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In Luke 3, we find John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, and a group comes to him because they want to be baptized.
The multitude that John is speaking to includes members of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Just as a quick rundown: Pharisees were a religious part of the Jews who took the Law of Moses very seriously; they even added some of their own rules. Everything was about the Law of Moses and keeping every single little piece of it “perfectly” by adding rules that the Lord Himself did not require. For example, the Law of Moses says you’re not supposed to work on Sabbath. The Pharisees say you’re not allowed to take more than x amount of steps or write more than x amount of letters because that would mean you’re “working” on the Sabbath. There were originally 613 laws for the Law of Moses; the Pharisees added thousands. The Sadducees were a different class; they were the rich Jews. They were a wealthy class that believed it was their right to handle everything related to the temple, and they didn’t believe in Resurrection.
So this happens when these Pharisees and Sadducees come to John.
7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
To help you understand the “stones” and “Abraham” portion, you have to understand that the Jews had started to believe that they were the only group of people on the earth who could be saved. They were the only ones given the gospel. While it’s true that you need the gospel to be saved, the Jews had taken this to mean that you had to be a literal descendent of Abraham and then you were all set.
This is obviously erroneous to us now. It would be crazy to think that God saves you simply because of where you were born, especially since He is the one sending us where we’re born. What? He just picked His favorites and sent them to the right places? That’s simply not consistent with what we know about God.
So we scoff at the Pharisees and the Sadducees for their pride over being descendants of Abraham, but are we unwittingly committing the same sins? And I’m not talking about creating extra rules like Pharisees; I will probably get to that specific sin sometime this year. The specific attitude I’m talking about is the tendency to get complacent or proud simply on the basis of “being a child of Abraham.”
Children of Abraham
If we’re trying to pull these principles into our day, I want to look at what it means to be the children of Abraham. The Pharisees and Sadduccees were proud of the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. We may not be literal descendants of Abraham, but we have been adopted into the house of Israel through baptism.
The parallel between us and them would look like this: we become proud or complacent because we’ve been baptized. We start to believe that we’re the only ones who can get saved.
Do we believe this? Do we believe that because we are the ones with the restored gospel, we are the only ones that can get saved?
Let’s say one of your nonmember friends comes to you and says, “If I died right now, would I go to the celestial kingdom?” How would you answer? What do you really believe about your friends who have not accepted the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?
The answer to that kind of question is complicated which is why we let the Lord be the ultimate judge. However, exploring what we really believe about this can give us perspective and help us be prepared to talk about the gospel with our friends. It can help us see our friends more clearly.
Of these stones vs. the fruits of repentance
John the Baptist tells the Jews that if the Lord wanted to, He could turn some stones into children of Abraham.
From a modern day perspective, this is what I learn from this.
Becoming a child of Abraham is the easy part. Getting adopted into the House of Israel by being baptized is simple. The Plan of Salvation is perfect, and the Lord is a perfect judge. Everyone will get their fair opportunity to accept baptism by the proper authority.
It is being changed by our baptism that is the really hard part. It is bringing forth “fruit worthy of repentance” that is really going to be the kicker when we stand on that judgment day.
Imagine the difference in these two scenarios.
Scenario one. Someone who has been baptized goes to the Spirit World. They were baptized and went to church, but they still set their hearts on the things of the world. They lied occasionally to get ahead.
Scenario two. A non-Christian goes to the Spirit World. They have lived a life that was dedicated to serving their family and community, and that service left an indelible print on their heart.
Who is going to have an easier time preparing for Judgment Day? This is an obviously simplified version of one dimensional characters, but you understand the principle. It’s much easier to take care of the baptism portion than it is to change because of your baptism.
We have more responsibility
It is difficult trying to be changed by the atonement of God. It takes work, and there is an even bigger responsibility placed on us because we have been taught. We have been given what the Lord wants us to do very clearly; are we doing it? Are we bringing forth those fruits of repentance or are we complacent as members of the church?
Are we actively working towards forgiving those who hurt us? Are we sitting and enjoying our inner angry monologues? Are we reflecting over and over and over on why we’re right? Or are we focusing on the immense suffering our Savior experienced in order to take care of all that?
Are we actively working towards unity? We need to stand up for what we believe, but we also need to live what we believe – which includes loving our enemies! We get so caught up in labeling others as the bad guy and getting angry that we have been labeled as bad guys. Why not put down your anger first? Appreciate the other person for wanting to do the right thing (even if they believe that doing the right thing means fighting against you), and I believe a grand majority of people will reciprocate.
Are we putting in effort at home to make life better for someone else? Have we put down our worries about ourselves “getting enough” and instead focused on giving enough? You will never “get enough” if you are too focused on yourself. No amount of me-time or gifts will fill that chasm. You will only be properly filled as you learn to give again.
As we serve and work, are we actively seeking to put our hearts into it as well? As we attend to ministering or moving families or your calling, are we trying to make it an act of love or are we just trying to get through it so we can move on to things that we deem more important?
Are we seeking out what the Lord would have us accomplish with our lives? Are we praying for missionary opportunities? Are we trying to spend quality time with Christ?
I didn’t lay out all those questions so we can run away with ourselves and beat ourselves up. That’s not what this exercise is about. It’s about taking a truthful look at ourselves. Don’t think about all of the little, separate tasks that you “should” accomplish. Rather, take an internal inventory about how much of yourself you’re giving. Chances are, as members of the church, you are probably investing plenty of time. But are you also investing your heart? If you invest your heart, you won’t have to worry about getting all the little things done. Living the gospel is easy and desirable when you have thrown your heart into it.
We are children of Abraham. We have accomplished the easy part of getting baptized and entering a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Are we consciously working towards becoming a better person as well? Are we bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance as John suggests?