by Steven Chan
22 May 2011
In Matt 3:5-8, the Bible records the effect of the ministry of the forerunner John the Bap- tizer: “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John did not tone down his manner of speech when he saw the religious leaders of the day, i.e. the Pharisees and Sadducees, came to him to be baptized. He did not refuse to baptize them but he did urge them to bear fruits worthy of repentance – in other words, they need to mani- fest in their lives the effect of their baptism.
Baptism should not be merely an act of obedience but it ought to signify the beginning of a life of obedience which should therefore manifest the fruits that are consistent with repentance. In Matt 3:10, John said to them thus: “Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Jesus Christ taught the same thing in John 15:1-2 when He said: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Those who decide to follow Jesus and who have been baptized need to be reminded that they are called to bear good fruit and bear them plentifully or in abundance.
On one occasion recorded in Matt 21:18-19, a fig tree withered away because it was fruit- less: “18 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” And immediately the fig tree withered away.”
In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vine- yard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vine- yard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” God is patient and does grant us time to bear fruit but there will come a time when He will cut the fruitless tree down.
What is one fruit of repentance that we need to bear? According to Romans 6:1-17, it is the fruit of no longer serving sin but serving the Lord. Paul had to remind the brethren that be- cause they have died to sin in baptism, they are no longer to walk in sin anymore: “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Rom 6:6) Paul explained in Col 3:3: “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” What? We died!!? When did we die? Paul’s answer in Rom 6:2-4: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Baptism is when we died to sin and we were buried with Christ and then raised to walk in newness of life as we rise up from the symbolic watery grave of baptism.
We bury those who have died. As taught by Paul: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,” (Col 2:11-13) Unfortunately, many who have been buried have not died to sin. So, they continue to live with no change in their lives what soever. One such person was Simon the sorcerer: In Acts 8:13,
“Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.” In Acts 8:18-23: “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Simon the former sorcerer who had been baptized was still under the bondage of sin. He had not died to sin.
Simon’s sin was that of trying to buy the gift of God with money. It is interesting to note that the term simony today refers to the trafficking of sacred things such as the purchase of ecclesiastical offices, pardons, etc…It is said that the root source of that word, simony, is traced to this recorded event in Acts 8:20. As perceived by the apostle Peter, this one transgression was a manifestation of the condition of his heart – that it was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity – Simon was chained and enslaved by the power & influence of sin. The Bible says “do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”(Rom 6:12).
Brethren, we need to actively deal with the sin which so easily besets or ensnares us (Heb 12:1). We must aggressively reject the influence of sin in our lives. The Bible says in Col 3:5- 10: “You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry. Because of such things God’s anger will come upon those who do not obey him. At one time you yourselves used to live according to such desires, when your life was dominated by them. But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self.”(GNB).
Brethren, our lives must no longer be dominated by fleshly/ worldly desires and we need to work at “getting rid of them” from our lives. Unfortunately, it is tragically noted that it appears that many are not only not making any real effort to get rid of them, they actually seem comfortable indulging in them. The Bible says that we need to get rid of “anger, wrath, hateful feelings, trading insults or unwholesome words” and “replace them” with: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Being tolerant with one another and forgiving one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. The peace of Christ should rule in your hearts; for God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful. Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.” Are brethren making a real effort to do the above?
In Matt 7:15-22, Jesus warned us: “”Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21 “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.”
We can identify false prophets/teachers by their fruits – specifically whether they are actually do the will of the Father in heaven. The Bible says in 1 John 4:6: “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” One question is: do they teach and practice the will of God as contained in the Bible, accurately? The mere zeal of teaching and preaching in itself is not evidence of faithfulness to God, for Jesus Himself testified in Matt 23:15 concerning the fervency of the religious leaders of His days: “For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” In Matt 15:13-14, Jesus counseled: “”Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Not too long ago, members of the “Crossroads/Boston/ Central Christian/International Churches of Christ” zealously taught and baptized many throughout the world – especially among the students in the University campuses. Many brethren were swayed to lean towards adopting their discipleship methods because they saw the numerous baptisms. These brethren failed to take heed to God’s counsel to watch the fruit of their adherence to doing God’s will – and not their own man-made ideas or discipleship methodology. Sadly many were lost to this misguided cultic group. Many years later, the full bloom of their bad fruit became clearly evident. The group has subsequently splintered when the apex of their discipleship model failed and collapsed. Sadly, some of their followers remained traumatized to this day. We had warned brethren against them at the very early stage of the movement but many refused to be warned. They were blinded by the zeal and commitment of these people as well as the great number of baptisms that were reported. Brethren, we need to take heed of the requirements of discipleship since we have determined to follow Jesus. We need to bear fruit that will glorify Him (and not us!) (John 15:8; Matt 5:16). We need to break free from the bondage of sin and not let sin continue to dominate our lives. The fruit of our lips will provide evidence as regards the condition of our hearts – remember the case of Simon the sorcerer. Is our hearts right with God? We need to work at it; otherwise the devil will ensnare us and hold us captive again to his service. If we are not vigilant, we may unwarily allow the devil to get a stranglehold on us as happened to Peter in Matt 16:23 when Jesus had to say to him: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” From this experience, Peter would later write thus in 1 Peter 5:8-10: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” Are we resisting the devil?