Luke 3:7-14: Detestable Religion

Read: Luke 3:7-14

John’s words are harsh. He calls those that are coming out to be baptized a “brood of vipers”, which in that time and place was not something nice to say. “Vipers” in the ancient near east were associated with wicked men. Jesus uses the word to describe the Pharisees and Sadducees on 3 occasion (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33). It was a serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden too (Genesis 3:1-15). Being called a viper was to associated a person as cunning and subtle with ulterior motives – they saw baptism as yet more religion. Those coming to be baptized by John were “fleeing wrath” which implies that they knew judgment was coming and were looking for a means to effectively purify themselves. The thinking was that the more piety one had, the less likely judgment was to fall in them. Likewise, as implied by verse 8, those coming to be baptized were clinging to their heritage as well, thinking that because they were from the line of Abraham made them special and that they wouldn’t face judgment.

The people were right to recognize that there was impending judgment, but they were approaching it the wrong way, wanting to address sin with religion and traditions without changing their hearts and actions. John on the other hand saw through both of these. He was calling people to repent (that is, change one’s heart and mind about sin) and bear fruit in accordance with repentance. He agrees with the people that judgment is coming when he says the ax is near the root of the tree and every good tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and burned. He specifically addresses three groups of people: those with abundance, tax collectors, and soldiers calling them to do good and be generous rather than hoard and extort.

When faced with sin or hard times, the natural tendency of people is to want to get “right with God” and they do so by by getting more religious. They will attend church, undergo rites and rituals, pray, read their Bible, among other things. None of these things are inherently bad, but if they are being done for the wrong reasons, then they are of little or no use because religion doesn’t help one’s standing before God. God wants people to repent and come to him in faith, not continue to live the same way as they did before and attempt to atone for sin with religion. The natural overflow of repentance though isn’t religion, rather charity and righteousness which God desires more than religion. In fact, James 1:26-27 says that “true religion” isn’t rites and rituals, rather caring for orphans and widows. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 1:1-17 aptly describe how God sees religion in light of righteousness – religion is detestable to God when one’s deeds and heart are evil. Rather than seeking out more religion, Christians should repent and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!

Lord, I repent of my sins! Help me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance!

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