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Repent or Perish

• Greg Boyd

Jesus often taught about the love of God, but in this passage he also says “…unless you repent, you will all perish.” This is a very unpopular passage as it is commonly understood, as most people assume Jesus is using the fear of hell to scare us into repentance. The truth is that sin really does lead to perishing, but it’s not because of God’s arbitrary wrath.

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The theme addressed in this passage is often very confusing to people. Many have been taught that if they do not repent and change their ways that God will turn his wrath toward them in punishment. But there is another way to understand how the “perishing” actually works. Instead of it being a volitional act of anger by God on people who do not repent, it is a natural process that is part of how life works. There is a path of sin and any sin—whether obvious like abuse of drugs or under the radar—will lead to death. The sin itself has a built in mechanism that leads toward perishing.

God is disciplining us in the sense that He set up the laws the run the universe because He loves us and is trying to turn us toward Him. He is not up in the sky handing out punishment in His wrath. The practice of sin is the practice of killing oneself. When Jesus says “repent or perish,” He is not doing it out of anger, but love because He wants us so badly to get off this self-inflicting path of destruction and on the path of life. The central question then is: What gets a person off the path of perishing? Jesus and the rest of the Bible call it repentance, but this is another term that has caused some confusion with its modern usage. To grasp what Jesus is saying here, two key points are helpful.

First, repentance is about turning, not remorse. Feeling bad about sin is not the same thing as repentance, as the act of repentance is a choice to turn from one path to another. Second, turning is about reorienting your life around the Kingdom. It is much more than being sorry for acts or about avoiding hell. God calls us to turn to Him, make Him center, re-orientate our life around Him, and walk in His ways. The reason isn’t to avoid hell, but to experience abundant life, love, joy, freedom, and peace. Repentance is about entering real life.

It might help to think of Repentance as “Re-orientation.” We were heading down a path of destruction. We now see this and want to change directions and re-orient our life around God, the source of LIFE.

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Topics: Hell, Repentance, Sin


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 13:1-9

    Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

    Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' “ 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' “

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