16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16–18, NKJV).
After elaborating on prayer’s motive, method, and manner in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus returns to the motives of personal piety in today’s passage. Fasting often accompanied prayer. Like prayer, hypocrites used fasting as their chance to be praised by others for their voluntary deprivation and affliction of the soul. While not commanded under the new covenant, fasting was (is) a period of intense spiritual devotion. It was associated with recognizing one’s sin with godly sorrow and repentance (Nineveh, Jonah 3:5-10; Luke 11:32; Saul, Acts 9:9-11). The broader principle Jesus taught applies to every action of self-sacrifice. Instead of bragging and displaying religious practices to be praised by others, we aim to please the eyes of our heavenly Father. The reward of human praise momentarily feeds pride and fades quickly. But attentive, faithful service to the Lord will be evident and eternally rewarded. When we love the praise of men more than the praise of God, we confess ourselves, not Christ (John 12:42-43). So, go about your daily service to the Lord without regard for whether others see you. The Father sees you, and that is enough.
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15, NKJV).
Jesus makes it very clear that our forgiveness is conditional. The little word “if” carries much weight. It directs attention to personal responsibility to do something to be forgiven by God. Namely, if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us. If not, then God will not forgive us. Jesus did not say to only forgive your brethren, but “men” (anthropos, person, human being). The gospel teaches Christians to put on hearts of forgiveness (Col. 3:12-13). Christ’s sermon to this point has repeatedly called on kingdom citizens to have a heart that is ready to forgive (Matt. 5:7, 9, 23-24, 39-42, 44). To withhold forgiveness brings punishment from God, not blessing (remember the unforgiving servant, Matt. 18:27-35). If we do not forgive from the heart, we will be punished, too (Matt. 18:35). Now, since forgiveness is conditional, why is there such objection when the gospel tells us of other conditions we must meet to be forgiven by God? The gospel says faith and confession of faith in Jesus, repentance, and baptism are conditions sinners must meet to be forgiven by God (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10; Luke 13:3, 5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38). So, it is false and futile to say salvation (forgiveness, remission of sins) is unconditional. Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves, do I have faith to submit to God’s conditions to be forgiven of my sins?
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to get to the heart of the matter when identifying and turning away from sin. Of course, adultery remains a sin as it was under the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:14; Rom. 13:9). Even the first covenant called on Israel to love the Lord God with all their heart (Deut. 6:5). Jesus drills down to the root of this (and every) sin; the heart’s desires and impulses (1 John 2:15-17). Lustful looks at a woman are adultery in the heart, and so is the act. The heart is the source of sin. Sin lurks in the recesses of the heart’s desires, emotions, and motives (Gen. 4:7; Matt. 15:19-20). God’s word has the power to pierce the heart and reach its thoughts and intents (Heb. 4:12). By doing so, it convicts us of our sins and calls us to repent (change our heart, Acts 2:37-38; 26:20). Jesus vividly described the severity of repentance: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Matt. 5:29–30).” Jesus will forgive our sins when we repent (Acts 17:30; Matt. 11:28-30). And drastic steps are necessary to repent to avoid sin’s eternal punishment.
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).