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).
3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” 5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3–5, NKJV)
Judas did several things that often pass for repentance today. Each one falls short of “repentance from dead works” that is an elementary principle of Christ and must not be confused with genuine repentance (Heb. 6:1). 1) Remorse is not repentance. Judas regretted that Jesus had been condemned. Regretting the outcome of our sin is not repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Regretting unforeseen consequences caused by our sin does not mean we have changed our minds toward our sin. 2) Recompense is not repentance. Judas expressed his regret by returning the silver. Maybe he thought that would change the situation. Of course, it did not. We should, to the best of our ability, correct sinful wrongs we have committed. Repayment may salve the conscience but never address the intent and motives that led to sin in the first place. Repentance will do that (2 Cor. 7:11). 3) Reporting is not repentance. We can say, “I have sinned,” yet fail to have a contrite heart that changes before God and others (like Peter, whose bitter weeping led him to change his heart and life, Matt. 26:75). 4) Reciprocity is not repentance. Judas’ suicide was an act of despair. Repentance moves forward with faith and hope in Christ (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8–10, NKJV)
Do you ever feel like you are beyond saving? Like your sins are so many, so frequent, so powerful over you that you say to yourself, “God could never forgive me!” If so, then listen to the parable of the lost coin very carefully. You are valuable to God! He is looking for you! He wants to find you! He is willing and able to forgive you from the storehouse of His mercy and compassion (see Lk. 15:1-7; Eph. 2:1-10). Image if you lost one-tenth of your money. Wouldn’t you look for it diligently and rejoice when you found it? God is like that. He values every sinner. He does not look for sinners so He can condemn us, but so He can save us. The real question is not whether God can save you; it is, “Do I want to be saved?” “Do I want to live differently?” “Do I want to have the sure hope of eternal life?” Earnest faith, repentance toward God from a contrite heart, baptism into the death of His Son, and a life devoted to following Jesus are what God wants from every sinner (Jno. 8:23-24; Acts 17:30; Rom. 6:3-4; Jno. 8:12). You are valuable to God. Value yourself, put your faith in Jesus Christ, and follow Him. He will save you.
18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. (2 Peter 2:18–19, NKJV)
With empty words that promise pleasure and freedom, the voices of error and evil use fleshly lusts and sinful abandon to bait, capture, and enslave souls. With swelling words, they offer people alcohol as a social beverage to mix and mingle, to relax, and to have a good time. What they do not advertise is the drunken stupor and addiction it causes (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35). With swelling words, they offer people sex (from an early age) without shame and (supposed) consequences. Telephone apps make hooking up easy. The morning after pill, chemical abortions (RU-486 pill), and surgical abortions are the worldly person’s “get out of jail free” cards. Casual sex outside of marriage not only defiles what is holy in marriage, but it also erodes moral boundaries, often becoming just as addictive as alcohol (Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:28-29). Those who urge you to defile yourself are “slaves of corruption” already (and misery loves company). The remedy for the spiritual, mental, and emotional trauma caused by sin’s enslavement is Jesus Christ. But it requires a determined faith to trust and obey Jesus instead of following the empty and deadly teachings of men that indulge the flesh and darken the soul (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 18:8; Rom. 6:17-18; 12:1-2). Take God’s way of escape; it is there for us all (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
This man knew his sins and what they had done to his spiritual condition before God. He was not bold to move close to the presence of God at the temple. Standing “afar off” from the sanctuary in the court of the men, he recognized his unworthiness before God. With lowered eyes of contrition, he beat his chest in shameful sorrow for his sins. His only hope was in God. He believed God to be a merciful God, ready to forgive a sinner like him. And so he pleaded for mercy, and God heard his prayer. Jesus declared the man’s humility before God resulted in gracious exaltation. The contrast is profound between the tax collector and the Pharisee, whose self-righteous pride prevented mercy from the throne of God (Lk. 18:9-12). Both were sinners, but only the humble was justified. We must confront our sins with honest humility when we approach God for mercy. By doing so, we will find His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).