Empty Boxes, Hollow Promises, and the “Fruits of Repentance”

Many gamers who made the highest level of commitment and forked over some SERIOUS dollars to order the collector’s edition of God of War: Ragnarok received a very rude awakening when they opened their shipments… a very expensive box full of cool collectibles, some exclusive DLC, and even a shiny steelbook case, but NO game inside. I am sure you can see the problem with that. These superfans paid EXTRA money in order to secure the best and most exclusive version of God of War that would ever exist, and STILL couldn’t actually play the game. Some received two DLC codes instead of receiving the actual game code, others were missing the steelbook case, and many simply had a giant empty spot and were missing all of the above. While we don’t know the exact number of gamers impacted, we do know that this is not an isolated issue… and while Sony has been actively working on resolving these missing codes for all of these loyal customers, these hardcore fans are understandably frustrated. What should have been an epic unboxing experience resulted in a very empty feeling of disappointment, and after paying such a high price it had to be very irritating to see other gamers on their friends list who had simply purchased the basic version and were already playing and enjoying the game… all while the most passionate fans of the franchise were forced to patiently wait for a resolution from Sony’s customer care system.

To be fair, packaging and shipping challenges are simply a part of the risk associate with mass manufacturing and type of consumer good. But the first disappointment for these fans came when the “ultimate” version of the game they were purchasing doesn’t even come with a physical copy of the game… just a steelbook case with a digital code to download the game. Meanwhile, less committed fans purchasing the base version of the game would receive their copy on a disc, giving them the ability to sell, trade, or lend their copy to others. But that was a mere setback… as the future of games moves progressively digital, these gamers accepted the irony of receiving a fancy game case designed to hold a game disc without a disc inside and held onto their preorders. But when that game cases arrives without that promised DLC code, or in some cases wasn’t even packed in their edition of the game? That is a little more difficult to swallow… especially when these gamers paid hundreds of dollars more than their peers all for the privilege of being unable to play the game.

Opening up an empty box containing hollow promises is one of the most disappointing feelings that we experience in life… a feeling that is exponentially multiplied when we paid EXTRA and still have nothing to show for it. And this goes far beyond the packages we order from our favorite retailer and extends to the way we treat one another. One of the hardest things any of us are asked to do on this planet is to forgive someone who has hurt us… the feelings of betrayal, disappointment, regret, anger, and more boil to the surface and it is only through the power of the Lord’s mercy that we find a path to restoration with those who have let us down. But there is more than just one step to forgiveness… and many times I know I have been guilty of saying the words, “I am sorry” without moving on to the most important aspect of the repentance process. An expectation that John the Baptist called, “the fruits of repentance”.

Matthew 3:7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.

This concept of showing the “fruits of repentance” is mildly problematic… what exactly does that mean? How do I know if I am actually demonstrating the “fruit” that reflects a truly repentant heart rather merely a regretful one? Well, let’s start with the word “repentance”, which in the original Greek is the word metanoia… this is a compound word made up of the word metá, which means “to be changed after being with”, and the word noiéō, which translates to “think”. Thus, the word repentance has a lot less to do with our traditional concept of an apology that is often accompanied with sadness, regret, and a hug. It is more accurately defined as the act of changing our mind; to repent literally means to think differently afterwards. Soooo… if repentance is less about being apologetic and more about how we change the way we think and act AFTER our mistakes, then what would the “fruit of repentance” look like in our real world? I am not sure Hallmark has a card that will help us out with this one, and I don’t think there aren’t enough bouquets of flowers in the world to meet the criteria of “fruit of repentance”. It sounds like the Lord is looking for something a little more tangible. Something tells me Edible Arrangements isn’t going to cover it, either.

Let’s reconsider the Sony God of War conundrum for a moment. They shipped a bunch of boxes to their loyal customers that were missing the most important component… the content. And if all of the gamers who spent hundreds of dollars purchasing an empty box called Sony’s customer service department only to be told that Sony was “very, very deeply sorry” without any form of resolution, that would be an even bigger problem than the original mistake. The “apology” would be as hollow as the box itself… the “content” of the apology would be meaningless without any “fruit” to demonstrate that repentance. The expectation would be for Sony to “think differently” about this problem… starting with addressing the error that they made in a manner that brought restoration to the broken promises they had delivered. Simply put, they needed to get these people the game that they had guaranteed but failed to provide. For many of us, this may be the most challenging part of showing “fruits of repentance”… while grace is designed to be a “free gift” (Ephesians 2:8-9), the act of repentance clearly implies an impact on the recipient of that grace that alters their behavior (Acts 26:20). And for an example of what this looks like, one of the most authentic examples of repentance is the complete change of mind and heart that was experienced by Zacchaeus, the tax collector who exchanged his lust for riches for a heart of gold after his experience with Jesus.

