In Luke 3, John the Baptist finds himself facing a crowd of Israelites who all want to receive his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Should any modern day preachers find themselves in such a scenario, they probably wouldn’t respond like John, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”—but I guess John wanted people to take this baptism seriously—so seriously, that he expected people to show evidence of their repentance by displaying the fruit of a repentant lifestyle. When the crowd asked what that fruit looked like, he responded,
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:11-14
Today we often talk about repentance as the turning away from evil and following God—which it is—and we talk about faith as a belief system—which it is. But the church sometimes belittles the action that accompanies and evidences repentance and faith. John looked at the crowd in front of him, recognized their life situations, and then explained to them the corrections they would have to make in their lives if this baptism was to really bear fruit.
For the average joe, their repentance would be evidenced through their concern for the poor. Their hearts would be moved to take care of the poor, naked and hungry around them. For the tax-collectors of John’s time, they would have to stop robbing everyone they met (which they could always get away with in their line of work). Likewise, soldiers would have to stop robbing people through tactics of extortion, fear and lies.
John was not interested in creating a baptized community that came back up from the waters the same way they went in. Sure, fruit can take a long time to grow and no one is perfect, but repentance that bears no fruit at all should be questioned as to if it’s true repentance. For not only should baptism compel us to stop committing obvious sins like robbing and threatening people, but it should also compel us to live a life for the poor—for God’s eyes are always on the poor. And if we instead belittle the poor and stereotype them and make excuses as to why we don’t care for them, then we should perhaps stop and ask if we truly are repentant and living a life that evidences the baptism waters that we came out of.