What does it mean to bear fruit worthy of repentance, according to Matthew 3:8?

According to Matthew 3:8, what does it mean to bear fruit that is consistent with repentance?

John the Baptist started his ministry of preparing Israel to receive Jesus Christ as her Messiah in the Judean desert. John was sent there by God to do this. Matthew 3:5 says that huge crowds followed John as he journeyed across the region “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” These crowds attended to hear John preach (Luke 3:3). Many individuals listened to what John had to say, admitted their guilt, and were subsequently baptized (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5). Because of the uproar that these baptisms caused, both the Pharisees and the Sadducees left their homes to look into the matter. John, who was aware of their heartlessness, rebuked them by saying, “You brood of vipers!” Who told you to get out of the way of the impending wrath? Bring out fruit that is consistent with your repentance” (Matthew 3:7–8).

John talked in a harsh manner, directly confronting the spiritual arrogance and hypocrisy of these religious leaders. They needed to be aware that God’s wrath against their sin was on the way. A genuine transformation of heart is represented on the outside by the sacrament of baptism. The baptism performed by John was known as a “baptism of repentance.” The act of altering one’s thoughts in such a way that it leads to a change in behavior is the definition of repentance. Repentance that is genuine requires distancing oneself from sin in both one’s thoughts and actions. When people in large numbers came to John for baptism, it was a sign that they were ready to turn away from their sins and begin a new life. At John’s baptism, the Pharisees and Sadducees acted in the role of disinterested bystanders. They lived as sinners while at the same time rejecting their own guilt, despite the fact that they claimed to have repented of their sins, the same faults that they enthusiastically pointed out in others.

John’s day witnessed a refusal on the part of religious authorities to humble themselves before God. They believed that their connection to Abraham, which they shared through their shared Jewish history, made them worthy enough (see Matthew 3:9; John 8:39). However, the religious rites that they performed and their spiritual “pedigree” were not sufficient to appease God. Genuine contrition and trust in God are the only two requirements for sinners to come into a relationship with the holy God. These religious leaders should have been leading by example and taking the initiative instead of letting others do it for them. Instead, they chose to live a life of dishonest self-righteousness in which they denied their spiritual state.

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John the Baptist issued a stern warning, proclaiming that “the ax is already at the root of the trees,” and that “any tree that does not yield good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Israel is represented by the tree. If Israel would not turn from its sins, the nation would be utterly obliterated (see Luke 13:6–10). Those who sincerely turned from their sins and started bearing good fruit would be the only ones who would be ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

The gospel according to Luke provides more illumination into what it means to bear fruit that is consistent with repentance. John admonished the people, saying, “Show that you have turned away from your sins and toward God by the manner that you live.” Do not just reassure one another by saying things like “We are secure because we are descendants of Abraham.” That is of no consequence, for I tell you that God is able to produce offspring of Abraham from these stones themselves.'” (Luke 3:8, NLT). The baptism of repentance that John administered was intended to mark the beginning of a fresh new life that would continue to bear fruit that is consistent with righteousness. The history of our ancestors will neither guarantee us a spot in paradise or provide us with an automatic right to God’s promises. John counseled those Sadducees and Pharisees who took pleasure in their genealogy to adopt a more modest perspective. He explained that just as God had fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth, so too God might raise forth offspring of Abraham from the stones of the desert.

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As John continued to teach, individuals in the crowd started to question, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10). To put it another way, “What are some fruits that are consistent with repentance?” “John’s response was that whomever has two clothes should give one to the one who has none, and whoever has food should do the same,” the author writes (Luke 3:11). He instructed the people in the audience who were responsible for collecting taxes, “Don’t collect any more than you are obligated to” (verse 13). He instructed the soldiers, “Don’t unfairly accuse individuals and don’t extort money; be pleased with your compensation” (verse 14). These kinds of deeds were considered to be the “fruit” of repentance since they demonstrated that the change in attitude was real.

“I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do,” Paul said at the beginning of his ministry as an apostle. “I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:20, NLT).

In the Bible, the spiritual life and development of believers are sometimes compared to the growth of fruit-bearing trees. Just as fruit production is proof of life and health in a tree, so are good deeds the evidence of spiritual life in Jesus Christ and the presence of God’s Spirit abiding inside a person. Jesus was quoted as saying, “A good tree will yield excellent fruit, while a poor tree will produce terrible fruit.” There is no way for a good tree to generate terrible fruit, and there is no way for a bad tree to create excellent fruit. Every tree in the orchard that does not contribute to the quality of the fruit is therefore felled and burned. Yes, just as you can tell what kind of tree it is by its fruit, you can also tell what kind of person someone is by what they do (Matthew 7:17–20, NLT).

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Fruit that is consistent with repentance is symbolic of the improved actions and acts of goodness that naturally flow from a heart that has been really changed through the process of repentance. James gives a long sermon on the topic in James 2:14–26, in which he explains that “faith by itself isn’t enough. If it does not result in virtuous acts, then it is dead and of no service (verse 17, NLT). James comes to this conclusion at the end of his book: “Just as the body is lifeless without breath, so too faith is dead without good actions” (verse 26, NLT).

Paul offers a prayer for the Philippians, asking that they may “be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11). He gives some examples of good spiritual fruit: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” [T]he Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: [T]he Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: [T]he Holy (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT; see also Ephesians 5:9; Colossians 1:10; James 3:17).

The capacity of a believer to bear fruit that is consistent with repentance is entirely dependent on the believer’s close relationship with Jesus Christ, who said, “Stay in me, and I will remain in you,” as part of the Great Commission. Because just as a branch cannot bear fruit if it is cut from the vine, so too can you not be productive if you do not continue to remain in me. You are the branches, while I am the vine. Yes, it’s true. Those who stay in me and allow me to continue to work in them will bear great fruit. Because without me you are unable to do anything (John 15:4–5, NLT). The fruit will develop on its own own from the root. The proof (as well as the consequence) of a changed thought, a transformed life, and continual connection with Jesus is fruit that is consistent with repentance.

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