John the Baptist preached repentance, there is no denying that fact, but the myriad of self-proclaimed, English speaking John the Baptists who have followed in his footsteps seem to have missed the point. Repentance isn’t a bad word, something to be beaten into a would-be disciple, but instead, the baptism of John, the precursor to discipleship under Jesus, was about entering into a relationship of love.
According to Dictionary.com, the English word “repent” means to feel sorry, regretful, or contrite for some past word or deed, which is woefully short of the Greek word “metanoia” that Luke used to describe the Baptism of John. Even the second definition, which goes on to include felling so sorry as “to
Instead, I’m drawn to the Young’s Literal Translation of Luke 3:3, which more appropriately captures the depth of meaning behind metanoia. “…and [John] came to all the region round the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of reformation — to remission of sins…”
Metanoia, as you no doubt know dear reader, literally means “to turn around” or “to have a change of heart.” While it is likely that the impulse for metanoia might well be sorrow or guilt, to place the focus on that is to lose the real meaning. God isn’t so much interested what brings us to a change of heart, only that it happens. When the YLT calls John’s baptism a baptism of reformation, it captures that idea wonderfully. We are called to be remade in the image of Christ, to seek after the will of God in all circumstances, and, ultimately, to a life of love for all creation.