Commentary by Walter Albritton


February 10, 2008


Repentance a Continuing Necessity for Christians to Bear Fruit


Luke 13:1-9


Key Verse: I tell you; … unless you repent, you will all perish. – Luke 13:3


Several pertinent questions tumble out of this lesson. Consider these:

1. When Jesus says, “unless you repent,” is this a message for you and me as well as the Galileans?

2. If the answer is yes, then what does it mean for you and me to repent?

3. What did Jesus mean by “perish”?

4. How does the parable of the fig tree fit into this lesson about repentance?

5. How is repentance related to bearing fruit?

6. Should you and I be concerned if we are only taking up space and not producing fruit for the kingdom?

The answer for question one is surely yes. Jesus was speaking to all who were present so it was a general statement of fact. Now we are in his audience. We too shall perish unless we repent. We ignore God’s agenda just as the Galileans did. We find it so difficult give up our own plans and put God’s plan on the front burner.

If we are persuaded to repent, what do we do? To repent is to turn around, to admit we are going in the wrong direction and begin moving in the opposite direction. This is the essence of the new birth. But it is not a move we can make in our own strength since we can only be “saved by grace.”

Genuine repentance is much more than regret. We may indeed regret having screwed up our lives through sinful indulgence, insisting on our own way. But true repentance moves us to forsake our way and embrace the Way of Jesus. We reverse our direction and our destiny by accepting the grace of a new beginning.

John Wesley believed that repentance was a continual necessity for believers. Even though we have been born again, Satan continues to pull us back to the old way. Pride can cause us to fall away from the way of the cross.

Recognizing our need for continue repentance, the Church has long invited us to the Lord’s Table for communion with these words, “You that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.” The words of the ritual may change but the invitation to repent remains.

We do well to examine the word “perish.” It is an awful word. It means much more than to die; it means to die without God and without hope. We remember that Jesus used this awful word a second time – in the famous verse, John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Even modern translations, like the NIV,  retain the use of the word “perish.”

Clearly to perish is to experience eternal separation from God. The alternative, to not perish, is to receive the gift of eternal life and “enjoy God forever.” Grace makes it possible for us to believe in Jesus, for even faith is a gift. Life is gift, and new life is the gift of grace. Faced with the choice of repent or perish, who in his right mind would want to risk going out into eternity without God? Still multitudes prefer their way to the Way of Jesus. Why? Because many people see no reason to take Jesus seriously. They reason that this world is all we have and life ends in the grave.

How does the parable of the fig tree fit into this picture? If, as seems likely, God is the owner of the vineyard, Jesus is the gardener, and Israel is the fig tree, then there is a powerful lesson for each of us. Here it is: God expects fruit from his investment whether in Israel, the Church, or you and me as individual believers. We have to ask ourselves if we are wasting the space God has given us in the world just as Israel was wasting the soil in the vineyard.

In this parable Jesus offers mercy – one more year, more time to get it right. Indeed Jesus is the Mercy of God in a person, once alive in flesh and now alive for evermore as our Resurrected Savior. The offer of mercy can motivate us to repent, change the direction of our lives, embrace God’s agenda as our own, and begin fulfilling the purpose of our lives – to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. When repentance becomes routine in our lives, we find sufficient grace is available to make us fruit-bearing disciples. 

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