Luke 3:7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, “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 axe 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.” “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John the Baptist doesn’t seem to have had access to any good books on ‘user-friendly’ preaching! Perhaps he was too familiar with the sinfulness of human nature to fall into the trap of thinking that he should make the ‘Good News’ of Jesus as palatable as possible in order to attract as many people as possible to respond positively to his message.
And the response that he did get to his hard-hitting preaching was that of hearts that were truly convicted of sin, and of the need of a Saviour. For them, repentance was not just about going through a ritual of baptism, but about changing the whole direction of their lives – putting God and his will at the centre of everything they thought and did instead of their old ways of living as if ‘it’s all about ME – MY desires, MY will, MY plans, MY deciding what I can and can’t do, what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ for ME!’ Their old ways were centred on being in total control of their decisions and actions instead of reading GOD’s Word, listening to HIS voice, and submitting to his authority!
The Hebrew word for ‘repentance’ literally means to do an about turn and start going in the opposite direction, and the Greek word literally means to start thinking differently about everything. How easy it is for us to fall into the trap equivalent to the Jews saying “We have Abraham as our father” (for example, depending on our Church attendance, our own baptism, our family heritage and connections, or being kind to others, etc), for a good standing before God, instead of realising that we are helpless/hopeless sinners in desperate need of a Saviour, and then looking to him with a truly repentant heart that asks him, “Jesus, what specific changes do I need to make in my life/lifestyle/value system if I am to follow you?”
It is interesting that the command to ‘repent’ in the Greek New Testament occurs as many times in a form that literally means to ‘keep on repenting’ as it does to mean to ‘make a life-changing, one-off decision’ to BECOME a Christian! In other words, we not only do it ONCE at our conversion, but we are to KEEP ON DOING it throughout our Christian lives as we read God’s Word, sit under faithful preaching, and mix with his people, and so become more aware of persistent sin in our lives.