Part # 5 by Ronald R. Shea, Th.M., J.D.
These articles will show you what repentance is both good and bad, what repentance is not, and what saving repentance is.
If you have not read the first five parts, please start with those first:
SAVING REPENTANCE ABOUT THE PERSON OF CHRIST
►”There is no Creator! We all evolved from nothingness, time and chance.”
►“We are all Gods, just like Jesus!”
►“Would you like to buy a god? The wooden ones are $20.00. The silver ones are $100. The gold ones are $300.”
No thanks! My God is the living God who created the heaven and the earth!
Saving repentance does not simply add Jesus to a long list of lesser deities such as the rain god, the gods of silver and gold, the new age-gods (ourselves), or the god of neo-Darwinism that created the universe and all that is in it through random chance. Saving repentance rejects these other gods as false gods, and acknowledges that there is only one true Creator God, and that He was revealed to man in the person of Jesus Christ.
Repentance and Jesus’ Offer of Salvation
Saving faith is faith in Christ alone, not Christ plus man’s efforts. Therefore, if someone believes that they can earn or contribute to their salvation through their own goodness, they are dishonoring the Son who died to secure their salvation. They are commanded in Scripture to change their mind or repent. They are told to stop trusting in attaining eternal life through religion, religious rituals, or obedience to God’s laws, but to honor the Son by trusting in Him alone for their salvation.
Repentance from Salvation by Religion
In Matthew 3:5-9 we read of some religious men believed that they were going to heaven because they were descendents of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
In view of the usage of the word “repentance” in verse 8, let us revisit the same questions that we asked in conjunction with repentance in Acts 17.
1) Is the context of this passage soteriological? (Dealing with eternal salvation).
2) Is repentance presented as a requirement for eternal salvation?
3) Is the object and/or content of repentance disclosed?
4) Is the soteriological message derived from this passage consistent with the soteriology of other parts of Scripture?
By way of background to these questions, we note that in the minds of many legalistic Jewish leaders, circumcision was not simply an issue of godly living or obedience to God’s covenant, it was a soteriological issue. In Acts 15:1 we read:
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
The rite of circumcision and one’s relation to Abraham were closely linked in the mind of many religious Jews, both having soteriological significance.
In the Rabbinic literature we read: “Circumcised men do not descend into Gehenna and at the last Abraham will sit at the entrance to Gehenna and will not let any circumcised man of Israel go down there.” (Rabbi Levi circa A.D. 300), and “Circumcision will deliver Israel from Gehenna” and “Only in certain cases is the saving power of circumcision believed to be ineffective.” (Cranfield, C.E.B. The Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, T. & T. Clark Ltd., 38 George St., Edinburgh, 1980, p. 172)
In view of this, it is clear that the subject of Matthew 3:5-9 was not simply a problem of religious hypocrisy, but trusting on one’s religion for salvation.
Vs. 7. “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
Now recalling that the word “metanoeo” (repent) means “to change one’s mind,” the most significant contextual marker is what a lost man is said to “believe,” or “suppose” or “understand” or “think” or “regard.” This identifies the object of repentance (the belief about which the lost sinner must “change his mind.”) Whenever you see the word “repent,” these terms are the first contextual marker you must seek.
Looking closely at above passage, we read: “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father:” The very definition of repentance is to “change one’s mind,” or “to think not.” These Pharisees and Sadducees were trusting in their religion to save them. And until they changed their mind, and trusted in their Redeemer for their salvation, they were lost and without hope.
Look further at the following verses.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Many Christians see the term “fire” or “burn” and immediately see hell and eternal damnation. In and of themselves, those terms are figures of speech that can, and frequently do refer to many things other than hell. However, the term “unquenchable fire” is a much more explicit figure of speech, and is most certainly an image of eternal hell. (c.f. Matthew 13:38-42)
Similarly, “fruit” is a common figure of speech in Scripture, and in every day language. But the figure of speech distinguishing “wheat” from “chaff” is a picture contrasting the saved with the lost. In Matthew 13:25-26, 38-42, the figure of speech is used of a judgment that takes place “at the end of the world,” wherein “wheat” is equated to the children of God, and “tares,” are equated to the children of the devil, and are burned with unquenchable fire. The language is unmistakable. This same language in Matthew 3, contrasting wheat and tares, and warning of unquenchable fire, is seen here in Matthew 3:12, immediately following the stern warning of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism trusting in their Jewish religion to save them. In view of the foregoing analysis, we conclude:
1. The context of this passage is plainly soteriological. (Dealing with eternal salvation).
2. Repentance is presented as a requirement for eternal salvation.
3. The object of repentance is religion as a vehicle by which men can be saved. These men were not trusting in their Redeemer, but in their religion.
