The Real Message of Christ & His Church
Every once in awhile I ask people what they believe is the core message of Jesus and the Church, and almost always, without fail, the answer is either "love" or "forgiveness." Now, while I will agree these are part of the Gospel, until they have been biblically defined they lack godly meaning. Too often people use these words and the Gospel for things Jesus never would have endorsed, and likely would have condemned. So what is the foundational principle of the Gospel, you may ask? Let us listen to Jesus and the apostles to find the answer.
Matthew 4:17 records the Lord saying, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and in Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." These sayings of Jesus occur almost immediately after the temptation in the wilderness, and are at the start of his public ministry. Jesus begins by telling people to repent!
During Jesus' ministry he will remind those of the "upper crust," in Luke 5:32, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." So foundational was this idea of repentance and salvation the Lord said it twice in one message in Luke 13:3,5, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." As Jesus prepared to leave the earth he taught the disciples that it was fitting for him to suffer and die like he did, in fulfilling the Scriptures, so that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47)
The apostle Peter will continue preaching and teaching Jesus' message, in Jesus' name, on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem saying to those who helped call for Jesus' murder, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38)." The next chapter, after healing a crippled man, Peter will command his audience in Acts 3:19, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."
While there are numerous other examples, the foregoing should suffice to show this--repentance on the part of humans precedes their ability to receive the blessings of God's grace. So what is repentance? Simply put, repentance is the turning away from our own way toward God's way--shown by a change of mind/heart, and action, or both. Some will claim that repentance is a turning away only from sin, but with the diversity of people to whom Jesus and the apostles ministered, repentance also includes turning away from what is good to what is best.
The love and forgiveness of God is very real, and it was in place before any of us reading were even born: "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8)." However, before we can receive his grace and forgiveness, we must repent. As you consider your life now, and the life eternal to come, ask if you have really turned away from your own will and repented turning toward God's will.