Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Fruits of Repentance

By Dennis Pollock

When I write or share messages that deal with the need for an actual change of behavior to accompany our faith in Jesus and repentance, I often get blasted by well-meaning critics who absolutely hate this teaching. They are certain that simple belief, minus any change of attitude or change of behavior is all that is needed. You can continue in your old ways, old habits, old patterns of sin – belief is all that matters. Or in some cases they believe that a lifestyle change will occur with faith, but that it is totally wrong to ever speak of repentance in presenting the gospel to sinners.

These folks typically hate even the mention of repentance, but if they do use the word they are quick to point out that the Greek word for repentance is metanoia,” the literal meaning of which is  to change your mind. And they are exactly right – and yet completely off-base. Their definition is correct, but their concept is dead-wrong. 

Faith really is all that matters. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” But the Bible s concept of faith is much broader and more comprehensive than they seem to grasp. Throughout the New Testament we find again and again an emphasis upon a changed life and changed behavior as an indispensable element of genuine Bible faith and genuine repentance.

Fruits and Works

We find John the Baptist forcefully declaring to the religious leaders of his day: Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). John insisted that fruits should accompany repentance. In other words if your repentance is real repentance, it will always lead to transformed lives. A tree that is called an apple tree, which never produces any apples cannot truly be an apple tree. Apple trees produce apples, peach trees produce peaches, and genuine repentance always leads to a transformation from wicked works to godly ones. And John was not afraid to say so. He did not just tell people to repent; he told people to repent and bring forth the fruits of righteousness.

The apostle Paul, in describing his ministry, said something very similar, writing:

I declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance (Acts 26:20).

Paul tells us that his message was one of repentance, and that he demanded that with repentance there should be righteous works that followed, works befitting repentance.” Once again, Paul not only expected men and women to do works befitting repentance; he told them that this was what they must do. It was not merely a matter of changing your mind about who Jesus is, as the hyper-grace prophets would have us believe; Paul insisted that they change their minds and start living a godly life, as befits someone who has really and truly changed their mind about God and Christ. Don t just think differently – think differently and as a result start acting differently.

When Jesus rebuked the church at Ephesus, He told them to Repent and do the first works…” Not just repent, but repent and do. Let me say it again: Repent and do…” In other words, change your mind, and change your behavior. This theme of repenting and doing, or repenting and bringing forth the fruits of repentance is so prominent in the Scriptures, it is astonishing to see how many people in the church have decided that transformed behavior has nothing to do with faith in Jesus. These deluded folks insist that faith is simply an intellectual exercise which has virtually no relationship with behavior, and that any preacher who dares to suggest that along with repentance there should be a godly life is somehow anti-grace.

He Who Says, I Know Him…”

The apostle John writes:

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

Imagine a small gathering of new believers who have been encouraged to share a brief testimony of their conversions with the group. One man stands to his feet and announces: I want to give thanks to my Lord Jesus for saving me. Before I received Christ I was a thief and a burglar and made my living by breaking into homes and stealing. Now I am a Christian. Of course I realize that Jesus does not expect me to change my behavior so I still break into homes and steal, but after I am done I leave some Christian literature on the table.” The crowd gives a hearty Praise the Lord” and applauds. Then a woman stands and shares her story: Before I became a Christian I was a fornicator. I slept with almost every man at my work. Then someone told me about Jesus and they told me how I don t really have to change, only to ask Jesus into my heart and believe that He loves me. So I did, and now I still sleep with all my co-workers, but after we are done I give them a New Testament and tell them that God loves them.” The crowd once again applauds loudly.

Now an older man gets up and declares, Praise the Lord, God is good all the time.” The rest of the group shouts back, And all the time God is good.” Then he says, I am so happy I am going to heaven, praise be to Jesus. Before I heard the message of grace I was addicted to Internet pornography. I would spend hours every day lusting over naked women on my computer screen. But now that I have given my life to Jesus, well of course I still love my pornography, and I was told that nobody, including Jesus, expects me to change. But now that I am saved, while I lust over Internet pornography, I play Christian music softly in the background and hum along with it.”

