It really sucks when we’ve ignored sin in our lives so long that we don’t really notice it anymore. It just sits there, festering and corroding our lives from the inside out. It sucks even more when we spend our lives in church, yet no one has the guts and compassion to point to our sin and call it what it is. (There is a healthy way to do that by the way.)
But how do we respond when that sin is pointed out to us? John was a pretty confrontational person – maybe it was spending too much time in the desert, maybe it was simply a function of his unique role in God’s story… but he didn’t seem to worry about too much tact when it came to pointing out the sin in God’s people. He went around “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His message was that it was time to get the sin out of the nation because the time had come for the Messiah to be revealed to them. The people then responded in some of the same ways people today respond:
Question the authority of the one calling us out.
The Pharisees in John 1 seemed to want to know what qualified John to be so brash in calling for repentance. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Who are you to tell us how to live our lives? We study the Law, we know every little nuance of Moses’ rules inside and out, what right do you have to tell us to repent? Today we may fall back on our Sunday morning attendance, church membership placement, or participation in a small group… activities we may think insulate us from accusation. It’s almost as if we say, “I go to church more than you, so who are you to tell me I’m doing something wrong?” Or there’s always the old standby: “Don’t judge me.”
Cover it up.
Herod didn’t even bother to hack away at the foundation of support for John’s rebuke. I think he knew how wrong he was, but in Luke 3, he just kept piling it on: “When John rebuked Herod because of his marriage to his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” He didn’t just attack John’s credibility or question his authority, he threw him in prison! We may not be afforded that same capacity to shut up someone who’s found fault in some area of our lives, but we may still try to cover up the cracks. “Oh, it’s not really a big deal… That was a long time ago… Let me explain…” We use our circumstances to excuse our behavior, or to rationize our sin. “I only did that because…” Often, instead of dealing with our own sin, we’ll turn and attack the person who’s pointed it out to us like a petulant 6 year old, “Oh yeah, well I saw you when…”
Repent and find a better way to live.
There were some in John’s crowds who took his message to heart. Realizing their sin was kiling them, they repented and were baptized by John to be forgiven. From Luke 3 it sounds like some of them were only going through the motions though and he warned them further to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Being forgiven should cause us to live differently – more generously, more honestly, more contently.
I should probably note, that there is a healthy way to point out the error of a brother and some very unhealthy ways as well. Perhaps a topic for another post… It’s one thing to come alongside someone who’s injured themselves and help them back to health – and quite another to join the Accuser in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy everything he can… be careful.