Ron Martoia on repentance:
Clearly, if we want to understand the deep, rich, and full dimensions of the word repentance (and any number of other key biblical words and concepts), we must consider all three streams flowing together: the New Testament context, the first-century secular and historical context, and the first-century religious context outside the Bible. When we do this with repentance, we find that the word has to do with the orientation, directional heading, and trajectory of an entire community, culture, or nation, not just the front end of a private, personal conversional experience that results in a guaranteed seat in heaven. So, when we hear an evangelist on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ohio Street saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” he is saying something entirely different from what John the Baptist was saying.
Perhaps the best way to bring all this together is to realize that “repentance” or “reorientation,” from the lips of Jesus and John the Baptist, was not a summons to a moralistic reform. It wasn’t a timeless call to get your life together. It wasn’t about cleaning up some personal foibles. It was a call for Israel to prepare for the end of her exile as a nation and to change agendas, specifically in the way she was not being the nation that God intended for her to be. It was a call to re-engage with God’s original purpose for Israel, which was to be a blessing to the whole world. Did individual Jews have to respond to this? Of course, but the call to repent wasn’t made to individuals. Jesus was calling an entire nation, not as a collection of individuals but as a collective organism. God had called Israel to be his people. He had called her and rescued her from Egypt. He had led her across the Red Sea. Now he was calling her to reorient her life as a nation back to his original purpose and agenda.
A further twist in the story helps to flesh out this idea. The reorientation that Jesus intended to bring about included offering the kingdom of heaven to lots of people who were outside the camp of ethnic Israel…When we read the New Testament narratives carefully, we see that many people reoriented their lives to a new compass heading without ever being invited to do so, without ever reciting a sinner’s prayer, and without ever hearing the word repent…[There are] individual stories in the Bible where full-scale reorientation occurred but with no sense of any formal invitation, or even discussion about it.
What do you like? What’s not clear? What would you change?