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All Men Need Repentance

(Luke 13:1-10)

Lesson 11 -- first quarter 2008
February 10, 2008

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2008

A new emphasis

Our King James Version records only six Old Testament verses using repent or repented as something a human did, or should do, of his sins. Of those six verses, only one registers an individual repenting -- Job (Job 42:6); only one records a people repenting -- Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:19); and only two chronicle a divine call to repent and turn from sin (Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30). The other two usages appear in 1 Kings 8:47 and Jeremiah 8:6.

A careful study of the Old Testament shows an occasional appeal for a changed heart. For the most part, however, action centered around a sacrifice for sin that could be offered whether or not the person's heart had experienced a fundamental change. When I originally wrote this section almost fifteen years ago, I was in a country where the predominant religion takes that old approach -- confession and sacrifice will get you by without needing genuine repentance.

The New Testament is an entirely different proposition. Early in the Church Age, Peter preached, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). In his message on Mars' hill, Paul stated clearly and emphatically that the old approach is abolished, for God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). From Matthew to Revelation, repent and its derivatives surface repeatedly.

John the Baptist launched the new emphasis -- "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2); the Lord and His men echoed that clarion call (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Acts 20:21; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 12:21; 2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Peter 3:9). John forcefully preached repentance as the new condition for the remission of sins (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3); Jesus and His disciples continued that emphasis (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38). John also introduced baptism as an outward sign of that inner state. You might say that John the Baptist was on the cutting edge of what was to become the New Testament approach to sin and guilt (Acts 13:24).

Later on in His ministry, Jesus issued proclamations that surely startled His listeners: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13); "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5); "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). In His messages to the churches in Revelation, the Lord waxes equally direct; here is one example: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (2:5).

Prove it!

I have a hard time distinguishing lemon trees from orange trees. But I have a sure-fire way of eventually identifying such trees. No, I don't wait around for someone to put special signs on these trees. I simply wait till the trees bear fruit. Then I know a lemon tree from an orange tree!

Many in the church would have us believe that repentance is only a personal affair. They openly proclaim the repentance issue a matter between God and the individual alone, with everyone else being closed out. Obviously, they are right in the sense that I cannot force it on anyone else. However, they are wrong when they insist I cannot observe the effects of that repentance. Both John the Baptist and Paul called for fruits and works "meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20).

Both John and Jesus spoke very severely to those whose righteousness did not touch their hearts. Both of them rejected righteousness for show, yet both of them demanded that righteousness show.

If I say I have experienced repentance, the inward change I profess should be very obvious outwardly. In other words, what I am will always reveal itself with visible fruit. Just as a lemon tree produces lemons, so repentance produces right living. If I say I have changed but you can't tell I have changed, have I really changed?

John stated plainly, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Then he gave this warning of a coming test and judgment: "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10).

Let us also give life-changing heed to these words of the Master: "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.... Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 7:17,19). Thankfully, Jesus also assured us, "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

The prodigal son's repentance

Have you ever picked out his fruits of repentance?

First he determines to take a certain course of action. In other words, he sets his will and makes his choice. This, in my mind, shows that repentance is a decision and not simply a state of feeling. But we don't see his repentance bear fruit until he begins to act in a manner consistent with his decision. He moves ahead regardless of how his thoughts, emotions and feelings may tug him away from that course of action. As he gets nearer home, that tug may become more pronounced and insistent. But he still follows through with his decision. He declares his sinfulness and acknowledges his unworthiness. His repentance bore fruit!

Is that the only fruit his repentance produced? Nope! Right at the beginning he had to abandon his will. He made the determination to return to his father, not as a son but as a...servant! He had to make the choice of submission. His will and desires would no longer count, only his father's. He also had to thoroughly reject a lifestyle and whatever was associated with it. I just can't imagine this fellow sticking a corncob in his pocket...and fingering it all the way home...and making a hole in one end so he could pass a string through it and hang it on the wall in his room. Everything associated with his sinful past was left behind.

So with us today. Until we willingly WORK to bring forth fruits worthy of our repentance, that repentance is not only suspect, it is weak. It will likely be reversed. Until we make the DETERMINATION and CHOICE to submit our will to God and to our human authorities, our repentance will be only a concept, not a reality. Until we CHOSE to disregard our emotions to act in accordance with what the Bible tells us is right, our repentance will never even get to the blossoming stage, let alone the fruit-bearing phase. Until we harden ourselves to the tugs and attractions of our sin and the people involved in that sin with us, and until we discard all the objects associated with our sin and the people connected with it, our repentance is a farce and a mockery.

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