Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.
I wonder if the Pharisees and Sadducees had any clue what they were facing when they followed the crowds down to the Jordan River to hear the new preacher in town named John. As the religious elite of the day, they very well might have expected that John would pat them on the back for their faith. They were the keepers of the faith, the most religious of all, and while they obviously felt a need to repent at some level (or were they hedging their bets in being baptized?) I can’t imagine that they were expecting a tongue lashing.
But John recognized that outward appearances often have little to do with the reality of the heart. Yes, they wore the right clothes and said flowery prayers. Yes, they were at the temple every day and knew lots about the Torah. But their lives weren’t showing the fruit of repentance — what Paul would later call the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It was their fruits — or the lack of them — that led John to know that their religiosity was disconnected from a deep and vital connection to God.
The same is true for us today. I know many religious people, people who are rooted in the church, who come every Sunday, who teach Sunday School classes, and who are leaders in their respective churches who fail the fruit test. Heck, the fact is that I regularly fail the fruit test. I struggle with patience and self-control. There are times when I’m far from kind or good, times when I fall into despair and when my faith fails me. I, like the Pharisees before me, need a good reminder that repentance should lead to fruit, not religion.
God, I need your love and grace. I believe in you, but help my unbelief. Guide me to cast aside the trappings of the church so that I can be filled with fruit that comes from the Spirit.