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Fruitful Repentance

The Fruitful Work of Repentance

Matthew 3:8-10 reveals another wonderful truth concerning repentance. As John the Baptist preaches about the coming of the Kingdom and about being baptized for the repentance of sins, he challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees:

Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance: and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. In other words, John is saying that the judgement of God will search us to the very roots of our hearts, and if those roots do not bear the fruitfulness that comes from repentance, then we will be cut off at that point of barrenness, and cast into the fire, away from God’s mercy and forgiveness. Nevertheless, this frightening prospect has a promise-filled side, too. Repentance is not a superficial exercise. It is not accomplished simply by going through a ritual of religious motions. Rather, it is a sincere and purposeful endeavor, a continual process.

The decision to repent happens at a particular point in time, but the changes in our behavior or attitude take place gradually.

We often become discouraged about repentance because we forget that it is a process. The decision to repent happens at a particular point in time, but the changes in our behavior or attitude take place gradually. The fruit of repentance is the result of planting seeds of righteousness and then nurturing those seeds in order to reap a harvest of joy. It takes time. If we do not realize this truth, our discouragement will soon turn to hopelessness, and we will begin to withdraw in shame from the very One who can save us.

This is when the adversary usually enters the picture. He begins his strategy of condemnation and deception. He tells us the “truth” about ourselves—that we are indeed helpless and horrible—and then he lies to us about God, saying that He is malicious, merciless and angry. If we do not understand the process of repentance, we will ultimately find ourselves estranged from God, isolated in our fear.

The Fruitful Process

So let us look at the process of repentance. In the beginning, God will convict us of past sins. He will cause us to look back at times in our past when we have done something wrong. He will convict us of that sin, and we will repent. The more He convicts us of that sin in our distant past, the more conscious we become of it. We become so painfully alert to that sin, that we start seeing it cropping up everywhere. Thus, the time-lapse shortens between committing the crime and being convicted of it.

Thus, we continue repenting not for the distant past, but for our recent past. Then God will take us to the next step where He convicts us while we are in the midst of doing something wrong. We easily misinterpret this progressive work of repentance as hypocrisy. We feel like the worst sinners imaginable because we are sinning even while we’re being convicted.

We easily misinterpret this progressive work of repentance as hypocrisy. We feel like the worst sinners imaginable because we are sinning even while we’re being convicted.

The enemy pours on the persuasion to stop all this repentance nonsense. “Look,” he says, “it is not working. You are a terrible Christian. Look at what you are doing.” Repentance has now progressed from concentration on something we have done to something we are now doing. That’s where many Christians break off the fruitful process. They feel like they are hypocrites—they’ve been infected with the leaven of the Pharisees.

I discovered this principle working in my life. God alerted me to the awful fact of my selfish laziness in not helping Pamela vacuum or change the baby’s diapers. Many instances of past failure came to my mind. I was convicted and asked for forgiveness. I wanted to change. As time went along, I became acutely more aware of those selfish, slothful tendencies in the midst of what I was doing.

The way God has made for us to get out of sin is repentance. And God’s way works.

From there, God began to convict me of the fact that I would be prone to selfishness in the future, and He asked, “What are you going to do?” At that point, I had the option of repenting of something I would have done if God had not convicted me. I then could exchange my wrongness for His righteousness. That is what changes our behavior. That is what it means to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.” Repentance moves us from acknowledging past sins, to confessing current sins, to repenting of future sin possibilities.

Suddenly, the change that had been happening in my heart as I had been repenting (and feeling like a hypocrite), produced a real change in my behavior—and in the baby’s diapers. My repentance had been fruitful; it brought forth the exchange for which I had been longing. Since that victory over habitual laziness, I have been discovering many more sins than I thought possible, but I have yet to find a sin which is immune to the fruit bearing process.

Repentance is a process. The more we repent, the closer the repentance comes to the very moment when we sin. With even more repentance, our hearts and eyes and ears are sensitized while we sin, and eventually we repent before we sin, and that sin ceases to have its death-hold on us. If we do not repent of the past, we will never learn to repent in the future. The way God has made for us to get out of sin is repentance. And God’s way works.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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