4. This message is consistent with the teaching of salvation in the rest of Scripture. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, for example, was directed to the soteriological controversy of Acts 15:1, “Except ye be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And Paul’s conclusions were identical to the words of Jesus in the passage of Mathew quoted above.
In view of this, what is the “fruit” meet for repentance in Matthew 3:6? Unfortunately, too many Christians hammer a figure of speech into some preconceived notion, such as Paul’s reference to the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 or Ephesians 5:9, both of which depict good works and godly character (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” . . . etc.). But to impose this interpretation of the word “fruit” in Matthew 3:5-9 would be to contravene the very point of the passage. It is not our good works or our religion that saves us. It is our Redeemer. Fruit, quite simply, is whatever the context suggests. And what would be the fruit of repentance in this case?
In Genesis, each plant, and each animal species, was to produce offspring “after its own kind.” Seed begets seed of the same kind! Apple trees don’t produce fig trees, they produce apple trees.
If you want to know the doctrine that a church teaches, don’t ask to read the doctrinal statement. It may be gathering dust! Meet several members of the congregation who have been there for at least three years. Ask them what they believe about certain topics of theology. These men and women are the real fruit of the pastor’s labors! And by them, you will know what he really believes. Their emphasis will be that which he has emphasized. Their ignorance on certain topics is simply a reflection of their pastor’s failure to address those topics with clarity and accuracy. Trees beget fruit after their own kind!
And what was the fruit of the Pharisees whom Jesus addressed above? What does Scripture teach us?
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
Their fruit was to proclaim salvation by the works of the law to their disciples, to root their disciples in that doctrine that they became more a child of hell then their teachers! This was the “fruit” of the Pharisees. The term “fruit” is a figure of speech, and does not have a fixed meaning. As with any metaphor or figure of speech, its meaning is determined by its context. And to look to Paul’s words in Galatians 5:22-23 or Ephesians 5:9 for the meaning of the figure of speech “fruit” in this dialoge in the Gospel of Matthew is just plain nonsense.
The fruit of the Pharisees and Sadducees was the seed(s) of false doctrine that they planted, and the converts that sprung up from those seeds.
When I meet believers who are unclear on the gospel, and they tell me they have a very good Bible preaching pastor, and a solid doctrinal statement, but they are confused on the message of the gospel, and the doctrines thereof, I need not see the doctrinal statement, or meet their pastor. I have seen the fruit of his preaching in his disciples. This tells me more about their church than I could ever learn from a printed doctrinal statement, or a face-to-face meeting with their pastor!
In Luke 13:4-5, we read:
4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
In the above passage, the words “sinners,” “repent,” and “perish” occur in the space of two verses. For the simple minded, this proximity is all the evidence needed to reinforce the mantra, “Repent of your sins to be saved.”
As in Matthew 3:5-9, the underlying Greek word for “repent” is “metanoeo,” “to change one’s mind.” It will therefore be recalled that the most significant marker to the object of repentance is something in the context that tells you what the subject is said to “believe,” or “suppose” or “understand” or “think” or “regard.” This identifies the object of repentance (the belief about which the lost sinner must “change his mind.”)
Jesus speaks of a tower in Jerusalem that collapsed and killed 18 people. The Jewish mind searched for an answer for this tragedy. They realized that only God can know the secret thoughts and deeds of another man. Perhaps then, they reasoned, those 18 persons on whom the tower of Siloam fell were actually the 18 worst sinners in all Jerusalem. God could have gathered them together at the appointed time and place to execute his righteous judgment. And this is exactly what Jesus says of their faith . . . “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?”
However, to believe that God’s judgment falls only on the worst sinners in Jerusalem would mean that those who were not so killed were not worthy of God’s judgment. They had lead good enough lives to have avoided the wrath or judgment of God. And this is to believe that salvation is earned by the works of the law. This is the most universal understanding of salvation by works in every religion in the world. “I’m not perfect but on a bell shaped curve, I’m not at the far end with murderers, child molesters and drug dealers. I’ve lead a pretty good life when measured against the crowd.”