Luke 19:1-10 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So, he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So, he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

It is CRUCIAL to note that Zacchaeus’s conversion was not contingent on “repaying his wrongs”… but when Zacchaeus felt the presence of the Lord, he felt compelled to think differently about his life, the things he had previously pursued, and those that he had mistreated. He didn’t want to merely give back what he had wrongfully stolen… he wanted to show the “fruits of his repentance” by lavishly showering those he had hurt with the wealth he had previously coveted. This isn’t just about repayment, although that action was present as well… it is about Zacchaeus changing the way he “thought” about money in a permanent way and actively showing it to those he had previously damaged as well as those he had not. Repentance for Zacchaeus wasn’t just about an apology or a demonstration of his sorrow… he changed the way he viewed the previous source of his sinful behavior and altered his behavior accordingly in a manner that would not only bring restoration for his past errors but prevent them from occurring again in the future.

The salvation we are offered by Christ cannot be earned or bought, and the act of receiving His grace can never be repaid. But when our heart is truly changed by His forgiveness, our repentant spirit should demonstrate a change to the way we think about our past pursuits. In the case of Zacchaeus, sometimes we are in a position to repay those we have wronged. In the parable of the prodigal son, he was not in a position to repay anything as he had squandered all that he had received… so the “fruits of repentance” were demonstrated by acknowledging and completely turning his back on his past mistakes and walking in the opposite direction, never to return to that disgraceful path (Luke 15:11-22). And in the parable of the unforgiving servant, the expectations around our “fruits of repentance” are revealed by the requirement of freely offering the forgiveness we have received to those who have also sought forgiveness from us (Matthew 18:21-35). But in all of these examples and so many more, the truth about repentance becomes clear…repentance always involves a CHANGE that addresses the heart of who we are, what we do, what we say, and how we live in a very permanent way (Acts 9:1-19). And for the saddest example of what happens when we simply “regret” our poor choices instead of “repent” from them, we don’t need to look any further than the twin betrayals of Christ by two of His followers… Judas and Peter

Matthew 27:3-5 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Luke 22:55-62 Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” And after a little while another saw him and said, “You also are of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Both Judas and Peter betrayed Christ on the very same night… and both demonstrated remorse and bitterly regretted those decisions. But while Judas allowed that grief to transform into irresolvable guilt that destroyed him, Peter chose the path of repentance… and his fruit was clearly demonstrated by the completely different way he fearlessly responded to a much larger crowd just a few short weeks later in Acts 2. The old Peter was too scared to even admit knowing who Jesus was to a handful of people around a fire… but this was not the same Peter. Peter’s previous way of thinking was changed forever, and he showed this by boldly proclaiming his allegiance to Christ in front of thousands of onlookers in a powerful impromptu sermon that did more than simply admit that he knew Jesus… his “fruits of repentance” were on full display in broad daylight.

Acts 2:29-36 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The most obvious “fruits of repentance” Sony could show to those who received a giant hollow box was to restore the missing game from those who had purchased it but failed to receive it… while this action will never make up for the amount of time their most hardcore fans went without the game that they were entitled to or change their original feelings of dissatisfaction, it would at least fulfill the broken promise that was made to them. Additionally, they owe these customers transparency as to what went wrong and a full demonstration of how they will take actions to prevent this from ever happening again. But if all Sony offered was an apology, those words would be as empty as the steelbook case these gamers received. And in our dealings with both the Lord as well as with others, the exact same concept of repentance applies to us as well… sorrow and guilt are natural human emotions to causing pain to others, and an apology is simply showing common courtesy. But true repentance extends beyond addressing these surface-level impacts and extends to our hearts… the fruit of repentance requires an outward demonstration of how we are changing the way we think about our previous behavior and altering the thought processes that led us to those shameful actions.

Sorrow over the mistakes we have made, no matter how deeply felt, will only lead to a never-ending spiral of self-consuming shame that will eventually destroy us. But when accompanied by the fruits of true repentance, the Lord can use even our darkest decisions as a means of powerfully transforming us as well as blessing the lives of others in ways beyond our ability to imagine. Perhaps we have been guilty of giving an empty box to those who trusted us the most or made hollow promises that we never fulfilled… let’s make today the day we do more than simply apologize. And in many of these cases, we may never be able to fully “make it right”. But we CAN show the true fruit of repentance, even if those who we have hurt are not interested in absolving us of our guilt or granting us their forgiveness. We don’t know if everyone Zacchaeus stole from were willing to forgive him. We don’t even know if they accepted his appeasement offer. But we DO know that the man Zacchaeus was and the rules that previously governed his life were forever changed the day he invited Jesus into his house. Let’s show these same fruits of repentance in our actions today… not to earn our salvation or restoration, but as the organic demonstration of the change of heart that we have experienced thanks to His incredible mercy and grace.

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