Summary: Jesus met a lawyer trying to justify himself as being good enough for heaven. This message looks at two standards: Our standard of righteousness (or right living), which is the Law; and our standard of justification, which is Jesus.
I’ve entitled our message this evening “The Standard of Justification.” So, what is the standard by which we are justified before God and made free to enter heaven when we die? There are actually two standards that we’ll discover: One is our standard of righteousness (or right living), which is the Law; and the other is our standard of justification, which is Jesus Christ. The Law can never justify our actions before God; however, there are some people who try to use the Law in just such a way, attempting to keep the Commandments of God in the hope of working their way to heaven; but according to the Bible, the only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).
In our passage of Scripture we’ll see how Jesus encountered a lawyer who was using the Law to consider himself as good enough to earn eternal life; however, Jesus turned the Law around to its proper function. John R. W. Stott says, “We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses, to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt, and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ.”(1) You see, the Law can never be used to demonstrate a man’s goodness and worth, because it will only reveal his guilt; and we’re going to see tonight how Jesus used the Law to show an individual his exceeding sinfulness, and how he could only be justified by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Witnessing by Utilizing the Law (vv. 25-26)
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?”
The first thing we see in this passage is someone asking Jesus how to inherit or receive eternal life (v. 25). First of all, the person asking this question was a lawyer, and we’re going to come to find out that his motives were not at all sincere; but that’s beside the point. For right now, the point is that we’re confronted with a very important question; one for which many people are seeking an answer today: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” or “What must I do to go to heaven when I die?”
In response to this question, many pastors and evangelists would share “The ABC’s of Becoming a Christian”: “A,” admit to God that you’re a sinner and repent; “B,” believe that Jesus is the Son of God; and “C,” confess your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. There’s nothing wrong with the ABC’s, because they share the message of God’s grace – that God, in His rich love and mercy, sent Jesus to die for the sins of all mankind; and that if we’ll admit our sin and repent of it, and confess our faith in Jesus Christ, then we’ll be forgiven of our sin and receive eternal life. This is crucial information for a lost person; but notice that Jesus did not begin with the message of God’s grace. He began with something totally different.
In verse 26, Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?” He began witnessing to this lawyer by first sharing the Law. To simplify things, the Law is the Ten Commandments; however, in reality, there were actually 613 commandments. Jesus started with the Law, because the gospel does not make full sense until the Law is preached first. Robbie Flockhart, a renowned street preacher of the nineteenth century, said, “You must preach the Law, for the gospel is a silken thread, and you cannot get it into the hearts of men unless you have made a way for it with a sharp needle; the sharp needle of the Law will pull the silken thread of the gospel after it.”(2)
Justification Is Not By the Law (vv. 27-28)
27 So he answered and said, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
We continue to see how Jesus directed this lawyer to reflect on the Law. The lawyer recited two things he remembered. He spoke about loving God (v. 27), which is derived from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5; and then he spoke about loving one’s neighbor as oneself (v. 27), which is derived from Leviticus 19:18. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus stated about these two precepts of the Law that “on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (cf. 22:37-40). Therefore, the entire Law can be summarized in just two commandments, and keeping these two commandments in the forefront of one’s mind at all times will lead to observing most of the Law; most, but not all. Some call this “The Law of Love.”