3) What is the only sign of repentance that counts?
How do you know whether or not you’ve actually repented? And related to that, how do you know if you actually were saved or born again?
One word – fruit. Fruit. Not church attendance. Not sincerity. Not tears. Not an emotional experience. Not reciting a sinner’s prayer. Not agreeing with the 4 spiritual laws. None of these are conclusive evidence that we have repented. Not commitment to a church. Or loyalty to other Christians. These can be part of genuine repentance, but they are not the clincher. Only fruit counts as the final arbiter in matters of repentance and salvation.
Fruit bearing, or in other words, a changed life. I see 3 evidences of concrete change in John the Baptist’s life.
First, he lived a life of simplicity.
Second, he invested in others.
Third, he was humble.
First, John lived a life of simplicity.
One of the 4 soils that P. John mentioned last Sunday was a crowded heart. A heart that has thorns in it represents a life filled with worries, riches and pleasures and so the seed has no room to grow. Life is choked out by these thorns.
How did John the Baptist clear out the thorns? By living a radically simple life. Compare King Herod’s surroundings with that of John the Baptist. King Herod lived in a palace. John the Baptist lived in a desert. Herod wore kingly robes and he was adorned with fine jewels. John wore camel hair. Herod ate caviar, lobster, steak, fine dining every night. John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey. Herod was surrounded by advisors and servants who adored him and told him how great he was. John the Baptist was surrounded by broken sinners from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan who came in great numbers to confess their sins and be baptized.
John the Baptist demonstrates the power that emanates from a life that is singularly focused. There are things in your life that you know need to be removed in order for you to bear fruit. I have never seen anyone changed by spending an extra hour on Facebook. What is the Lord asking you to cut out so that you can simplify your life? To give the seed of God’s Word a chance to grow.
Second, John the Baptist displayed concrete change by investing in others. He was not in a desert to be with God alone and work on his spiritual life. He was there to prepare a way for others to meet Jesus. And as he preached a message of repentance and baptized converts, people ended up staying with him to become his disciples.
Even before the Great Commission, where Jesus commissions believers to make disciples of all nations, here is John the Baptist from the beginning making disciples. Are you actively investing in others? Either to win them to Christ or to move them one step closer to Christian maturity. Investing in others will help you keep a focused life.
John the Baptist lived a focused life, a changed life by living simply, by investing in others.
And third, John the Baptist displayed a changed life by his humility. While Herod was all about trying to live up to his nickname, Herod the Great, listen to how John the Baptist speaks of himself in John 3:30.
30 He [referring to Jesus] must become greater; I must become less.
Sin places self at the center. So if you are unrepentant, it is impossible to be humble. Humility cannot be generated from oneself. Humility is Spirit-generated. It’s a downfall of a church when a pastor or leader becomes great in his own eyes and the church becomes an arena to feed his ego. It’s problematic for any Christian to view his or her life in a selfish way. Before you were Christian, you lived for your glory, for your recognition, for others to give you attention. But when you repent, you are freed from the prison of self. And through the Spirit’s help, you are given the desire to lift up the name of Jesus instead of your own name.
John the Baptist was not making disciples who were loyal to himself. That’s why as soon as Jesus burst upon the scene, John the Baptist knew that his disciples needed to leave his side and go to Jesus and so in John 1, immediately, some of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus.
John repented as evidenced by his simplicity of lifestyle, his work in disciple making and most of all, his humility.
What about us? Have you really repented? Repent, place your faith in Christ and then your life will bear fruit. It seems pretty straightforward. So why do we struggle with repentance? What makes true repentance difficult?
4) What blocks repentance?
It’s not clear from the text but I think if we go back to v3, Matthew offers us a helpful clue.
3 Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
Why did Jesus need John the Baptist? Why didn’t Jesus just come first? Jesus was preceded by John the Baptist, a prophet who preached repentance and his job description was to prepare the way for the Lord. And more specifically, to make straight paths for him. This implies that there is a certain amount of prep work that needs to take place before true repentance can occur and we can encounter Christ.
Why do some people respond to the gospel and some don’t? It’s the same message, yet 2 different responses. One person says, I am a sinner and falls down before Christ and surrenders his life and fruit is born. A changed life. Another person says, I’m not interested. Why are there 2 very different responses to the same gospel? I know the easy answer is to pin it on God’s sovereign election. But here we see that the issue is a bit more nuanced than that. Some don’t respond because of a heart problem.
Some hearts are prepared and some are not. The heart is the intended target for Jesus. He wants to meet us in our inmost place. At the heart and soul level. And a prepared heart is one where there is a straight path to the heart. There, the Word of God is planted and fruit is born. And by implication, conversely, the unprepared heart is one whose path to the intended target is not straight.
Like in SF, there is a famous street called Lombard Street that has a one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns. Can you get from the top of Lombard street to the bottom, from Point A to Point B? Yes, eventually, driving like 2 mph. But what takes a couple of minutes on a crooked street like Lombard could take like 2 seconds if you brought in a bulldozer and created a straight shot.
Some of us hear the Word of God and we respond immediately. Some of us hear the same Word and we are unfazed. Could it be that some hearts are prepared, and some are not? Some hearts give Jesus a straight shot and there is instant repentance and fruit is born. Other hearts are layered with hair pin turns and cul-de-sacs and dead ends and stop signs and speed bumps. And Jesus has to take many detours and may never even reach the intended destination.