Jesus words could be described in this way: “Do you believe that the life you have lived has been righteous enough to keep you from the eternal judgment of God? I tell you no, but if you die trusting in your own righteousness, you will perish eternally”
Jesus commanded them to repent . . . to change their mind. They must abandon all hope of securing a right standing before God by the works of the law, and trust in God alone for their salvation.
The question arises as to whether this passage is soteriological . . . a warning to the lost that they are in need of eternal salvation. An alternative view holds that the warning of temporal judgment on the nation of Israel, not the eternal judgment of a lost sinner. Verses, 6-9, which immediately follow, appear to be dealing with God’s pending judgment on the nation, and therefore provide some contextual support for the temporal-judgment interpretation of Luke 13:1-5.
6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
Verses 6-9 strongly appear to be directed to temporal judgment on Israel, and context should never be dismissed lightly. However, an examination of the “overall context” of chapters 12-13 will show that a variety of judgments are discussed in the short space of those two chapters.
Luke chapter 12 is largely directed to the judgment of believers at the judgment seat. Verses 1-12 are directed to the believer’s willingness to confess Christ, and remembering that our lives will be reviewed by the God of the universe.
Luke 12:13-34 deals with money, and remembering that our stewardship will be judged. The passage encourages believers to therefore trust God for our physical needs.
Verses 35-48 about being ready for the Lord’s return in general.
Luke 13:23-30 appear to be dealing principally with eternal salvation, although arguments could be advanced that it deals, at least in part, with the believer’s acquitting himself honorably at the judgment seat.
Luke 13:34-35 return to the theme of the temporal judgment and destruction of Jerusalem earlier addressed in verses 7-9 of this same chapter.
This rapid sequence of contextual shifts includes temporal judgment of cities, the judgment of the believer, and the judgment of the lost. The unifying theme is simply judgment. The context is not limited to temporal judgment.
On the other hand, in chapter 18, Luke discusses men who seek to justify themselves through their own works of righteousness.
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon 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.
Two Interpretations of Luke 13:1-5
Temporal Judgment (upon the nation of Israel)
Pro: Verses 6-9, immediately following, deal with temporal judgment on Israel.
Con: Chapters 12-13 deal with a least three different judgments:
1. the temporal judgment of Israel;
2. the judgment of the believer at the judgment seat of Christ; and,
3. the judgment of the lost at the great white throne.
All are equally bound to the context. The theme of this section of Luke is not limited to any one form of judgment. It is addressing judgment in general.
Eternal Judgment (upon those trusting in their own righteousness):
Pro: This same motif, salvation by self righteousness, is addressed in Luke 18:9-14, and throughout Scripture, as a soteriological issue.
In view of Luke 18:9-14, the demand to stop trusting in one’s works as a precondition for salvation is clearly part of the contextual fabric of Luke. And it is clear that Luke 13:1-5 is directed to trusting in one’s self righteousness. To do so is to secure God’s judgment unto eternal condemnation. This provides contextual support for the soteriological interpretation of Luke 13:1-5. Moreover, when one is trusting in the works of the law to save oneself, a warning of national judgment hardly seems appropriate! The most urgent need of such a person is not the temporal deliverance of their nation, but the salvation of their eternal soul. Returning to our summary questions, therefore:
- Is this passage in Luke soteriological (dealing with eternal salvation)? Yes, in all likelihood. Reasonable arguments can be advanced for interpreting Luke 13:1-5 as a warning of temporal judgment on Israel, or of the eternal judgment of the unbeliever. Each student of Scripture holds in his hands the scale of judgment, and bears the responsibility before God for interpreting Scripture.
- Is repentance in Luke 13:1-5 presented as a requirement for eternal salvation? Repentance is clearly required to avoid God’s judgment. If one understands Luke 13:1-5 as referring to eternal judgment, the answer is yes. Repentance is needed for eternal salvation.
- Is the object of repentance consistent with the message of salvation in Scripture? Yes, throughout Scripture, men are told they must accept God’s offer of salvation by faith alone, apart from the works of the law.
God bless you as you read and consider.