I can't get John the Baptist's words out of my head. Luke records them this way:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
And then John answers the questions of those who've heard him: the crowd, tax collectors, and soldiers. In their turn each asks the same question -- "What should we do?" **
John replies to the crowd:
The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.
To the tax collectors:
Don't collect any more than you are required to.
To the soldiers:
Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay.Repent and Produce fruit: these two go hand in hand. We believe there is one God? Good! So do the demons, the apostle James says. We believe Jesus is the Holy One of God? That's essential, yes -- but the demons also know it to be true, and they proclaimed it as he drove them out of the people they oppressed (Luke 4.33-34).
If we believe and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was raised from the dead, indeed, that he is Lord -- as Paul wrote to the Romans, "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" -- then we are his.
But the question remains -- "What should we do then?" The fact is that Christ's people love, specifically God and neighbor. When so many cry out at the pain that is upon them, may it be that Christ's people produce fruit in keeping with their repentance.
May we love enough to listen, to seek to understand, to be just. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the multitude of works being prepared for us to do -- for God's design is for us to participate in what he is doing (Ephesians 2.10).
**Imagine with me (will you?) that the fire in John's eyes has not died out before he answers. (Remember his greeting: "You brood of vipers!") And if that fire has not been quenched, and he speaks with the same heat, how does that frame his answers? I'll tell you how I see him: His hands have been thrown up -- "You know," he says between the lines. "Did you really think it was all that complicated? Have you not heard the prophets?" And I imagine his hearers are double-convicted. This is not news to them. Oh, LORD, give us fresh eyes to see and new ears to hear your ancient word to us!