:34-36
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25
Giving up, by denying and crucifying, my ways, my agenda, my life in order to follow, and come after Jesus certainly sounds like a complete change of mind and purpose (metanoeo) and totally trusting Him (pisteuo). That is transformation (metamorphosis)!