The Fruit of Repentance (Luke 3:7-14)
This past year has seen a lot of changes for my family and me. Tammy and I both have new jobs. Tammy had not worked full time for over two years; she’s struggled a little getting back in the routine of things–getting up early, getting her lesson plans together. When I began preaching here, I had not been a full time preacher for over two years. At first, it was difficult to have a sermon written every week, it was difficult to fall back into the routine of visitation. I had never worked with a church secretary before.
There was a new town to learn. Obviously, I still don’t know Roanoke all that well–if I need to go to LewisGale, I still need the GPS. A couple days after we had moved here, Tammy, the boys, and I were out house hunting. We got lost on Orange Avenue down around Sheetz. As a matter of fact, Tammy and I had a few cross words–my cell phone had died (so I had no GPS) and she had urged me to get off 581 at that exit. We wanted to go to Joe and Jan’s, but we didn’t know that we could simply stay on 460, and we’d come to Laymantown.
The boys have probably struggled the most. They have each been in three different schools in the past two years. They started out in a small, private, Christian school and moved here and started back in public schools. Wil came here, left middle school in Alabama, started back in elementary and is now back in middle school. RJ left some very close friends in Alabama and came here to go to both middle school and high school. Change is hard on folks; change is difficult. Moving is actually one of the most stressful things someone can do because change is hard.
I know that many of you have had to undergo similar changes. I find it interesting that this congregation is about half and half–half of us are not originally from the Roanoke Valley and about half of you are. So, about half of you have moved here for work or family or retirement, and you, too, have experienced the change of moving here.
But, moving here is not the only change I’ve ever needed to make in my life. As I look at my own life, I can see many areas where I’m not who God wants me to be. There are too many times I say something and I regret the word as soon as it’s on my tongue. There are too many times I commit some act, and I regret it almost immediately.
If you are honest with yourself, you will find that you struggle with sin, too. A couple weeks ago, I urged you to write down five sins; there were probably many others sins you could have written. This morning, we’re going to presuppose that you’ve already done some serious self-examination and you’ve identified areas where you need to get rid of sin. We want to hear John the Baptizer’s inspired message about bringing forth fruit of repentance. Here’s what we want to learn about the fruit of repentance: “Repentance leads to change.”
Scripture (Luke 3:7-14)
Multitudes were coming out to be baptized by John. John’s reaction makes me think that these folks had not heard his preaching directly–“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It seems that these folks have heard by word of mouth about John and that they’ve come to do the “popular thing”–viz., be baptized by John.
John refers to this group as a “brood of vipers.” That was about the worst insult you could give in the ancient world. Vipers were believed to eat their way out of their mother’s womb; therefore, referring to them as infant vipers was really a big insult. The idea seems to be that these folks were so full of sin the poison was just coming out of them.
John urges his hearers to bear fruits worthy of repentance. John is going to expand on that idea in a moment and explain what “fruits worthy of repentance” really are. However, let’s back up for just a moment to think about what repentance really is. For some, repentance is the same thing as being sorry. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. Godly sorrow–that sorrow that comes from a realization that we have violated God’s holy will–produces repentance. Some people think that repentance is changing our lives. That cannot really be correct either. In our text, John is urging folks to demonstrate repentance through action. Repentance, therefore, must be in the middle. Repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change in actions.
Jews saw their position as descendants of Abraham as guaranteeing eternal life. John teaches that it’s the condition of the heart, not the bloodline, that keeps one right before God.
God will condemn those with impure hearts.
People come to John and ask, “What shall we do then?”
That is a common question in Luke and Acts. Luke seems to want Theophilus to know what to do. Let’s take that question and apply it to us, “What shall we do?” John gives some hints.
The one who has two tunics is to give to him who has none. The poorest people in Jesus’ day only had one outer tunic; by those standards, someone with two was quite rich. People were to do the same with food.
Notice the theme of service to others in this verse. Instead of arrogantly proclaiming they were descendants of Abraham, they were to get out of themselves and help other people. Instead of wallowing in the guilt of their sin, they were to serve others.
Tax collectors were to collect no more than was appointed for them. You know that tax collectors often collected a great deal more than was necessary.
The activities John cautions against here were common among soldiers of his day. These soldiers, however, were to settle on a new way of life and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.
“Repentance leads to change.” That is precisely what John told those who came to be baptized by him. He says, “You cannot stay in your sin. You need to change your mind about it, and then you need to show that you have truly changed.”
What steps do we need to take to bear “the fruit of repentance?” I’m going to ask you to keep your list of sins in the forefront of your mind as we go through these steps.
You change your thinking.
You cannot think about your sin the way you’ve always thought about it. Your sin can’t just be something comfortable; it can’t just be a weakness. You need to view your sin the way God sees your sin.
Why is that important? “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt 15:19). Your sin starts in your mind.
Think back over that list of sins from a couple weeks ago. How can you change your thinking about those sins? I asked you to find Scriptures that spoke about those sins. How does the Word of God impact the way you see your sin?
You serve others.
That’s precisely what John tells these folks to do–He tells them to clothe and to feed.
There is a principle in psychology: In order to change behavior, you replace a bad behavior with a good behavior. Matthew 12:43-45. Notice the man has gotten rid of the demon, but he hasn’t filled his house with good stuff. The demon can come back with seven “friends” and take over with a vengeance. Ephesians 4:22-24.
We’re going to endeavor to put on to fill our house and put on the new man this week. Find someone whom you can serve this week. Pray for those who are on the prayer list in the bulletin. Send a card. Stop by to visit. Run someone to the doctor or to the pharmacy, run by the grocery store, or help around the house.
You focus on priorities.
That’s, in essence, what John tells the tax collectors and the soldiers. The tax collectors weren’t to care about money; money was less important than people. The soldiers were not to treat people harshly and were to be content.
I find it interesting that the tax collectors and soldiers are both cautioned about money. Money is necessary in this world and can be a great tool for good. However, we have so many things that our walk with God is often choked. Instead of spending time with God, it’s the TV or the smartphone or some other gadget that takes our focus off God.
Our focus must squarely be on making God a priority. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). If we focus on God, the things of this world will lose importance. here is your focus this morning? Do your need to come this morning and bear “the fruit of repentance”?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.