It’s the question the people who were flocking to hear John the Baptist wanted answered in the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In our rush to get past the account of John’s ministry to read about Jesus, we can sometimes overlook some important and practical truths that John – “the voice crying in the wilderness” of the world – has to say to us.
As the forerunner of the Christ and one called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” John was going around the region of the Jordan River baptizing and preaching “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He warned those who came to listen of the coming judgment of God and he cautioned them that God demanded more than just lip service to His laws but rather they must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
Repentance is a matter of the heart but it is also a matter of deed and practice. John’s reply gives a preview of all that Jesus later fleshed out in His own teachings.
And he answered them, “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: 10-14)
John’s admonitions to each of the three groups of people boil down to the practical application of the essential requirements of God’s law:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
The answer to “What does the LORD require of you?” is fundamentally the same as the answer to the question the people were asking this last of the old covenant prophets: What then shall we do?
When John tells the crowds to share what they have with those in need, he is saying in essence, “Be kind.”
When he tells those who command any degree of authority over others to take only their fair share and to practice honesty in all their dealings, he is saying, “Maintain your integrity and be just.”
When he adds that they must be content with their wages or earnings, he is saying, “Trust God.” – That is, contentment with what you have comes first and foremost by trusting God to provide for every need, not employers, not investors and stock markets, but our loving Heavenly Father, because everything necessary for our lives finally comes from Him. Trusting God and Him alone is essential to walking humbly with Him in acknowledgment of His sovereignty and His love.
Be kind. Maintain your integrity and be just. Trust God.
Such is the “fruit in keeping with repentance” for the forgiveness of sins which our Savior bought at the price of His own blood on the cross.