A New Life?

    When John appeared on the scene with his “fire and brimstone” preaching, great crowds responded to his plea.

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” [Mark 1:4-5 (ESV)]

    What happened next is not something we might expect a successful evangelist to do. He criticized, even denounced, his new congregation: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” [Luke 3:7 (ESV)] But there was a purpose to his “madness.” He caught their attention by bringing into view their true nature, vipers “enslaved to sin” (compare Romans 6:6). Then he informed them of how to change that status.

    Remember, John was proclaiming “a baptism of repentance.” If these folks were accepting that baptism, they needed to accept the idea of repentance that came with it. John describes how that life will look: [Luke 3:11-14]

  • To people in general: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
  • To tax collectors: “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
  • To soldiers: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

    Notice the significance of these instructions: Each statement is asking people to do something contrary to ordinary popular actions. Think about it:

  • Do people work hard to be able to provide nice things for themselves and their families and then ordinarily give it away to others?
  • Collectors of Roman taxes were notorious for collecting well above what the government required, keeping the excess for themselves. Without John’s instructions, were any of them likely to forego this opportunity to get rich when “everybody else is doing it?”
  • At this time in history, soldiers acted more as the local police force than as an advancing army. They were used to abusing their authority in the community for their own gain. Again, without John’s instructions, how many were likely to change that lifestyle?

    Is this what repentance means? Changing our lives in a way that makes us different from the rest of society? Well, Paul did say that we are raised from baptism to a new life, that the old life died in the process [Romans 6:3-6]. In that same letter to the Roman church, he later wrote: we must “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,…walk properly as in the daytime, not in (the activities of darkness),…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:12-14).

    The difference between darkness and light could not be greater. The new life is to be Christ’s life, wholly dedicated to God’s purposes so that there is no room for any “provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That doesn’t mean we don’t take care of our bodies and our secular responsibilities. Food, drink, and rejuvenating pastimes are necessary to be able to live for any purpose. The pleasure of family and friends is part of our spiritual relationship with them, including the training of children, the loving of spouse, the care of aged parents, etc.

    But, when our pastimes and priorities are determined without regard for God’s plans and purposes in our lives, we have reneged on our commitment to repentance. We have instead supported Satan’s goal to keep the world focused on its own selfish desire rather than attuned to the goodness that God created in it.

   So, Christian, how different is your way of thinking from that of the world around you?

 

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” [Romans 12:2]

Gary Greene

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