"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'" Matthew 3:8,9
We never practiced Ash Wednesday in our church. I only knew about it by the black smudges on my friends foreheads the next morning at school. From what I gathered, the ashes symbolized a time of self-deprivation by chocolate or some other favorite "sin" for forty days, "Friday fish fries", and the countdown to Easter when everyone returned to their old habits.
Whethere you practice Ash Wednesday or not, today marks the beginning of Lent, when Christians prepare their hearts "through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self denial." While this sounds good in theory, if repentance is not sincere then all our efforts to turn away from sin during Lent are only empty promises, no?
The Pharisees were all about appearances and empty promises. They showed up at Jesus' baptism and taunted John the Baptist. But John would have none of it. He saw right through their fascades, going as far as calling them a brood of vipers and challenging their faith. He said, "produce fruit in keeping with your repentance"(Matthew 3:8). In other words, your actions speak louder than your words. If they truly repented of their sins, then their lives would show it in private as well as in public. But the Pharisees thought, just by calling themselves sons of Abraham and adhering to the Law, they would be saved.
That's like us today, isn't it? Inheriting God's kingdom doesn't come through church membership or the faith of our parents. Faith comes by a sincerely penetant heart, turning away from our old ways and turning towards God, through Jesus Christ.
Romans 10: 9-10 says, "That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."
This is the beginning of a pentant heart, the starting point for Lent. This is the heart-soil from which all fruit can grow.