The word “repent” conjurs up horrible images. Awful, judgmental images. Hellfire and brimstone preachers. They scare me. How could “repent” be anything but an ugly word?
Luke records John sermonizing with some pretty harsh comments. He seems to have been like those street corner doom and gloom preachers. Check this out:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Imagine being in the crowd that day. How would those words make you feel? What would you say? Walk away?
In verse 10 the people respond. They question, “What should we do?” As John looks at specific people in the crowd, they ask him the same question over and over. It is a very good question.
It is a life-changing question.
It shows they are at a point to make a change.
What is John’s answer? He said it already: “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Fruit is a beautiful thing. Repentance seems ugly. People across the centuries have painted and photographed fruit because it is so beautiful. What about repentance could line up with the beauty of fruit?
When you repent you change. It is not just a change of mind either. The specific word used is to change your mind so thoroughly that you also change your actions. Change is hard, but it can lead to exquisite beauty.
Your life should show that change. Things that do not change stagnate, wither and die. That’s why the question “What should we do?” is so good. It not the questions of “What should we think?” or “What should we feel?” While our thoughts and feelings are involved, they should flow into action. A change of heart and mind, properly placed, must lead to visible action, must lead to something that we actually do. Or perhaps something we stop doing. Or maybe something we do differently. Good change, right change, leads to beauty.
To the person with two cloaks, John gave them something beautiful to do: “Give your extra cloak to a person who needs one.”
To another who had lots of food, more beauty: “Give your food to him who has none.”
To the tax collector, “stop cheating people.”
To the soldier, “stop extorting.”
All very doable and very beautiful things. When you repent, you actually have something wonderful to do.
The aftermath of my freshman year in college left me with a need to do specific things. I, a Bible college student, cheated on a Bible test. Nice, huh? I strongly disliked a gen. ed. class, and falsified my attendance record. Eight skips were allowed. I think I missed 15-20 times. When a guy in the dorm rigged the hall phone to make free long distance calls (cell phones still rare in those days), I partook frequently. That year I also allowed myself to be very selfish in a dating relationship. All of these I needed to deal with. I met with professors, the school finance office, and wrote a letter to the parents of the girl I dated. It was confession time. That’s how repentance started for me. It wasn’t easy, but it was so good.
This business of producing fruit in keeping with repentance is practical. It’s not just in the head. It’s not just belief. It matters to our real lives. Repentance means that we stop doing the wrong things, and start doing the right and beautiful things. It means saying “I was wrong.” And it means saying “I need to change.”
Our lives should be a lifestyle of repentance. We should see the fruit in keeping with repentance. It means repentance might need to happen over and over again.
See repentance as a spiritual discipline. Check yourself over and over.
A symbol like baptism, such as what John was doing there in the Jordan River, can lead us to a false belief of “yeah, I’ve been baptized…I have the golden ticket.”
But that’s not a lifestyle.
Instead when we repent we do not ignore social change. Because of our hope in Christ we enact that kind of change.
It is so fascinating that John didn’t tell the people in the crowd that day that they should do what he did. He went out and lived in the desert. Instead he told them to live out their faith in their real worlds.
Bearing beautiful fruit in keeping with repentance needs to happen in our jobs, in our homes, in our schools, in our communities.
By the choices you make, the people in your life, such as your neighbors, your classmates, the other kids on your sports team, your co-workers should be able to say “That is a person who is living a repented lifestyle.” They might not use the words “repented lifestyle”! But they will think of you something like this that you are beautiful, lovely, and they will know that you love Jesus and are actually trying to do what he wants you to do.
So do you need to repent today?
Are there things that are a part of your life that do not honor God?
What could it look like for you to live a repented lifestyle?
Do you see the fruit of repentance in your life? Do others see it?