True faith, like repentance, cannot be manufactured from within. It is not simply the fruit of human thought, understanding, emotion, and will, though it includes these. Rather, its origin is in the grace of God, whose Spirit illuminates our minds to the Word, convinces us of its truth and draws us to a living faith in the risen Christ.
In the New Testament, repentance (turning from sin to God) and faith (trusting Christ) are actually different sides of the same coin. They are the negative and positive aspects of conversion to Christ. You never find one without the other, because they are by the nature of the case inseparable. This is evident in Scripture, where we see these terms often appearing together. And in places where only one is used, the other is understood; in some cases, repentance is used to encompass the entirety of conversion, while at other times faith is used.
A significant point to note about the words repent and believe in Mark 1:15 is that in the Greek text both are present imperative verbs, signifying continuing action. So while there is certainly the initial exercise of both at conversion, when we are saved, in the process of ongoing sanctification there will be a deepening of repentance and faith as we discover the depths of remaining sin and encounter the many challenges of life. In other words, they continue to play a role in the lifelong process of being conformed into the likeness of Christ, restored to the image of God.
This description of repentance and faith is nothing new; it is rooted in the Scriptures and was the message of Jesus, Peter, Paul, the apostles, and saints and scholars throughout the history of the church.
Jesus called everyone who would follow him, that is, everyone who would be a true Christian, to a wholehearted commitment to himself. This alone can free us from our enslavement to self and liberate us for joyful obedience to him. We see this in Mark 8:34–38, where he issued a profound challenge to both the crowd gathered around him and to his disciples. Jesus said:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever will 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 life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (emphasis added).
A brief overview of the context will help us better understand this much neglected but vitally important passage. Jesus is here addressing two very different audiences. He and his disciples were on a retreat in Caesarea Philippi, a pagan area and center for the worship of the god Pan. The crowds in that region would have been nonbelievers and his words to them pointed out the way of salvation and eternal destiny, as verses 35–-38 make clear. This, what Jesus says here applies to all people, not just his disciples.
For his disciples, however, these words were a reminder and further explication of the way of salvation, which they had embarked on when they accepted the invitation to follow him, that is, to become his disciples. This was vital preparation for what they would soon encounter when he would be arrested, falsely charged, and killed. During their retreat they had come to a clearer grasp of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, with Peter boldly declaring, “You are the Christ!” However, there was a problem. Like many others of the day, the disciples’ idea of the Messiah was one of a God-empowered leader who would deliver Israel from Roman control and usher in an era of unparalleled blessing. In stark contrast, Jesus told them that he would soon “suffer many things, be rejected by the chief priests and scribes, and be killed” (Mark 8:31).
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