Is this the best Jesus can do? Has He given up on the idea of transforming us from light to darkness, and now He only asks us to accept Him intellectually, and we can go right on sinning, lying, stealing, fornicating, and lusting?

Lord, Lord…”

Jesus declared that many would come to Him on the day of judgment, telling how they had done many wonders in His name. But He would not be impressed, and would tell them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23). These people clearly thought they were believers. They were not atheists nor were they agnostics. They really did believe in Jesus and they called Him, Lord, Lord.” But their belief was only a head belief and never reached their hearts, nor their wills, nor their lifestyle. They were unchanged, un-transformed, and ungodly, and were told, when it was too late to do anything about it, I never knew you.” Their belief” had not been accompanied by the fruits of repentance. They discovered, to their eternal dismay, that behavior mattered after all.

Real faith always leads to godly behavior. James tells us: You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20). Several Bible versions use the word useless” – faith without works is useless. It avails nothing, it accomplishes nothing, except to deceive the person holding his useless faith in the vain hope that he is somehow saved and ready for heaven. He will be one of those miserable people who will hear the Lord Jesus declare, I never knew you.” Not I knew you once, but now I don t,” but rather I never knew you.” Your faith was never accompanied by genuine repentance and a lifestyle change that produced the fruits of righteousness. It was never genuine faith at all.

The kind of faith God calls for and enables us to have through His Spirit is a life-changing faith, a faith so strong you can never go on living in your carnal, wicked, selfish, grasping, greedy, lustful life that you once had. The caterpillar must become a butterfly. If it does not, it was never a caterpillar at all, merely a worm.

Smokers Who Believe

Let s imagine two men who are chain smokers. They smoke several packs of cigarettes every day with their lungs growing blacker and blacker, and threatening to lop off decades of their lives. Both men happen to read the same article, which powerfully reveals the fact that smoking leads to lung cancer. It gives many supporting statistics, studies, and case histories, and concludes with dire warnings for those who smoke and refuse to give up their cigarettes. After reading the article, both men believe it. They do not suppose that the author was simply making up lies and fabricating studies. If asked by someone whether they believed the article, both would answer yes.

But the one man immediately throws his cigarettes in the trash, and vows never to smoke again. The other man, although mentally accepting the truth of the article, waits an hour then lights up another cigarette. His belief was merely head-belief, a mental acknowledgment of certain facts and studies. It never affected his heart nor changed his behavior. The man who forsook his cigarettes forever is the only one who truly believed. His belief shaped his behavior and transformed his life. He will live another forty years, whereas the other will be dead within five years.

These two men represent two types of believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some say they believe, but their belief is weak, anemic, and impotent. It isn t real faith at all; it isn t Bible faith, the kind of faith that saves. The men and women with genuine faith are those who cannot go on in their sinful, selfish lives. This kind of faith represents what Paul referred to when he wrote, How can we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

Works Befitting Repentance

Nor is it wrong for us, when encouraging unbelievers to put their faith in Jesus, to inform them that a transformed, godly life will always accompany genuine faith and real repentance. As Paul did, we must insist that they repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do works befitting repentance.” Some of the hyper-grace preachers will acknowledge that faith in Jesus produces a godly life, but they tell us that we must never say this to the sinners or suggest that when they believe or when they repent that they must change their way of life. This is the work of God, and to suggest the need for change does away with faith, in their minds. But the apostles and Christ Himself talked constantly about the need for the fruits of repentance and the godly lifestyle which demonstrates that our faith is real faith.

The New Testament is saturated with the idea of faith that leads to godliness. To imply to sinners that they can believe on Jesus Christ in the same manner that they believe on George Washington, or Napoleon, or Mahatma Gandhi – that is to believe in a historical Jesus without a transformed heart and will, leads to deception, the erroneous belief that by saying a sinner s prayer or possessing a dry, sterile, lifeless, impotent, belief that there was once a Jewish figure named Jesus, they will therefore go to heaven. These people will become part of that deceived and pathetic club to whom our Lord referred, saying, Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven…” (Matthew 7:21). Real repentance and real faith have a friend that follows wherever they appear, and that friend is obedience.



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