What is repentance? According to the NIV Bible Dictionary repentance is “the process of changing one’s mind…a conscious turning from evil or disobedience or sin or idolatry to the living God…a profound change of mind involving the changing of the direction of life.” In order to make disciples we must preach a message that produces a change of mind, a turning from evil and a new direction.
John was speaking to respected religious leaders when he preached repentance. We may be tempted to think that repentance is only for “vile sinners” and not religious sinners, but John called the religious to repentance. The message of repentance is for everyone no matter how sinful or religious.
John preached repentance to people who were lining up to be baptized. He did not automatically baptize everyone who wanted to add another religious experience to their resume. He inspected their fruit, and he expected fruit. Where he found no fruit or bad fruit, he demanded repentance. The proof and result of true repentance is fruit (verse 8). No fruit means no repentance and no repentance means no baptism.
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham (Matthew 3:9)
Good religious heritage does not impress God and is no substitute for repentance and fruitfulness. It does not matter how religious our parents are or where we attend church, or how often we attend church; we must repent and personally turn to God.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:10)
The main point is fruit. The whole discipleship process is simply a means to an end. The end result of repentance and discipleship must be a fruitful life.
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
John did not make disciples of John, he made disciples of Jesus. He was careful to point them to the one coming after him. John did not see the people who followed him as his disciples. When I hear people refer to “my disciples” I fear they may have missed this point. It is important that we follow John’s example and point those we disciple to Jesus, not to ourselves.