There is something terribly distressing about how we continue to fall back into sin. How is it day after day we frequently forget that we serve a God who is not limited to what the world tells us? The world tells us the same lie that the devil told Eve in the Garden, “You surely shall not die.” And yet many of us sit back and say amen and amen as if the God was saying that himself and deceiving humanity.
The reality is that God is holy. The opposite of holiness is sin, even the small insignificant sins are all punishable by eternal separation from God. Jesus also commands us to be perfect as his heavenly father is perfect on the Sermon on the Mount. But how can such a wretched people ever stand before God with so much filth?
The beautiful thing about the authorship of Matthew is that before one even reads the Sermon on the Mount the reader has been given the answer to Jesus’ command at the end of Matthew 5:48 (You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.) The answer is found in Matthew chapter 3 verses 7-10.
God does not promise us happiness in this life, even a good life, financial freedom, or good health, nowhere in the Bible does He promise us that. He does however, promise everyone eternal life whomever repents and believes in Him. Implying all that Christ has said concerning that he is the only way into heaven, the truth and the light (John 14:6). Including but not limited to obeying his word and bearing fruit in what he commands us to do.
In Matthew chapter 3 John the Baptist is preparing the way for Christ and he is presumably standing by the Jordan when the Pharisees come to see his ministry. Now remember the Pharisees are one of the most respected people in Judea. Today, many of us in the Church quickly make a hasty generalization that does not entirely represent the Pharisees. They have seriously been given a bad rap. The Pharisees were the hero’s of the day. Everyone looked up to them and everyone wanted to be like them. It is the 21st century equivalent of a celebrity. However the Pharisees were strictly legalistic and emphasized more on orthopraxy then orthodoxy. Holding close to the Talmud equal with Scripture they tied endless and unnecessary traditions to the Old Testament as a result of the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile.
Despite that, what is interesting is what John the Baptist has to say to these Pharisees and lets imagine for a moment being in his shoes. I know if I were John the Baptist I might try and impress them and hopefully intrigue them at best. I might even have a fancy speech to make their ears ring. Well fortunately I was not John the Baptist. What he says to the Pharisees is completely opposite of what I (and I bet many of us) would say, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come (3:7)?”
No one ever talked to the Pharisees like this! This was a serious insult. It has been 400 years of complete silence between intertestaments and John being a simple man has commanded all of Judea’s attentions and they are now coming out to him to be baptized in the wilderness. John the Baptist clearly has the respect of the people but after this assault on the Pharisees, John was quickly becoming an enigma to this God forgotten culture.
“How dare he?”
It is said that John was a voice crying out in the wilderness. Think of the courage it took John to break all social norms of that day to fulfill the calling that God placed on his life. Today there are millions of Christians who can’t even overcome an awkward silence and share their faith with another Christian. John the Baptist was the only Christian in his day (despite the embodiment of all Christianity, Jesus Christ). He refused to keep quiet and he refused to accept anything less then the truth.
He was the type of person who took the road less traveled on. The narrow way that leads to eternal life. John the Baptist was so Christ like, it looked abnormal to the culture. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why Jesus said in Matthew 11:11 that there has been no one greater born of the womb then John the Baptist. (I am going to write a blog about the other half of that verse coming soon).
The question still remains though, what does this man of God tell us about attaining the high calling that Jesus commands from all of us?
The answer is in the next verse.
“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8).”
John’s ministry up to this verse tells us enough about what it means to be like Christ. His life exemplifies the Christian walk. That is why Paul exhorts in Romans chapter 12. “We are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . . ” And how does one become transformed day after day one might ask Paul? Well one of those ways is bearing fruit in repentance.
The Christian walk is a call to a continual act of putting off the old self and to put on the new self by being “renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph. 4:21-24).” That verse is clearly implying that even when we repent and trust in Christ atoning work on the cross we still sin. John the Baptist is saying you are not a true disciple if you do not continue to seek God’s repentance. That is equivalent to saying you will not attain eternal life. You will never see God. You will never enjoy any of God’s promises. What John the Baptist was saying to these Pharisees is that if you do not bear fruit in repentance then in he says, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (3:10).”
We are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8). I agree completely and every new creature in Christ will show fruit of their repentance to testify of the work that Christ has done in their heart. James even says that faith without works is dead. Our works are salvific? On the contrary! Only God’s grace is which overflows in our lives to advance the kingdom of heaven with out mouths, our hands, and our feet to testify of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, our sins will lead to death despite the lies the world tell us. If Christians do not bear continual fruit in repentance they will die. That is a spiritual death, the excommunication from God’s kingdom. We are not perfect and as believers in Christ we fall everyday. Daily repentance tells God that we are sinners and insures that we never think we can live a minute of our lives without God’s grace. It humbles us and cries out to God, “Have mercy on me a Sinner! I am so weak and need your daily bread of life. I need you Jesus Christ! I love you! I am entirely dependent on you.” This can only come from a truly repented heart. A heart that has agreed to God’s terms and shows that the blood of Christ has propitiated for your sins and washes you clean! This can only come if we repent daily and trust in him!