What Then Shall We Do?

John the Baptist told his followers that repentance (not goodness) was the way to be forgiven but then demanded this: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (1) Hmm. 🤔 This seems a bit hypocritical. First, John renounces the Pharisaical idea that we need to be good to receive God’s forgiveness. Then he says we must bear fruit—which sounds like we need to be good. And then John adds this warning: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (2) Hmm. 🧐 It sounds like we need to bear fruit! I’m a bit perplexed!

The crowds were confused too. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ (3). And the tax collectors also asked, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ (4). And the soldiers asked, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ (5) And John told them. In summary, he gave them specific instructions that they must extend mercy to people. In other words, be good to people!  Hmm. 🤨 But what does that have to do with repentance? Everything.

A tree is known by its fruit. If a tree bears oranges, it is an orange tree. If an orange tree does not bear fruit, what good is it? We are known by what we produce, the fruit of our labors. If we have received mercy, then we must be merciful. If we have received mercy but are not merciful, then what good are we?

But still, it is not about our being good! The fact is, we will not bear fruit unless we are fruit trees! And so, if we are not bearing fruit, we must question if we really are who we say we are. And that was John’s point! We can spend our lives trying to be someone we are not, trying to be good people, trying to earn God’s grace, or we can give up that futile endeavor and give our lives to Christ instead, who will then begin to live in us . . . and bear fruit. And we can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (6)

The Christian life is not a matter of being good. The Christian life is not even about doing good. It is about letting Christ live through us so that good things can be done. If we are producing no fruit, we must conclude that something is desperately wrong. John is simply telling everyone (good and bad) that orange trees produce oranges. If there are no oranges only two things are possible: 1) the tree is not an orange tree after all. Or 2) the roots are so unhealthy they are preventing fruit from being produced.

John is exposing the undeniable truth that the root of the matter is our hearts, and our fruit will reveal the state of our hearts. If we are deceiving others (and ourselves) with mere lip service, we are acting like a brood of vipers! And so, here is the answer to the very important question, What then shall we do? We need to repent, be forgiven, and allow Christ to rule in our hearts. Then the next question for us is this: How rooted are we in Christ? The answer? Our fruits will show.

1) Luke 23:8      2) Luke 3:9     3) Luke 3:10    4) Luke 3:12    5) Luke 3:14     6) Galatians 2:20  


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