17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV).
The change of heart that led to merciful forgiveness in the parable of the wasteful son is well known. God is ready to receive back every sinner who comes to himself. God’s divine mercy impelled Solomon to pray about Israel coming to itself after sinning against the Lord. While dedicating the temple, Solomon petitioned God to hear the prayers of His people after their sins brought His anger and punishment upon them (1 Kings 8:46). He prayed, “Yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You…saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul…grant them compassion…” (1 Kings 8:47-53). God is ready to forgive us and receive us with loving compassion when we decide to come to ourselves and repent. Coming to ourselves about our sins takes admitting them (to ourselves and God, Ps. 51:3-4). It takes turning our hearts and lives back to God. Repentance leading to salvation is more than being sorry for sin. It is a radical change of heart that leads us to obey God instead of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10).
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3–5, NKJV).
Paul asked these disciples of John a simple, probing, and informative question: “Into what then were you baptized?” Their answer (“into John’s baptism”) gave Paul the opening to explain the prerequisite and outcome of John’s baptism and help them become Christ’s disciples. First, repentance was necessary to receive John’s baptism, without which his baptism “for the remission of sins” was useless (Luke 3:3, 7-8; Matt. 3:5-8). Second, John’s preaching and baptism prepared people to believe on the Messiah (whom Paul tells them is Christ Jesus, Acts 19:4; Luke 3:3-6). John’s baptism served its purpose and ran its course. Convinced that Jesus is the Christ (in whom John prepared them to put their faith), John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus by being “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (by His authority, Acts 19:5). They were not disciples of Jesus before and until they were baptized in His name. Christ’s baptism remains how believers become disciples of Jesus. Faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, prepares the sinner to repent and be baptized in His name to be saved and become His disciple (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36-41; 10:48; Gal. 3:26-27).
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up (1 Corinthians 13:4, NKJV).
Love is enduringly patient. Instead of being short-fused, love is kind while being “long-spirited” (longsuffering) toward another. Truly, God has displayed love’s longsuffering toward us over and over. Even now, while God commands all to repent, He tarries with “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30). When we grasp the nature of God’s longsuffering love, it moves us to obey His command to repent: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance (Rom. 2:4)?” We must not deceive ourselves into thinking God’s love is so longsuffering that He does not judge and punish unrepented sin. God does not condone and reward sin; that is not genuine love. God’s love has made provisions for the redemption of sinners in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8-11). The gospel calls sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 3:14-21). What loving-kindness God shows us in Christ; He yearns for our salvation. In longsuffering, God continues to plead with sinners through Christ’s gospel to repent and be saved (Acts 2:37-41). May we show this kind of love to one another (John 13:34-35). Kind, longsuffering love opens doors of opportunity to serve each other, strengthen one another, and help save some.
30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (Acts 16:30–34, NKJV).
What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” for salvation? Before one can do so, he or she must hear the word of the Lord since faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). So, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord” to the jailer and his house (v. 32). Believing on Jesus Christ for salvation mean more than agreeing and confessing He is “the Christ, the Son of God,” since demons did as much (Luke 4:41; James 2:19). The jailer’s conversion shows us when sinners believe and are saved in Christ. This sinner was convicted of the truth when he heard God’s word. He repented of his transgressions (indicated by washing their wounds) and was immediately baptized (v. 33). Then there was great rejoicing because he (and his family) had “believed in God.” Some try using this passage to deny water baptism is essential for salvation. If that is true, why were they baptized immediately? Why was the rejoicing after baptism and not before it (v. 34)? Saving faith is not like the faith of demons. It trusts Christ and obeys from the heart His commands to repent and be baptized (Rom. 6:17-18; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). That kind of faith saves the soul (Matt. 7:21).
