By R. W. McAlister
In Matthew 3, we find John the Baptizer preaching a message of repentance in the wilderness of Judea. As he was baptizing in the Jordan, a group of Pharisees and Saducees approached him. Knowing them, and their motives, John knew neither group was sincere in their desire for repentance. What do we know about the Pharisees and Sadducees?
The Pharisees professed great devotion to the law, but they were inwardly corrupt, hypocritical, and self-righteous.
The Sadducees were aristocrats and religious skeptics who denied such basic doctrines as the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul, just to name two. Therefore, he denounced both sects as a brood of vipers, who pretended to desire to escape from the wrath to come, but exhibited no signs of true repentance.
In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist told this group of Pharisees and Sadducees “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” What does this mean, exactly?
Repentance is defined: “turning away from sin and turning to God – having a change of mind which leads to a change of actions.” The Greek verb translated “repent” is metanoeo. The literal translation is: “after thought.” It suggests the idea of thinking about an action after it has been taken. If it’s a sinful action, the idea would be a reflection back upon it and a feeling of remorse for having committed it.
However, true repentance takes on more than just remorse, or “feeling sorry” for something done. On Pentecost, Peter admonished his audience to “repent” (Acts 2:38). Earlier in his message, the crowd had been “pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2:37). Clearly, repentance required more than just feeling badly, or being “cut to the heart” as we might phrase it, it required action – a change of life. Paul said, “…godly sorrow worketh (leads to) repentance…” (II Cor. 7:10). Repentance clearly means a change of behavior, not just feeling sorry for our actions.
The phrase, “meet for” comes from the Greek word “axios” and means, “having the weight of another thing of like value, worth as much.”
With this in mind, a lifestyle change indicative of true repentance must equal the seriousness of the wrongdoing, or else true repentance hasn’t occurred.
So, what is the “fruit” John is talking about here? If the sin has been against another individual (false statements – written or verbal, dishonest business deal, theft – petty or major, etc.), reconciliation must be made to that individual. In cases of theft, restitution must be made. When the prodigal son of Luke 15 returned home and confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven…” it would be wrong to say this son had done all that repentance required of him. Would he not have had a responsibility to admit his wrong to his father? Of course, and he did: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight…” (Luke 15:21). Further, if one has truly repented, the proof (fruit) is often visible through a changed attitude and by making better, more Godly choices.
Far too many people believe the lie that they can make a generic confession at a church service, without ever making things right personally with the person against whom they have sinned.
Repentance without every action that defines it is not really repentance at all. May God bless all who truly see the need for change and set about making it!
- R. W. McAlister preaches for the Anna Church of Christ in Anna, IL.He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://www.annachurchofchrist.com/