(Ninth of a Series)
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
There were those on the Areopagus [in ancient Athens] who sought the answers to life in their philosophy, speculation, and reasoning. It was clear on that mount that they contemplated the products of the human mind. Those who seek to justify themselves in our Lord’s day or in ours appeal to God for their work-righteousness. They would use the Ten Commandments which, they say, God gave as the means for reward after this life.
That was the approach of this rich young ruler when he asked, “Good Teacher, what good deed shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
To us this is so pathetic, for this was not just an aberration of the Jews of Jesus’ day; it is also the way of the prestigious lodges. This ‘works’ religion is also basic to the largest visible Christian denomination, the church of the Antichrist. Even among numerous Protestant denominations, it has established a beachhead.
The Lord is gentle with this fellow, who is looking for the answer to the question and not just trying to test Jesus or trip Him up. When Jesus refers him to the commandments, the ruler states he has kept them. Jesus does not point out that he has not done so but moves on to a requirement that would show whether the man really wanted eternal life. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Oh, oh! Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The man went away sorrowing, for he had great possessions.
The immense wealth and prosperity of our society is both a blessing and a curse. We Christians have more to give for our Lord’s work. The technology of our society can be harnessed for His purposes. But for so very many people, wealth is a trap. They fall in and are taken hook, line, and sinker. It is to such materialists that we want to speak.
With examples from Holy Scripture we are trying to learn ways and attitudes which will better enable us to witness to our Lord. These examples, drawn from the four Gospels and from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, are by no means exhaustive.
As with the basketball strategy of one-on-one, we are looking at examples of one Christian witnessing to another individual. We are not considering what was said to individuals already in the faith, though that is also applicable. We are not considering what was said to groups, though that also is applicable as a witnessing technique. We will be considering various situations where it was one-on-one, and the one being witnessed to was living in unbelief….
The ultimate goal in all witnessing is to be like John the baptizer and point to Christ as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. While we want to try earnestly to develop our skills in this area, we don’t want to forget John’s motto,
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
No matter what spiritual gifts we have and how we develop them, we are not looking for glory for ourselves. We are looking to have another soul join us in glorifying our Savior-God.
When we do, we must make clear the dichotomy between Christ ruling life or mammon dictating, in effect, disaster; between eternal life or eternal death; between forgiveness from above or work righteousness from man. We don’t want to mince words lest one get the wrong idea and suppose he can serve both Christ and mammon. Neither should we be daunted if our prospect goes away sorrowing. Conversion can yet happen by the power of the Spirit working through the Word.
But before we depart the encounter, we should offer opportunity for the hearer to decide. He doesn’t have to, but why not give him the chance? We may have been overly cautious in this due to the error of the Reformed in their ‘decision theology.’ At least we want to leave the prospect with the idea that it is either-or.
So many passages warn us against materialism. Lay not up…the camel and the eye of the needle…into temptation, into a snare….
In response to his original work-righteous question of “what good deed shall I do?”, we also have ample passages. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12) [“…for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16).]
Jesus sought to show the man that his own righteousness was not as perfect as he thought, because he would not ‘do good’ by giving up his wealth and following the Teacher.