“Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” (Matt. 3:8)
John the Baptist is baptizing out in the wilderness many persons from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the surrounding regions in this passage. Those who have presented themselves to John for baptism came “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6). Confession should be an integral part of the baptism experience for the believer in Christ and in joining the church.
There is not a need, nor would it be prudent, for one who desires a home in the Lord’s church to stand before the Sunday morning public assembly and confess every sin they had ever committed. However, we do need to confess before men that we see ourselves to be a sinner; a sinner that is in need of a Savior. To confess before men that we are a ruined sinner, a wretch who has no goodness in and of ourselves, but in spite of the overwhelming gravity of our sin, we have faith that Jesus died for us on the cross and has already purged us eternally from our sins. This humble attitude of acceptance of our own shortcomings and confession of our inability to save ourselves should always be visible when one presents themselves before the church for baptism.
In this same passage, we find a group of scoffers on the sidelines of John’s baptisms. The Pharisees and Sadducees viewed themselves as above repentance and no need to confess their sins that did not exist, from their warped personal vantage point. This attitude stemmed from a false sense of their own righteousness. The Pharisees and Sadducees literally saw themselves as already righteous from their own works and their perceived perfect adherence to the law of Moses. This attitude among the Jews was still prevalent a few decades later when Paul desired for the natural nation of Israel to repent and confess Christ: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of Christ. For Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:3-4). The Jews were placing their hope of acceptance with God in their observance of the law, rather than understanding the gospel message that sinners are justified before God only by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
All men, without exception, fell into a ruined condition of sin at the fall of Adam in the garden of Eden. We are disillusioned if we fancy ourselves above sin here in this world: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10). John the Baptist would not consider anyone as a candidate for baptism unless they “[brought] forth fruits meet for repentance”. There are certain actions in one’s life (“fruits”) that should evidence the condition of their heart (“repentance”) before they are acceptable (“meet”) to be considered for entrance into the Lord’s church. If one does not show a repentant heart (and certainly if they say they have never sinned or are above sin in their lives), they have not brought forth fruit that will make them an acceptable candidate for baptism. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They viewed their righteousness before God as acceptable through their works and their lineage as children of Abraham (Matt. 3:9). One will evidence the fruits of repentance by confession of their sins. The verse we skipped in the context of 1 John was the 9th verse: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John would not consider the Pharisees for baptism in this passage because they refused to acknowledge their own sin, but even for them, if they brought forth the fruits of repentance – namely confession of their sins – he would gladly submit to their request for baptism.
There is a great blessing in the life of a child of God when one confesses Jesus Christ as Lord before men. Paul desired for his natural Jewish kindred to accept the suitability of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf and to confess Christ publicly with their mouth. If they would submit to Jesus as the sole means of their righteousness instead of their own works, they would be saved from the bondage of keeping the law to a jot and a tittle (Acts 15:10-11, Gal. 5:1). Paul describes the effect of this confession and the loosing of the dreadful weight of works as a “salvation” (or “deliverance”) to the believer here in this time during their service to Christ, not an eternal salvation (Romans 10:9-10). “…joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). I hope God’s children may generate a profound abundance of joy in heaven, as we accept our sins, confess our sins, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives.