The Bible Unlocked: What Does it Really Mean to Repent?

The Baptism of Christ by Francesco Francia 1509

"Repent," "turn," "stop sinning," "ask God for forgiveness," is the clarion call from pulpits all over the world. Is it clear what we should actually do? This preaching comes from these Bible texts:

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:2 and "'From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Matthew 4:17

"but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:3

What are we to make of this today? What does it actually mean to repent? Don't we need to know what it means if we are to do it? In fact, we could even ask what it means to be good, i.e. not sin. We can only find some real answers to these questions if we first consider human consciousness, and assess how conscious our mind is.

We also need to consider the ways in which human awareness changes over time; the way we use our mind evolves and our consciousness becomes increasingly individualized. If we accept this, it means we are thinking for ourselves much more than we ever did, just as a child does as it matures. Unless we understand the way in which our consciousness - our mind and awareness - changes, we can't begin to fully understand the Bible, especially words like repent and sin.

Observing the way our consciousness changes as we age is a good way of grasping the idea of changing human consciousness. We also know that we think differently from our grandparents and even our parents. Apart from this difference between generations, there is another important way to look at changes in consciousness. If human consciousness changes over thousands of years, couldn't we compare this with the way it changes in one human being during their lifetime. For example, we could say that if primitive man thought like a 10 year old, then at present, by comparison, we now think like a 35 year old.

If this were the case, it would mean that when the New Testament was written people's thought processes were less mature than ours are today. This might lead us to question, as many people do, the relevance of the Bible for us today. The question that arose for me personally was whether the Bible was written for a certain kind of consciousness or whether it can be applied across time and still be relevant - particularly when I came across certain words like repent and sin, among others.

I have been writing reflections on the Bible since 2003 and have studied it since 1983, which has led me to see the Bible as a map of developing human consciousness. I have found many examples of this over the years as I looked at the original Greek meaning of words, and it amazes me how pertinent these ideas are for us in the 21st Century as we move from local to global interactions. I see how our expanding awareness means that we have to think differently on many levels. At the same time, many people seem to live their lives unconsciously even though they have the opportunity to be more conscious than ever before. It is time for all of us to wake up!

What does this have to do with repenting? Just as we re-engineer the work place to accommodate the changing ways we do business, so we must also re-engineer our mind. As Einstein famously said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Furthermore, when we start to understand how our consciousness can change, that in itself changes it! It is as if we put a magnifying glass to our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

We also know that the pace of change is quickening. Just as technology always needs updating, so do our patterns of thinking and ways of living. I can see that the human race has reached a point of intensity in its development in which we are asked to repent. It happened two thousand years ago, and it is happening now. It could even be a perpetual thing.

So, what does it mean to repent? This word means something quite different from the way we use it today. It isn't about being sorry or regretful, and it certainly isn't about asking for forgiveness; it could be about changing our mind, but how?

In the Greek language, the word repent is metanoia which literally means 'to perceive afterwards'. It implies that we can see the consequences of our actions before we act. We could call it foresight although it is more than that. It is about placing ourselves in the future and consciously experiencing firsthand the effects of, not only our actions, but also our thoughts, and feelings.

Repent means to be very observant, acutely aware. This level of awareness applies to our speech, our emotions, and our intentions. It means that we accept a new level of responsibility. Each day the news reveals how many people do not consider the consequences of their actions before they act. They feel free to express themselves without concern about the effects of their words and emotions on others.

To see 'in real time' the affect we have on the future changes everything about us. This is what it means to repent.

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Kristina Kaine