JAC Online

But Am I Saved?
by Captain Michael Ramsay
Luke 3:7-14,  A Revolutionary Text [1]

John, ‘the Baptist’ as he was called, was a celebrity preacher in 1st Century Palestine. He was on a speaking tour through all the country around the Jordan (Luke 3:3). People were making an effort to see him. In order to see John in those days you couldn’t just drive, catch a bus, hail a cab or get a ride from someone. You had to walk, by and large, and you had to walk a long way; you probably had to take at least one day off work to get where you were going.

Picture this scenario with me. Pick some famous person you want to see; they are coming to a city near you and you have been given free tickets. You take time off work or cancel your plans for the day to go see them. Now imagine that they are a celebrity preacher. Danielle Strickland, not that long ago, was named one of the most influential Christian speakers. Imagine she comes to a town near you. Big crowds come to see her and not just Salvationists but all kinds of us. Let’s say we all walk there or better yet we get a bus full of people and we take the day off work to go hear her. We are among hundreds or thousands of people who take the time and make the effort to travel to see her. Now imagine that when we get there she says (cf. vv.7-9), “All of you who have come to see me… you are a bunch of snakes! Why are you here!?" "Who told you, you could be saved!? You need to start acting like Christians! And don’t tell me you’ve been a Christian since you were six or you had this life changing moment when you were eleven or your great grandmother was saved through William Booth himself on the streets of London 100 plus years ago. Don’t tell me you don’t need saving because you are already a child of God. I tell you the truth God can raise up children from these rocks here if He wants to; if you say you are His children you need to start acting like it!”[2] Can you imagine? How would you feel? What would you think?

This is what it would have been like for people in our text (Luke 3) who had taken a whole day or two off of their lives, walked for maybe up to 100km and made this effort to go hear John in the desert; he addressed the crowds in much the same way, telling them that if they think they are children of Abraham they’re really not unless they start acting like children of Abraham. In today’s colloquial vernacular, many who went to the desert may have ‘thought they were saved’ but John said, ‘are you so sure about that?’ This is quite a greeting!

It is effective though.[3] Luke recorded voices seeking salvation in the disparate crowd calling out to him, “what should we do then?!” (v.10). John told them, in essence, if you think you are saved, and if you really are a part of the ‘Kingdom to Come’, then, Verse 11, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

How many people here have two shirts – or more? How many people in our world have none? How many people reading this will eat today? How many people in our world won’t? I know that most of us who are reading this are good at sharing with our friends who need food, clothing, and other items – individually and through The Salvation Army. I know there are many regular JAC readers who would give the shirt right off their own back to someone in need. John, the Baptist, says that that is because you are a part of the Kingdom of God. I love it when we study the Gospel of Luke because Luke, like the Army's spiritual grandfather John Wesley, is crystal clear in presenting the Gospel as a social justice gospel: Christians will not acquire and hoard wealth while others are in need.[4] The Baptist says, quite the opposite, “produce acts in keeping with repentance” (v.7).

But there is more to the story than just this. After John answered these cries from the crowd about what should anyone do who wants to be saved from the coming wrath (v.7), tax collectors who are part of this crowd said in essence, “yes, we all know that: everybody who is saved, who is part of God’s Kingdom, will give food and clothes to those in need. But what specifically should WE, saved tax collectors, do when we make this public confession through this baptism that we have come here to make today?”[5]

