Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9
Not many ministers would do as John the Baptist and address their hearers, calling them a “brood of vipers.” Yet, when we read Romans 3:13 or Psalm 140:3, that is how God’s Word describes the evil and impenitent. It is how we are in our corrupt and sinful human natures. If we are to be ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord, we need to repent and be cleansed from our sins and sinful ways (cf. Mal. 3:1-7).
As we prepare for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Day of Judgment, we would do well to heed the advice of the apostle Paul: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5).
In the 1943 Catechism (A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine), Question 324 states: “We should examine ourselves to see – A. Whether we truly repent of our sins; B. Whether we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior; and C. Whether we have the good and earnest purpose with the aid of God the Holy Spirit henceforth to amend our sinful lives.”
It’s not enough to lay claim to being children of Abraham, nor is it enough just to be born and raised in the Lutheran Church – baptized, confirmed, married and buried. To be ready and prepared for the second coming of the Lord Jesus and His judgment upon the living and the dead, we need to repent and look to the Lord Jesus and His cross for forgiveness.
It’s not enough to simply go through the outward motions and say all the right words. Repentance needs to be genuine. It is being truly sorry for our sins and our sinfulness and trusting in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for pardon and forgiveness. And, where there is true repentance, the fruits of seeking to change and amend our lives in accord with God’s Word will follow.
The Spirit of God brings us to see our utter sinfulness in God’s eyes and to agree with God about our sin and the just punishment we deserve (cf. Psalm 51:3ff.; 1 John 1:9), and the Spirit of God brings us to see that Jesus Christ paid in full for all our sins when He suffered and died upon the cross. Jesus did this that we might look to Him in faith and cling to His cross for our salvation (1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Eph. 1:6-7). And, finally, the Spirit of God, when He brings us to faith in Christ Jesus, also creates in us the desire to amend our sinful ways and live in accord with God’s Word (cf. Psalm 51:10ff.; 1 John 2:3ff.).
You see, if there are no fruits of faith, there is no faith because, as James writes, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17; cf. v. 20). And where there are no fruits, the ax is ready, at the root of the trees, to chop them down and cast them into the fires of hell (Luke 3:9).
Therefore, I call upon you to consider your ways, to examine yourselves and repent – admitting and acknowledging your sins and looking to Christ Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness and then seeking His help and strength to amend your ways and produce fruits fitting of repentance.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23f.). Amen.
[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]