Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15
On the shelves of most book stores, one will find an abundance of self-help books. Such books are written so that people facing issues such as uncertainty, doubt or low esteem may find a way to take control of their lives. There are books designed to help us gain control of our finances, our health and even our relationships. If only we read the books and follow the advice of the author we can begin to live a better life. In a world that seemingly shouts “No you can’t!” the goal of self-help seems to be bringing people to the realization of “Yes we can.” The good news for self-help authors is that, the more we try to take control of our lives, the more we realize we can’t control life. And so we buy more books. Like I said, it’s good news for the authors of such books.
There is good news; however, for those who can’t seem to gain control through self-help. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus proclaimed a message of repentance and belief. “Repent and believe the gospel of God!” Self-help begs us to admit to ourselves that we have fallen short and can do better. Repentance and belief, on the other hand, compels us to admit to God we have fallen short and depend upon his grace.
If we understand repentance as being an “I can do better” statement, we are in affect saying we have control of our lives and eventually we will live as God wants us to live. Such an attitude is not fully dependent on God. But if we understand repentance correctly, we will realize it is not a “yes we can” attitude, but one that admits “no we can’t.” We cannot by ourselves overcome the powers of temptation and sin. We cannot walk the path of righteousness on our own. We cannot always do better and we especially cannot save our lives from the power of sin and the grave.
God can! Jesus says, “Repent and believe.” Repentance connected to believing brings us to the fuller understanding that, even as we stumble, God forgives our sin and brings us into eternal life in his kingdom. A god waiting for us to do better is nothing more than one of great patience. The God who freely pours out his mercy and grace is the God who forgives sin and raises people from death to life.
The goal of life is not to take control and do better. It is not simply to overcome uncertainty, fear and doubt and live in prosperity. The goal of earthly life is to repent, turn from sin and live for God through believing the gospel and helping others do the same. No, we can’t overcome doubt and fear on our own. We can’t take control of our lives and fulfill the righteousness God demands. There is no such thing as self-help where salvation is concerned. We can’t…but God can. Repent and believe the gospel of God, for the kingdom of God is at hand.