I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus started his preaching ministry with a call to repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). Is this call to repentance, then, what Matthew characterizes just a few verses later as “the good news of the kingdom” (v. 23)?
How many of us honestly consider a call to repentance to be good news? Or perhaps a better question is: How is this not bad news?
Think about it: Calling people to repentance is calling them to look deep within themselves, to expose those sinful aspects of their lives we would all rather keep hidden from God. How is that good news?
It’s good news because repentance is an opportunity to clear out the trash in our lives—those things that interfere with our relationship with God. The cold, hard fact is that we are all addicted to sin, and every one of us struggles for sobriety from it. Repentance offers a way to be free (1 John 1:9). That is the very definition of good news.
The Heidelberg Catechism tells us that when we are “genuinely sorry for sin and more and more hate and run away from it” (Q&A 89), a wonderful thing immediately occurs: we enter into a “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God” (Q&A 90).
The spiritual fruit of our repentance and forgiveness is then forgiving others. And neither repentance nor forgiveness is a one-time act. Both are to be regularly repeated, a daily spiritual practice just like prayer. When Jesus was asked how many times we need to forgive each other, he replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).
Repentance and forgiveness are the doorway to experiencing in this life the true spiritual freedom that comes from God. Their practice is the soul’s best therapy. It is a spiritual therapy that comes with the daily practice of getting sinful things out of the way and experiencing “wholehearted joy in God.”
Each one of us can enter that doorway to experience fully this promised joy of God. After all, Jesus promised that our repentance is a pathway to experiencing the good news in the here and now. So let us fully experience that promise by regularly repenting and forgiving one another.