Verse 13, “Don’t collect anymore than you are required to,” John told them. Now this sounds easy but let’s look at the way things ran back then. It was not all that different from the way things run today. These tax collectors were probably Jewish toll booth operators working for the Romans. Their job was to collect tolls and they made their money from surcharges applied to the tolls. The Romans used an early franchise-style system of sorts to collect these taxes.[6] They pseudo-privatized their toll booths. Much like well-known fast food restaurants, big chain stores, and other corporations today; they used a franchise-style system. Judean business people would buy a toll booth franchise or a number of toll booth franchises (such as in the case of Zacchaeus; Luke 19); they would collect the money to cover the fees from their clients and everything else they made after they paid their overhead was profit. This is similar to the way many or most chain stores, franchises, fundraising catalogues, contemporary manufacturers and most big businesses in general are run today. They collect what they are required to for head office or whomever and/or to cover the cost of inventory already paid for and then the rest, after expenses, goes to profit.  But John said to them, ‘don’t collect any more than you are required to [by the head office].” Don’t make a profit the laissez-faire capitalist way, charging what the market can bear in order to make a profit… Well, who would want to be a tax collector then?! Can you imagine if the Baptist told the franchise owners or others today that they were not to make a profit off their customers? Can you imagine if he told the big name companies that they were only allowed to charge what they are legally or otherwise required to charge, what would they do? ... Well, just maybe John, Luke, and even Jesus IS saying just that…just take what you need. Luke is a revolutionary text. Luke's is a gospel to the poor. Luke is the social justice gospel.

Luke’s not so subtle condemnation of this 1st century expression of a prototypical market economy that made the rich richer and the poor poorer is as radical then as it would be now if we applied the gospel to our own society.[7] We recently moved from Toronto and previously we have lived in Victoria and Vancouver. Anyone who drives regularly in these city knows that the parking meters all collect different amounts of money for the same amount of time: a dollar fifty here, $3 there; $8 for a parkade here, twenty dollars for a parkade there. And grocery stores owned by the same person, the same corporation, the same company – you buy the same product at a different outlet and it is a totally different price simply because they know they can get more money from you at that location. This is Adam Smith and Ayn Rand's version of capitalism; this is the free market.[8] But what John is saying to the owners of the Roman tax franchises in the first century is seemingly quite the opposite; he says, “don’t collect any more than you are required to.” And this I think is what Luke is telling us today: poor people in the Kingdom of God should have the same access to life as wealthy people, so do your part, “don’t collect any more than you are required to;” don’t make a profit at the expense of others. Luke’s is a revolutionary text. Luke’s is a social justice gospel. Luke's Gospel, as Jose Miranda and John Wesley remind us, is good news, gospel for the poor.[9]

Now after these tax collectors/toll booth franchise owners get their answer, the soldiers who have also come here to be baptised are eager to know what is required of them. Like the tax collectors, the soldiers know they need to give food and clothes to the poor - but they don’t own toll booths; they don’t own franchises. They aren’t rich. Quite the opposite: while the tax collectors were apt to get rich from this 1st century expression of a prototypical market economy, the Judean soldiers were likely to get poor from it; so, what should they do when they are saved from the impending wrath? What should they do as citizens of the Kingdom of God? Verse 14, John says, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

This sounds easy enough: don’t extort money from people; don’t falsely accuse people and be content with your pay. Easy? Maybe. These soldiers weren't Romans; they were Judeans just like the tax collectors and just like most of the rest of the crowd. These soldiers worked for the Romans just like the tax collectors but these soldiers were very poorly paid. They didn’t have the freedom of the toll booth operators to set their own wages so they resorted to other ways to make money - basically stealing. But that was okay, they convinced themselves, because ‘everyone was doing it’. But that is not okay.

I remember when we were living in Vancouver, there were many stores in our neighbourhood which would charge you less if you paid in cash because then they wouldn’t have to declare the money as income. I have met many people who are paid 'under the table', who deliberately do not claim income on their taxes – after all they don’t make very much and the government doesn't need their money. When I worked at a military base pre-9/11, one co-worker allegedly regularly used to take discarded copper home to sell for extra money, after all he only made minimum wage; the government didn't need more money. I remember as a janitor when I was a teenager, colleagues who would take food or office supplies from the buildings where they were working: they’re only going to throw it out anyway. Why would they miss this food from their coffee room? They have lots of money to buy more. Luke says, “Be content with your pay.”

