The Fruit of Repentance

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  –Matthew 3:8

…They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. –Acts 26:20

Repentance is a decisive reorientation of one’s life away from self and toward God. Commenting on Matthew 3:8 John Calvin writes, “Repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.”[1]

When John the Baptist told the Jewish people that they must bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, what did he mean?

There are three additional questions that will help to understand what the Bible means by fruit:

1.     What is repentance?

a)     The Greek verb that is translated repent in the New Testament is metanoia. The word literally means to think after. It suggests the idea of thoughtful reflection regarding a deed after the commission of it. In the case of a sinful action, the idea would be a retrospection of the act and the subsequent feeling of godly sorrow that leads to repentance (see 2 Cor 7:9-10).

b)    Thomas Watson, an English Puritan (ca. 1620-1686) said, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”[2]

c)     Repentance involves a God-initiated resolve to acknowledge the wrongful conduct and surrender ourselves to the empowering grace of God, which alone will accomplish in us and through us what we have never been able to accomplish on our own.

d)    Dan Allender, a contemporary Christian educator and author, writes that repentance is “an about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender…[that] involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.”[3]

e)     Paul writes that, godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). The repentance of this text is life reformation, not mere grief over the act.

2.     What is the significance of the expression, in keeping with repentance? (NKJ: worthy of; AMP: consistent with.)

a)     The expression in keeping with is the Greek word axios and originally had to do with objects that were of equal weight, i.e., one item corresponds to another in weight. The metaphorical use in the NT may be employed regarding actions — either good or bad.

b)    The change of life that is characteristic of repentance must correspond to the gravity and nature of the offence. Otherwise, it is not biblical repentance.

3.     What is implied by the phrase, produce fruit?

a)     The Greek word for fruit is karpos and means “the visible expression of [God’s] power working inwardly and invisibly, [and] the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it (see Mat 7:16). Just as the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into [a] living union with Christ (see Jn 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22).”[4]

b)    In addition to the fruit of the Spirit what does it mean to produce the fruit of repentance? Here are a some signs of fruit that will typically be found in a truly repentant person[5]:

i)      Repentant people are willing to confess all their sins, not just the sins that got them in trouble. A house isn’t truly clean until we open every closet and sweep every corner. People who truly desire to be clean are completely honest about their lives. No more secrets. Christian psychologist and author Larry Crabb defines integrity as pretending about nothing.[6]

ii)    Repentant people face the pain that their sin caused others. They invite the victims of their sin (anyone hurt by their actions) to express the intensity of emotions that they feel — anger, hurt, sorrow, and disappointment. Repentant people do not give excuses or shift blame. They made the choice to hurt others, and they take full responsibility for their behavior.

iii)   Repentant people ask forgiveness from those they hurt. They realize that they can never completely “pay off” the debt they owe their victims. Repentant people don’t pressure others to say, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is a journey, and people need time to deal with the hurt before they can forgive. All that penitent people can do is admit their indebtedness and humbly request the undeserved gift of forgiveness.

iv)   Repentant people remain accountable to a small group of mature Christians. They gather a group of friends around themselves who hold them accountable to a plan for honest living. They invite the group to question them about their behaviors.

v)    Repentant people accept their limitations. They realize that the consequences of their sin (including the distrust) will last a long time, perhaps the rest of their lives. They understand that they may never enjoy the same freedom that other people enjoy. Adulterers, for example, would be wise to place strict limitations on their time with members of the opposite sex. That’s the reality of their situation, and they willingly accept their boundaries.

vi)   Repentant people are faithful to the daily tasks God has given them. We serve a merciful God who delights in giving second chances. God offers repentant people a restored relationship with him and a new plan for life. Consider Hosea’s promise to rebellious Israel:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. (Hosea 6:1-2)

The conscientious student of the Bible is led to conclude that any repentance, without the full compliment of the elements that define that term, is simply not a biblical repentance.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, & Luke, Vol 1.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, Banner of Truth, 1999: 18.

[3] Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart, Navpress, 1990: 217.

[4] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol 2, Revell 1940: 143.

[5] Adapted from the article Six Signs of Genuine Repentance by Bryce Klabunde.

[6] Larry Crabb, Finding God, Zondervan 1993: 16.

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