here are two roads through life and only two, and every human being is a traveler on one or the other. Each road is entered by one of two gates and leads to one of two destinations: eternal life or destruction. This is why Jesus urges people:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13–14)
In these verses Jesus highlights the decisive choice that faces every human being: will I embrace life in the kingdom of God, or will I remain in the kingdom of this world? Which road are you on?1
As Jesus’s words show, true conversion is necessary, difficult, and rare. In light of this very sobering fact, have you ever seriously explored what is required to enter the kingdom of God, that is, to become a true child of God? Of all the important questions in life, this is the most important. It is the one question we must get right, for our eternal destiny hangs on it. Because there is much confusion today about conversion, it is important that we look carefully at what the New Testament teaches about this vital subject.
Our starting point is to clarify what we mean by conversion. The key words in the Old and New Testaments that guide our understanding (the Hebrew word shuv and the Greek word epistrepho) commonly mean “to turn, turn back, or turn around.” They signify a change of direction, what we might call a reversing of course or an about face. But when used theologically, both words mean “to change direction in life by turning or returning to the true God.” This necessarily involves turning from other gods (or self) and from sinful attitudes and behaviors.
Repentance (the Greek word metanoeo) is an essential element of true conversion and is not optional. John the Baptist focused his ministry on calling the people of Israel to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). He required those who accepted his message to submit to baptism and to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:6, 8). Repentance for John was not an empty word connected with a ceremonial washing. Rather, it denoted a radical change of mind and heart toward God, a recognition of and sorrow for one’s sins against God and neighbor, resulting in a new direction of life characterized by the fruit of obedience to God. A succinct definition of repentance is “a godly sorrow for one’s sin along with a resolution to turn from it.”2 While repentance is a command that requires human response, it is not something that lies within one’s unaided ability to do but is ultimately a gift of God (Acts 11:18).
When John was jailed for his preaching, Jesus launched His ministry with the same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). The difference between the message of Jesus and John was that the kingdom of God heralded by John was now actively present in the person and works of the King Himself, Jesus. Thus Jesus added to repentance the call for faith in Himself and in the good news He proclaimed: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
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