I remember too, we used to be able to make more money by working more hours so we would ask to take on extra hours cleaning extra buildings. I – like my fellow janitors – loved that. This is where you could get overtime pay without ever working one hour overtime. It was late at night and we often worked alone so some of us could do 16 hours worth of cleaning in just six hours without anyone noticing. The buildings were clean (thus no one complained) so we would write 16 hours on our timesheet even though we only worked six; ‘no one cared, everyone was doing it’ and that way we would not only get paid for 10 hours of work we didn’t do but we would even get time-and-a-half or double-time for some of those hours. It was an easy way to make an extra buck or two. Get paid for hours you don’t work, take food and supplies no one will miss which ‘everyone else is taking anyway’. 

I remember one security guard at a building where I worked for a while. I would chat with him about God, among other things; one day he asked me, “If you are a Christian, why are you leaving early?”

“My work is done.”

“Are you getting paid?”


“So, do more work.”

“Everyone just leaves when they are done, we’re expected to”

“Isn’t that stealing?”

The baptiser, John, said to those of his day who weren’t paid necessarily a ‘liveable wage’, “be content with your pay.” Luke says to we today who may be tempted to pad our hours, not declare our income, or manipulate our wages, “be content with your pay.” It is always interesting looking at Luke. Luke is the social justice gospel. It is a revolutionary text. Luke tells us what the impending Kingdom of God looks like. It is a place where the poor will have equal access to life and liberty as (or more than) the rich and everyone who is a part of God’s Kingdom will deal openly and honestly with each other. Luke’s is a revolutionary text and the Gospel is a revolutionary Gospel.

And honestly, this revolution is important. We, as Christians, are called to be holy. We, as Christians, are called to be the advance guard of a just society where the poor do have the same access to life and forgiveness as the rich. The middle class and the elite - like the tax collectors - are not to make a profit at the expense of the poor and those just barely eking out a living; we are to do it honestly. And all of us, rich or poor, are to be content with our wages for God will provide for us as He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Luke 12:27, Mt 6:28).[10] Everyone, as we are a part of God's proleptic Kingdom, we are to love our neighbour and as they are in need we are to provide for their need just as our Heavenly Father provides for our needs.





[1] Adapted from Luke 3:7-14: In the Advent of Revolution. Presented to TSA Corps 614 Regent Park, Toronto, Ontario on 20 December 2015 and Alberni Valley Ministries on 16 December 2018 by Captain Michael Ramsay

[2] Cf. N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, Kentucky, USA: WJK, 2004), 34

[3] Cf. Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Interpretation: Louisville, Kentucky, USA: John Knox Press, 1990), 48.

[4] Captain Michael Ramsay, Analysis of 'The Use of Money': Sermon 50 by John Wesley (Presented to William and Catherine Booth College, Summer 2008) http://sheepspeak.com/reviews_Michael_Ramsay.htm#Use

[5] Walter L. Leifeld, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Pradis CD-ROM:Luke/Exposition of Luke/III. Preparation for Jesus' Ministry (3:1-4:13)/A. The Ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-20), Book Version: 4.0.2

[6] R. Alan Culpepper, Luke (NIB 8: Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995), 84

[7] N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, Kentucky, USA: WJK, 2004), 36

[8] William Hendricksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (NTC: Baker Academic: Grand Rapids Michigan, 2007), 208

[9] Cf. Jose Miranda.  Marx and the Bible: a Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression. Trans., John Eagleson. (New York: Orbis Books, 1979), 250 

[10] R. Alan Culpepper, Luke (NIB 8: Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995), 85.












your shopping is guaranteed safe using SSL

eStore account - Sign Up Now! Contact Us - General. Technical Support. Sales Jesus is amazing!  If you see this image tag you should know that He is THE way... not a way!  Grace!
Home Terms of Use Privacy Policy Sitemap Contact Us
copyright ARMYBARMY