Leaving Old Ways Behind - Luke 3
He (John the Baptist) went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)
In our readings through Luke, we started the new year in Luke 3 seeing the miraculous son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, all grown up launching into his public ministry. His calling was to prepare the way for Jesus by turning people's hearts from sin so that they might receive forgiveness from God. I wanted to share some important definitions and explanations that might help clarify some things in our reading.
Let's start with sin. Sin can be defined as the things we do (or don't do) in disobedience to God. God's ways are to love and serve Him having no other gods, making time for Him in our lives, respecting His Word, and receiving Him as Lord. God also instructs us to love our neighbors, to show them proper respect, to take care of their bodily needs, reputation, relationships, property, and livelihood. When we stray from God's ways (sin), it results in pain and brokenness in this world which we can see signs of all around us.
Repentance is to show remorse for sin with a desire to turn away from those ways and turn to God for forgiveness.
The baptism that John preached was to invite people to make a public proclamation of repentance from sin by the symbolic act of cleansing through immersion in water. This is different from the baptism later received by those who came to believe in Jesus.
Since John's ministry was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, he was not the most popular person among the strong and self-righteous. Religious leaders who did not think they did anything wrong, or the powerful who would rather continue in their own ways did not receive him. John also questioned the motives of those who came to be baptized as a show of religious observance without showing remorse for the things they were doing wrong or a willingness to change their ways (Luke 3:7-14).
John prepared the hearts of the people to come before God in repentance as sinners in need of forgiveness so that when Jesus showed up they would be able to receive His sacrifice on the cross for the remission of their sin. John both assured the people that a Savior was coming soon to bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe. He also warns of impending judgment for those who do not respond to this gracious offer. (Luke 3:15-18)
Forgiveness is manifest in the reconciliation we receive with God where our sins no longer separate us from Him. When we repent and take hold of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, believing that He is God and was resurrected from the dead, we are forgiven. (Acts 2:38) Because of Jesus, judgment for our wrong-doing has been removed, our debt has been paid and we have been guaranteed full inclusion into the Kingdom of Heaven along with life forevermore!
John's ministry was so important because repentance is necessary to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. The call to repent of sins continues to be an integral part of the gospel message which we are called to share. Without an admission of sin, the cross is meaningless to the individual and Jesus' gracious act becomes irrelevant.
Repentance is also needed for us to walk with Jesus in a wholesome way.
For those of us who have received Jesus, we see that sin has not completely left our lives. We are in this in-between place where we are filled by the Holy Spirit yet we see that we have the potential to live according to our old sinful ways. Much of the letters in the New Testament contain encouragement to live according to the Spirit as a new creation leaving old ways behind. The good news is that because we believe in Jesus, we are already forgiven and under God's grace!
So how do we leave old sinful ways behind? Leaving old ways behind requires honesty. Honesty with God and honesty with ourselves. It does not help to deny that we are doing things wrong in our daily lives.
The work of forgiveness is completely finished in Jesus so there is truly no reason to hide! He wants us to come to Him and receive His grace and mercy.
Living loved means we can come to Our Heavenly Father with all our faults and failures without fear of judgment receiving God's grace. We can come before Jesus daily with our sins receiving His forgiveness afresh. We can read the Word of God to build us up in our faith while welcoming the Holy Spirit to help us to grow in new patterns of living. We can even ask trusted friends in Christ to pray for us and help us through our struggles.
So if you are coming to Jesus for the first time, know that you can bring all your brokenness and sin to Him. He loves you and wants to give you a new life!
If you have been walking with Him for many years, there are still opportunities to repent and leave old ways behind. When we come before God in honesty and humility, we have the opportunity to walk under His covering of love and grace as His beloved children.
May you experience the love of God in a special way that gives you all assurance of His commitment to you in Christ Jesus!