Perhaps some of this article may sound cryptic, but he who has an ear, let him hear. I am writing about holistic repentance. You must repent of the tree, not just the fruits.
Continue to listen or read this article below.
My central text will be a passage from the book of Luke where we are introduced to peculiar and charismatic preacher known as John the Baptist.
John's mission was to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” When a dignitary, royal or president visits a location the path is cleared to ensure there is no obstacle or hindrances to the entry of this VIP. But John is tasked with preparing the way and introducing the King of Kings. It was not a matter of simply clearing the road, but a massive infrastructural reconfiguration, involving valleys being raised and mountains being flattened (Luke 3:4-6).
John's message resonated with the people, so much so that people left the city to listen to him in the desert. If indeed the King of kings was on his way then one better make sure to be on his right side. No wonder the crowd wanted to receive John's baptism. But why then does John say the following to the crowd coming out to be baptised:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Well, the answer can be extracted from the corresponding verses.
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.... The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowd were wanting to get away from the judgement of the coming king without fully meeting the requirements of repentance. And worse still they were not coming to surrender themselves in totality but had come to pay false homage. The idea was to offer a token of repentance, a nod to John's gospel, get the baptism badge and then continue enjoying life. It was actually an act of self-preservation.
But this act of surface repentance failed to recognise the nature of the coming king as well as the depth of his work. This king is not interested in a few rotten fruits, but he will cut down the very tree that produces it. The tree in this metaphor represents the systems of men. And the ax was at the root because this new King came with a new kingdom entirely. His mission was to uproot kingdoms and establish His. For the systems of men can never produce fruit fit for the king.
As I mentioned the crowd sensed a formidable King was coming, but their attempt to appease him was because they had hoped to preserve their old system. But new wine demands new wineskin. A new baptism altogether would be required to sustain the new life.
Do you recall Daniels translation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream? He saw a great statue representing the kingdoms of the world, then a stone not hewn by man's hand suddenly struck it at its feet. This was akin to the ax being already at the root of the tree. In other words, it's too late to preserve the old order Christ the stone has already struck at the foundation, but you just don’t know it yet. And though the tree still appears to have green leaves, it is dead.
The last stanza in Bob Dylan's song ‘the times are a-changin’ captures this turning of the table:
“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.”
As mentioned this tree is a metaphor for the old order. But it is also a picture of the internal order /nature of man. A man formed in iniquity produces sin. So Christ is not interested in your new year's resolution, and the bad things you now promise to stop thinking and doing. He is asking for a total repentance of not just what you do, or have done, but of who you are including where you're from. Like John, you must recognise the thriving city is in-fact a barren desert.
If you can recognise you are utterly sinful, you will not come to the King with the aim to preserve even a portion of the old. But you will be truly repentant and in return, he will give you a new self, better still he will give you himself. And you will no longer live by the spirit of this age, but will draw from the eternal resource of the age to come, not in the future, but now.