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Sometimes even preachers find themselves trapped within popular culture ideas—even of Biblical concepts. I think that’s the case with a very Biblical word: repent. Some of us jump to fire-and-brimstone: “First you have to deliver the bad news before you can bring the good news.” Others, who want to avoid unpleasantness in the pulpit, avoid the word altogether.

But what if there’s a third way? Perhaps you could try this approach the next time you preach about repentance:

Imagine receiving a message so good that it caused you to rethink your entire life. The bank made a mistake years ago calculating your mortgage and now suddenly you discover your house is paid off, or a total stranger has paid off your student loans. your abusive husband has turned a corner and now treats you like a queen; the doctors call to say the diagnosis was wrong, and you don’t have cancer after all.

All of these examples represent the best kind of news: no more coupon-clipping; your future is no longer clouded by debt; no more walking on eggshells, afraid that some trivial event will anger your spouse; your fears of endless treatments and medicines vanish in a moment. The good news has come from afar and has pitched its tent with you. The old reality is gone, and new day is born. But you quickly discover a problem: the morning after the good news arrives you wake up still worried about money, still afraid that your husband will relapse, or you wake up in a sweat thinking about hospitals and death. And we immediately understand why: we have spent months, even years, thinking about life based upon our problems. Financial woes are daily woes. Fear of abuse is factored into every choice you make. Health concerns are like a houseguest who has moved in forever. Old habits die hard, and the habits of the mind must be taken to the cross. This is the meaning of repentance.

To receive good news, to really receive it—to take it in and discover a new freedom—requires a new way of thinking. This new way of thinking has a Biblical name: repentance. I know: you thought repentance meant remorse, determination, trying harder or feeling guilty. Someone has lied to you. At its very core the word “repent” means rethink your life. The trick is: you have to have a valid reason to rethink your life. A positive mental attitude is not enough; simply trying harder won’t change your world. There must be some hard-core reality that changes the equation, wipes away the past or presents a future filled with joy. Better yet, all three. Jesus presented this hard-core reality when he said, “The Kingdom of God is breaking in. Right here, right now.” He wasn’t describing some new program or advocating a new philosophy. Jesus proclaimed the world would be forever different because God had come down, and he would do whatever was necessary to set people free.

God would not be stopped: the old order of things was condemned, and a new order was made real. He invited us to move to the side of victory with these words: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.”

Grace comes with good news and a requirement: Rethink your life because everything has changed. Repentance is a rational response to God’s grace.

"Repent" is the first word of the good news. Belief comes as we help our listeners rethink a way of life based upon what God has already done. Good news requires that we rethink our way of life—have you preached this kind of repentance?



Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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E L Zacharias

commented on Jun 22, 2015

The article makes some good points, but the title is misleading: How to Preach Repentance LIKE It's Good News [my emphasis]. Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit and it is the heart of the Gospel. It is not LIKE Good News--it IS good news of what God brings about through the work of Jesus Christ. I like how the author moves the preacher against the tendency to beat a soul into submission with the Law--that is not good preaching, nor is it biblical. A preacher needs to remember that "Repentance" is not merely an "INVITATION to a New Life" as much as it is a call to "turn around," RETURNING to the life God has already given. (In the Hebrew, "repentance" literally means, "turn around.") Protestants often focus on repentance in terms of an "altar call"--so maybe that is what drives this article--but every sermon should point to an element of weakness in our human nature and draw the listener to the work that God employs to fix it. When we say that "Repentance is a rational response to God?s grace," we draw honor away from God and give it to man. Jesus, along with all Scripture, shows that repentance is often unreasonable--it makes more sense to keep the money you cheated others, or return the exact amount of you cheated them, rather than give back four times as much (Zaccheaus); it does not make sense to throw a party because you found a lost coin (parable). It does make sense to believe you were wrong in betraying the Messiah and to throw back thirty pieces of silver you took as payment (Judas)--that was "reasonable." But Judas found no comfort because he had rejected God's holy Word, the source of which is the Holy Spirit, the message of which focuses on redemption through Jesus Christ. No, repentance often defies reason, as the world views it; and the forgiveness God offers is extravagant, going beyond what we expect or desire. The call to this new life in Christ often calls us to a life of pain and suffering, which Christ invites us to receive with joy.

