And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Luke 3:3 NASB
John came preaching a message regarding repentance. What exactly were people to repent of? Was John really expecting the people in his audience to turn from their sins, never to sin again? What was this baptism for? What did it signify?
According to the NET Bible study notes, "John the Baptist was the forerunner of our Lord. As the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, he was announcing that the Messiah promised in the Old Testament was soon coming. Until Jesus’ baptism, he did not know for certain that, indeed, Jesus was this Messiah. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, an acknowledgment of sin, and of the need for the forgiveness of sins which Messiah (the “Lamb of God”) would bring about. The baptism was the symbol of their acknowledgment of sin, and of their need for a Savior."
John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, an acknowledgment of sin. But ALL sin? The more I think about it, I believe the main, if not the only, sin the people of John's day needed to repent of was the sin of self-righteousness. For generations, the Jewish people had been trying to solve their sin problem on their own – attempting to keep the Law and satisfy the holiness of God through their own efforts. Jesus' main attack on the Pharisees involved their self-righteousness. They didn't need a Savior. Referring to the Pharisees, Jesus said, "Jesus answered them, "Healthy people don’t need a doctor––sick people do" (Luke 5:31 NLT). The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous because of their ability to meticulously keep the Law. The average Israelite had bought into this lie as well. So when John came preaching a baptism of repentance, he was telling them that they were going to have to admit that, in spite of all their efforts, they were still sinners in need of a Savior. One of the first things any of us had to do before coming to Christ was to admit our need of a Savior. We had to admit that we couldn't save ourselves. That's exactly what John is requiring of the people who came out to hear him.
There is still a need for us to repent of our self-righteousness, even as believers. We are prone to work our way into God's good graces. While we believe we were saved by faith through grace, we somehow believe we have to stay in God's good graces by keeping Him satisfied. So we work hard to please Him and perform for Him. We serve, we give, we study, we go, we do, we _________. Fill in the blank. It's all a form of self-righteousness. And we need to repent of it. Every day we need to turn away from our tendency to DO for God and remember it is what Jesus has DONE that matters. I can't add anything to my salvation or my sanctification. I can't earn favor with God through my hard work and self-effort. I can't make Him love me more and I can't make Him love me less. He just loves me.
Just a few verses later, John warns the Pharisees to "bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8 NASB). In other words, stop trying to earn favor with God through self-righteous acts of piety and performance. Admit your need for a Savior. Admit your need for forgiveness that you can't earn on your own. That is still the call to us today. Turn from religion and turn to the Redeemer. He alone can save. He alone can forgive sin.
Father, thank You for Your Son. Thank You for reminding me that I must repent every day from my own self-righteous attempts to redeem myself and get on Your good side. I can't do anything that Jesus Christ has not already done. Never let me forget that. Amen