What Are We Supposed To Do?

by AHN Jae-woong


Scripture: Luke 3:1-11

There are many important lessons which we can draw from this scripture in the Bible. However, I shall just focus on three aspects of the message of John the Baptist. Hopefully, it will lead us to ask ourselves, "What are we supposed to do?"

This is an urgent question for all of us whether we live in the Third World or the First World, just as it certainly was for those living in the desert as well as those living in Rome during the time of John the Baptist. If we ask ourselves this question seriously, we would probably desire the following changes in our lives:

  • First, we would want to repent of our sins.

  • Secondly, we would want to bear good fruits.

  • Thirdly, we would want to share our resources with others.

I am sure we are quite familiar with the personality of John the Baptist. He was the one who went throughout the whole territory of the river Jordan preaching the message of repentance.

"Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive your sins (verse 3)."

He was so strongly convinced of this message that he went out into the desert shouting, "Prepare a road for the Lord... (Matt. 3:3)!" John also announced to the people, "The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7-8)." In modern terms, we might say that John took on the role of an advocate, mediating between Jesus and the people.

During the time John was preaching in the desert, the crowds of people (ochlos in Greek) were living under tremendous suppression by the colonial ruler, Herod Antipas. You may remember the fatal confrontation between Herod and John the Baptist. John reprimanded Herod for being involved with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and for doing many other evil things. As a result, Herod put John in prison (Luke 3:19-20). Herod was engaged in sinful activities while John was consistently preaching to the ochlos the message of repentance (metanoia in Greek).

John’s confrontation with Herod ultimately led to his death as Herod ordered that John be beheaded. John the Baptist was not concerned about his own social security, however. He was only concerned that people should take their lives more seriously by repenting of their sinfulness.

We are told that many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. After they heard his message, they confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the river Jordan (Mark 1:5). Likewise, having heard the Good News of the Kingdom of God which Jesus preached, we have to repent of our sins. Be it individual sin or communal sin, we have to confess our sins and repent in order to become a truly new being.

Metanoia, repentance, means more than regretting one’s past wrong action or thought, one’s misdoing or undoing. It has a deeper sense which implies transforming one’s mind and heart. I believe this is what Paul means when he appeals to the church in Rome, "Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and to know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do (Rom. 12:2 - The Jerusalem Bible)."

To repent is to accept the love of God because of God’s great mercy shown through Jesus Christ. It is a response to God’s call through Jesus Christ to "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." The time is right now. God has been and still is actively beckoning us to repent.

Our repentance is an act of grateful response to God’s love. Our response requires that we turn away from the perversity which exist within ourselves and in our society, our world. Our response requires that we turn towards living and working for justice, peace and righteousness for ourselves and for our neighbors. In this regard, repentance is not just a single decisive act but an ongoing conscious response to live life according to the will of God.

The genuineness of our repentance is demonstrated by the actual changes that occur in our actions, our thoughts and our feelings. This is possible only through self-critical reflection and evaluation of our own lives in the light of Scripture, through honest confession of our sins and through the ability to accept forgiveness and to forgive.

True repentance will lead us to bear good fruits. Our faith and our words will be realized in practical deeds. This should be the true character of a newly born being. According to Paul, we are suppose to be bearers of the fruit of the Spirit which produces "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)."

The teaching is clear enough for us to understand. Even though it is difficult to completely fulfill this ideal of being a bearer of good fruits, we should not be discouraged. What is more important is that we seriously desire and try to live in obedience to God as much as we can.

As John the Baptist exhorted, "Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins (verse 8)." What is meant here is that if we say we have repented, then we must be able to show it in our lives. Otherwise, there are serious consequences. He warns the people that if they take their accountability to God and others too lightly "the axe is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire (verse 9)." Our genuine repentance will be seen in our transformed lives as new people in Christ. Unless we detach ourselves from our earthly attachments in terms of worldly values and lifestyles, we will be "cut off" - alienated from God.

The modern lifestyle constantly portrays good looks and appearances as important and necessary. All kinds of beautiful clothes, decorations and offers of special entertainment are promoted as necessary. We might confuse these images of "goodness" as bearing good fruits. But, in fact, these images are false and useless for the well-being of the individual as well as for the welfare of all people.

In desperation, the people asked John the Baptist, "What are we to do then (verse 10)?" We, too, need to ask ourselves the same question.

John the Baptist answered them, "Whoever has two shirts must give one to the person who has none, and whoever has food must share it (verse 11)." John’s reply clearly tells us that we need to be concerned about the well-being of each person in our society today. To be bearers of good fruits is to support all kinds of humanitarian work which serves to build a better society for all people.

Jesus, too, taught and lived out this concern in his own life. At the very start of his ministry, Jesus himself declared that God had chosen him to "bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed... (Luke 4:18)." He had come to "announce that the time has come when the Lord will save the people (Luke 4:19)."

Our question - "What are we supposed to do?" - will lead us to the same answer: "We have to share our resources with others."

On television, we often hear news and see images of people struggling to live without the basic necessities of life, such as food and clothes, water and housing. Can we let the struggles of these people bypass us? The cries of many other deprived and suffering people are everywhere in the midst of us:

  • All peoples fighting for human dignity;

  • Peasants and farmers fighting for their land rights;

  • Indigenous people fighting to preserve their culture and identity;

  • Women fighting for recognition as people created in the image of God;

  • The differently-abled people fighting for the installation of public facilities and job opportunities;

  • Factory workers and laborers fighting for just wages and safe working environments;

  • All peoples fighting for the right to democratic participation in decision-making bodies;

  • Students and intellectuals fighting for the freedom of thought and speech;

  • People fighting against unlawful detention for their religious and political beliefs;

  • Migrant workers fighting against exploitation and abuse;

  • People fighting against discrimination of sex, race, color and creed.

All of these issues which surround us daily are a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and power and privilege caused by the control of elitist superpowers. The great populations in the Third World are crying for food and shelter and a host of other basic human rights.

These are the people with whom we have to share our resources in order that they might live securely in dignity as human beings, as people created in the image of God. The task is yours and mine.

Do you remember what Jesus said to the rich man who asked him, "What must I do to receive eternal life?" Jesus said, "...Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me (Luke18:22)."

This is a concrete example of what we are supposed to do as followers of Jesus Christ.

Let us remember with grateful hearts how Christ was born to save us from our sins. If we have not put away our old mind, let us repent and put on the new mind that is ours in Jesus Christ. Let us bear good fruit. If we have lived according to the way of the world, let us repent and live according to the way of the Kingdom of God. Let us share our resources with others. If we have only loved and cared for ourselves and our own, let us repent and go forth to love and care for others in a concrete way by sharing our food our clothes, our time, our talents with our neighbors near and far. This we must do because God first so loved us through Jesus the Christ.