William Howard

commented on Jun 22, 2015

Repent repent repent. Yes, the call to repent is indeed good news. But, have I missed something? Repentance is not an option and however we preach it, it MUST be preached. Hard or soft, with excellent oratory skill or blunt force (all with love), repentance, not being a step in salvation that can be left out, must be preached. When Jesus began His earthly ministry He began with "Repent". What does Acts 17:30 say to us? No need talking on a new life in Christ without letting the hearers know that a new life, a saved life, a justified life, yea even THE abundant life, is not going to be realized without repentance.

Andy Bright

commented on Jun 22, 2015

This is a very good discussion for any spiritually minded believer or minister of the gospel. All the points raised by the different contributors and the writer himself; are related, except that everyone is trying to project his personal convictions. With great respect for the article writer, the only basic fact that I disagreed with; is the coinage of the title. Just like E.L. Zacharias pointed out, REPENTANCE is not like good news, but is the actual good news. The main reason is that no body can actually enjoy God's full package of salvation, if he does not trully repent and determine to live a new life in Christ. So, the good news is that if we can forget about how we feel, think or what we can do and accept what God has done for us, then we have access to a new beginning. This in itself, requires a rethinking and a turning around. That is REPENTANCE. Everything about the gospel from the old to the new testament is about repentance. Let me also point out that repentance, in the context of Christ's message; is not just a one time affair, but a continuous one. It implies "repent and continue to repent, whenever you miss the mark". This may sound funny to some folks, but that is just the truth of the matter. In God's plan of salvation, We are saved, being saved and will finally be saved at the close of the age, when Christ shall take his own into his eternal kingdom and dominion. Never the less, I thank all you for sharing your understanding on this somehow neglected topic of these days.

William Howard

commented on Jun 22, 2015

Well said. We are to compel souls to seek after and follow Christ Even though Paul truly said 1 Cor.1:11 the intent is to consider me as an EXAMPLE as one who is all in all striving to be like Jesus. If the preacher / any follower of Christ has a personal conviction, that better be it. And yes we need to understand that when we become aware of wrong in our life(even after salvation) repentance is needed. Well said sir, well said.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jun 22, 2015

Amen, Andy! The first of Martin Luther?s 95 theses: ?When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ?Repent,? he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.?

Ralph G Gillard

commented on Jun 22, 2015

I think that Ray Hollenbach is basically on the right track regarding repentance. The emphasis in John's gospel and the book of Romans is on "faith" or "believing" in Christ rather than on repentance. (In fact, the actual word "repent" is entirely absent from John's gospel and only very sparingly used in that great treatise on the faith, the book of Romans). I think that repentance is greatly misunderstood in the evangelical church. If anyone emails me at minlot@eol.co.nz I will send them by return email (and free of charge) a pdf of a book I have written on "What does the bible say I must do to gain eternal life?". This book has several chapters exploring the meaning of repentance.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jun 22, 2015

Repentance is not in John, but the concept is there; when we come to believe in Jesus we leave the old way--as did Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Jairus, and the man born blind, to name a few. The "work" of the follower is to "believe." That call of the Spirit leads us to leave our own work and follow Jesus. Keep in mind that "grace" is not used in John, either--but it is shown everywhere.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jun 22, 2015

P.S. - Note that Cain never repents of his murdering of his brother Abel. He complains that his burden is too great for him--as if he is the victim. Although he believes that God exists (hence the conversation), he does not believe that God is good. That was Cain's problem from the start--he offered up his offering as an obligation, not as the thank-offering that comes from the heart. True repentance comes from the change God makes in the heart; but the heart that resists this work of the Holy Spirit will not be blessed.

Daniel Abaidoo

commented on Jun 22, 2015

If I remember well, the bible said quoting the Messiah: "No man can come to Me unless the Father draws him" This drawing is done by the Holy Spirit primarily through the CONVICTION of sin which ultimately makes repentance possible. When a man repents its not in answer to good news, but its rather in response to a spiritual urgency which has the capacity to derail his life for the worse if disobeyed. Let us do well to present the realities as they are if we have actually lived the experience ourselves.

William Howard

commented on Jun 22, 2015

Fine points all. If Jesus says to man to repent, case closed.

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