8 “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8–9, NKJV)
It is tempting to trust in our spiritual heritage for divine approval. We can put our confidence in our parents’ faith without developing our own. Merely trusting in a spiritual heritage is a futile and fatal approach to our present faith and future hope. John the Baptist’s preaching reminded his audience to take a personal inventory of their hearts and lives. This reminder still holds. He warned the Jewish people not to put their confidence in their ancestral heritage. It was God who chose Abraham and blessed him for his faith (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:6). God must be trusted and obeyed because His purposes prevail. His judgment of Israel was imminent when John preached (“the ax is laid to the root of the trees”). God’s judgment destroys the unfruitful (those who do not repent and bear its fruits). Repentance is a change that takes place in the heart. It is a fundamental reordering of perspectives and priorities to put away sin and do God’s will (Lk. 3:10-14). Repentance is not being sorry for our iniquities; it results from godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Without repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot bear good fruit (Acts 20:21). But, when we change our hearts toward God (repent), we will conform our lives to His will – “bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4–6, NKJV)
Verse 6 gives the reason for the impossibility of renewal to repentance if Christians fall away. When fallen Christians continue to practice their sins, they forfeit the power to renew their faith. It is impossible to be renewed spiritually while continuing to sin. They are crucifying the Son of God by their willful transgressions, openly shaming Him by their return to and continuance in sin (Heb. 10:26-31). Indulging in sin instead of resisting it hardens hearts that were once enlightened, enlivened, and edified by God’s word and its promised hope. Therefore, we are warned not to let sin have a place in our hearts and lives (Heb. 3:12-13). Yes, Christians can fall away and be lost (2 Pet. 2:20-22; Gal. 5:4). And yes, fallen saints can be restored to Christ, but only by strictly putting away the sins that have prevented their repentant return to the Lord. Willful sin must cease for divine mercy to take its place (Lk. 15:17-24).
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8–10, NKJV)
To confess means to acknowledge, “to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent…to concede” (Thayer, 446). Confessing our sins requires that we agree with God that we have transgressed His truth; we have sinned. God’s assurance of forgiveness to Christians “if we confess our sins” is bookended with “if we say that we have no sin” (v. 8) and “If we say that we have not sinned” (v. 10). We must acknowledge our sins to ourselves before we can and ever will properly confess them to God (Psa. 32:3-4). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal (Lk. 15:17). God’s word describes this process as godly sorrow producing repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). With contrite hearts, we admit our sins to ourselves, and with repentance toward God, we confess our sins to Him (Lk. 15:18-19). With such a confession of sins, we fall before the throne of grace seeking mercy, and God keeps His word to cleanse our defilement (1 Jno. 1:9; Psa. 32:5; 51:3-4, 7-12, 17). John says four things happen when we deny our sin: 1) We deceive ourselves, 2) The truth is not in us, 3) We make God a liar, and 4) His word is not in us. God is faithful to forgive us when we trust Him and confess our sins to Him.
5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5–9, NKJV)
Christ’s call to repent or perish in Luke 13:1-5 is urgent. When we repent, we will bear its fruit – a changed life (Lk. 3:7-14). This sets the scene for the parable of the barren fig tree. The Lord looks for the spiritual fruit of repentance in our lives. Like a fruitless fig tree, we are just taking up space when we fail to bear good fruit (see verse 7). Even so, the Lord is longsuffering toward us. He intensely desires our salvation, not our destruction, and so He gives us time and opportunity to repent (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Each of us should ask ourselves the piercing question, “Am I just taking up ground or bearing good fruit?” If our answer is the former, may we quickly repent and start bearing its fruit. If not, we will surely perish (Lk. 13:1-5, 9; 2 Pet. 3:9-10).
20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20–21, NKJV)
The gospel has the power to save souls and change lives because it is the word of God (Rom. 1:16; 1 Thess. 2:13). Therefore, Paul did not hold back from teaching what would benefit his audiences, whether publicly or privately. In today’s passage, he summarized the powerful effect of the gospel. The gospel commands and produces repentance toward God (Acts 17:30). When received, it changes how we think and how we act toward God. Sin invariably corrupts our understanding of the true God (cf. Rom. 1:18-25). The gospel produces a change of how we think toward God, and consequently, toward sin (Acts 2:37-38). Like Paul, teaching the gospel means addressing how sin distorts our hearts toward God. The gospel equips us to have “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” once we change our hearts toward God. The gospel teaches us to submit to the authority of Jesus because He is Lord (our Master, Ruler). The gospel teaches us Jesus is Christ (God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king), the Savior of the world. Any message that lessens the authority and the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ is not the gospel (Gal. 1:6-10). Let us not shrink back from teaching the gospel. It changes hearts and lives when fully proclaimed and fully received (Lk. 8:15).