11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12 ESV)
John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance. Repentance (μετάνοια; metanoia) means a change within the inner man. It is God wrought change in the soul of the individual. Repentance may mean four things in Scripture.
First, repentance can refer to forsaking wickedness. However, turning from one’s sins does not necessarily mean you turn to God.
Second, repentance may be synonymous with conversion. This is the sense in Isaiah 55:7 when the prophet announces that the wicked is to forsake his way and his evil thoughts. When such a man turns (repents) to the LORD, He will have mercy on him.
Third, repentance can refer to a way of life for the believer in Christ. For all believers, there is a gradual recognition of not only sins past, but also sins present. “If repentance is a way of life, we search for and then forsake out sins one by one, as the Spirit gives us grace to recognize them,” explains commentator Dr. Daniel M. Doriani.
Finally, repentance can refer to a time when a believer in Christ, or even a church, returns to God after a period of time of cold or lifeless faith. This is the sense when the Apostle John encouraged the Church at Ephesus to “Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:4-5).
“The symbolism of John’s baptism likely had its roots in OT purification rituals (cf. Lev. 15:13). Baptism had also long been administered to Gentile proselytes coming into Judaism. The baptism of John thus powerfully and dramatically symbolized repentance. Jews accepting John’s baptism were admitting they had been as Gentiles and needed to become the people of God genuinely, inwardly (an amazing admission, given their hatred of Gentiles). The people were repenting in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival. The meaning of John’s baptism differs somewhat from Christian baptism (cf. Acts 18:25). Actually, Christian baptism altered the significance of the ritual, symbolizing the believer’s identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3–5; Col. 2:12),” explains Dr. John MacArthur.
“This passage calls us first to repent of our sins and to turn to God. It urges every man, woman, and child to be reconciled to God by repenting of sin and turning to Christ. The biblical message of repentance further summons every Christian to live a life of daily repentance. This applies both individually and corporately. Given the range and depth of our sins, penitence must be a way of life, for sin departs slowly,” explains Dr. Doriani.
What sin do you need to repent of and to continually repent? Take the opportunity today to do so.
Soli deo Gloria!