Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Repentance: John the Baptist Style

“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees…” (Luke 3:8-9a)

Repentance is a lost art. I have written elsewhere about repentance that came too late (Judas), and repentance that came too often (Israel); but in both cases, it was a shallow repentance (if there is such a thing), to say the least. True repentance will be both timely and rare by the very fact of its sincerity. It requires enough Spiritual depth and intellectual honesty to recognize personal sin; and perhaps that is why it has become a lost art.

I used to hear a great deal about repentance when I was growing up in church; but, somehow, it has been relegated to the same closet where they put a lot of old-time gospel songs, heart-penetrating preaching, and, in many cases, the power of God. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t pine for “the good old days,” but anyone who sacrifices the best of the past in order to accommodate the worst of the present is a fool, wouldn’t you say? Repentance is a cardinal doctrine of the Scriptures, a necessary component of salvation. If you doubt this, check “repent” and “repentance” in your concordance. But, for some reason, we have devolved into creatures of introspection and psychoanalysis in a vain attempt to eradicate feelings of guilt that only repentance can alleviate.

One Bible preacher, John, gives us a good explication of this important Bible doctrine in Luke 3:8, where he pinpoints one of its often overlooked characteristics, and something that can be a hindrance to its achievement.

First, he says, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” And here I would remind us that fruit can be seen. In fact, in the next five verses of the chapter, John even provides his listeners with some examples of some of these fruits: unselfishness, financial integrity, non-violent behavior, being a true witness, and refusing to strike for higher pay. All of these are observable behavior. Repentance that starts in the heart always works its way out and is manifested in our lives.

Then, John cautions his hearers against looking to the past to predict future behavior. “[B]egin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.” In this case, the Jews were offering their lineage as a failure-proof advantage, just as some today try to lay claim to spiritual favoritism because of godly parents.

On the other hand, others point to their heritage as a crippling disadvantage in order to rationalize misbehavior. But when it comes to your life, it is what it is, and you are what you are, because of the choices you made. It’s as simple as that. We sin, not because of our immediate parents, but because of our original parents; and we waste precious time in our quest for victory when we seek to over-analyze our temperaments or actions. It’s like refusing to submit to the cure until we find out what made us sick. That can come later (if need be), but it won’t get you well now.

Repentance is a gift from God (2 Tim.2:25), but like all of His gifts, it must be appropriated by an act of the will. When we submit, God makes it a reality. Then, “the axe is laid unto the root of the tree,” says John, and we can be guaranteed, good fruit will follow.

You just can’t beat true repentance. It works every time it’s tried.

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