Summary: Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus: The Lostness of the Righteous Ruler
Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus:
The Lostness of the Righteous Ruler
March 7, 2010
Going to CA; Kevin reading
The rich ruler asked Jesus, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life.’ This man is a religious leader, probably a ruler of a synagogue, and a Pharisee because of his fastidious keeping of the law. His question betrays two presuppositions: he sees humanity as essentially good and secondly that there is something he can do to earn eternal life. Let’s look at the first. There are two ways to look at human goodness - culturally or biblically. Culturally we describe people as good if they obey the law, do good things in the community and are generally nice people. Most people we know are good people. But the bible describes the moral nature of people differently. The bible says that the condition of the heart determines whether an action is morally acceptable or not. Scripture describes that the heart as sinful by nature and so every action that flows from a sinful heart is sinful even if that action can be described culturally as good. For instance, we have in the Old Testament,”The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5 ESV). That is why Paul can say that we are ‘spiritually dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:1-3 ESV); see also Mat 12:33-37).
The second presupposition of the rich ruler is that he can do something to earn salvation. But if the human heart is sinful, we can do nothing to inherit eternal life because every action that flows from a sinful heart is sinful, and belittles God. That is why when someone does a good thing (i.e. donation; help others; even religious acts) it is still sinful. So when this ruler says he has kept the law, he believes he has (see also Phil 3:4-8). That is why Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs because they were religiously obedient but they neglected the sinfulness of their hearts. So even good deeds, including religious ones, condemn a person and belittle God. This ruler had kept the commands but that only doomed him. Jesus was saying to a good person, a good father, a religious leader, good mother, and wife, good church kids, business man, you’re a God belittling self exalting, self righteous sinner. Because his righteous was man made it was sinful. This is where the law for good people sends you to the cross and to Jesus. Because the law not only makes you a sinner when you disobey it, the law also makes you a sinner when you obey it because it makes you a self righteous, self justified, pride filled religious bigot so you are doomed either way. The law was not written so you can obey it (Israel) but to show us that regardless of what we do are doomed. Self righteousness is the premier enemy of the gospel in the New Testament and embodied by Pharisees like the rich ruler who are religious, moralists, clean cut, conservative Republicans, who don’t get the gospel because they see themselves as good people. People who flagrantly sin understand the gospel much easier (see Luke 19:1-10). That is why in the story of the prodigal Father the younger brother understands grace but the older brother despises his father’s actions and hates his younger brother.
But there is also a form of self righteousness that plagues the younger brother types who have come from sinful backgrounds and who are the unconventional, liberal, non religious types. These anti-legalists can be just as guilty of self righteousness but in the opposite direction. They become self righteous toward the religious types. Which form of self righteousness do you tend to lean toward? The Good News is that Gods grace reaches both. Let’s move on.
Jesus tells the rich ruler, one thing you still lack. ‘Go sell all you have and give to the poor, then come follow me and you will have treasures in heaven.’ The ruler leaves the conversation very sad because he was extremely rich. Jesus’ conclusion is that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. He is saying it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom. The disciples are shocked by Jesus’ answer because in Jewish culture the religious wealthy were blessed by God. Jesus responds with, ‘the things impossible with man are possible with God (literally in Greek).’ Salvation is humanly impossible; it is only possible because of the miracle God does in the human heart. The history of the kingdom, God’s program is the history of one miracle after another to ensure Gods program is fulfilled – the miraculous birth of Isaac; the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt; miraculous virgin birth of Jesus; our salvation; the consummation of history in the New Heaven and New Earth; and everything in between. What is impossible with man is possible with God. It is humanly impossible for the ‘sinner’ to save himself and it is humanly impossible for the ‘religious moralist’ to save himself also. Both require the miracle of new birth.