We have asked some questions about repentance. (104) It is important as a concept because Jesus' message was: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17; KJV). He reinforced that message on many occasions when He insisted that people would not get into the Kingdom of God without repentance. In Luke 13:3, for example, He said "I tell you...except ye repent, ye shall all...perish."
So, entrance into heaven turns upon repentance, and rejection into hell requires only that we do not repent.
That raises a critical question. What is repentance? People give all kinds of answers, depending upon whatever factors have influenced their thinking. Some think that repentance is a tearful sorrow over something that we have caused. Others think that it is a strong-willed determination to stop doing some bad activity. Others think it is simply beginning to think about the issues of sin and righteousness in a different way. As I said, there are many ideas afloat. Which of them is the correct one? How do we know?
We will only discover the truth by looking into the Word of God with these questions in our minds. A very fruitful place to look, when wondering about the essence of repentance, is Matthew 3:2-3, where John the Baptizer is quoted as saying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This is a fruitful place of study because the text goes on to say "For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." On the face of it, it looks like we have to supply our own definition for repentance if we want to understand John.
But that's only on the face of it. The text says that John's preaching was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who said that there would be, prior to the coming of Christ, a voice crying in the wilderness and calling for the preparation of the way of the Lord. The word way refers to a road, or highway. In Isaiah's prophecy (you can read all about it in Isaiah 40), the call is for the building of a level highway in the desert. This would mean cutting the mountains down and filling in the valleys so that the highway could be level.
What has this to do with repentance? Everything. John's Repent is the fulfillment of the prophesied call for the building of a level highway. But, this is a highway in the heart, not in the physical deserts of Judea. The symbolism is very powerful. Mountains, when used in the Scripture in a non-literal way, often refer to the attitude of arrogance. Valleys, on the other hand, refer to the attitude of despair. Thus, the call to repent means to deal with the attitudes of arrogance and despair.
Arrogance is the attitude of no need for God in the face of the fact that we couldn't even breathe if God did not support our physical existence. Despair is the attitude of God will not help in the face of the fact that God already has shown His willingness to help by sending Jesus to die in our place.
Both attitudes offend God and He refuses to allow anyone a place in His Kingdom who refuses to deal with them.