Monday, July 30, 2007

The rich, young, delusional ruler (part 3)

The young ruler reveals yet another delusion in his response to Jesus’ citing of the commands he must follow. The Lord Jesus says-
Luke 18:20 “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

Most of us would be very depressed having received such a statement about what our obedience must look like to be right with God. Yet the young ruler, very sure of his righteousness, takes note of Jesus’ words- familiar to any devout Jew- the last five commandments having to do with our duty to our fellow men-and makes a remarkable statement in verse 21-

Luke 18:21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

Imagine that! Jesus says that you must not commit adultery, not murder, not steal, not lie, and honor your father and your mother. The man says he has broken none of them! In a sense, the man might be right. At least he might genuinely believe himself to have kept these. Remember, the old Jewish way of thinking of these commands pertained to the outward activity not the thoughts of the heart. It was Jesus who clarified if a man hates his brother he was guilty of murder. It was Jesus who said if you look at a woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. To the religious, works-focused Jew, it might be possible to say with some confidence that you have never committed adultery, murder, or stolen anything Perhaps the outward works-oriented Jew could say he had never told a lie nor disobeyed his parents. Really, the ruler’s statement makes some sense if you consider how he probably viewed obedience to these commandments. Among many other things, what Jesus does in His coming is to bring clarity to these ageless commands. God has always been concerned with the heart. The heart is manifested by our actions. Hate begets murder. Lust begets adultery. Covetousness or envy begets stealing (I sound like Yoda here). Sin starts in the heart. Making our outward actions look holy doesn't necessarily indicate we are truly holy.

Yes, to the watching public, the man was righteous and blameless. To God, who could see his heart, he was guilty. The corruption of our heart renders our works as filthy to the Lord. Isaiah captured this long ago:

Isaiah 64:6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousness are like filthy rags;

The man had a serious delusion about his righteousness. He misunderstood a fundamental truth of fallen man, including himself:

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

The man had a serious delusion about his depravity. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the last century made this amazing statement about his own his own depravity (what? A preacher depraved? horrors!):

They see only what which is good in me; they see me only at my best. I shudder when I realize how unworthy I am and how ignorant they are of the dark and hidden recesses of my soul where all that is devilish and hideous reigns supreme, at times breaking through onto the surface and causing a turmoil that God and I alone know of.

The fact of man's total depravity is doctrine rarely preached anymore. Why don’t we feel as wicked as the doctrine says we are? For the same reason that a fish doesn’t feel wet- because it is immersed.

The Rich Young Ruler was deluded about his righteousness. Why did Jesus pose such a response to the man? Why did he respond to the man’s question about inheriting eternal life as he did? I believe Jesus was holding forth a portion of the Decalogue in order to test the man’s understanding of himself. If the man had responded, “Master, I have sinned in many ways according to Thy Law”, it would have show him ripe for salvation. In fact, an honest understanding of our unrighteousness when confronted by the sinless Christ may indicate regeneration has already occurred. Our profession of faith in Christ then serves as the fruit of being born again.

We have to get over the delusion that man is somehow basically good or mostly good. According to God’s authoritative word-

Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;

10 comments:

Frontier Forest said...

I am certainly the poorer! Have to confess, never before heard of this great man of honest humility. I bet when Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones brought forth a message, there was plenty of weeping an gnashing of teeth.
O’ the peace…to realize growing in Him, separates us from who we once were. Yet further joy comes, even in greater abundance, when we understand who we have become in Christ. Real growth is the inner-joy of not needing attention. Recognition can be like falling through the ice. One needs to be prepared for the unexpected, insulated from self and well protected from “over exposure” of flesh.

William said...

Great Stuff Pastor! (I know when Newton was once told he gave a good sermon he told a man, "The devil told me the same thing before you did." That book has really gotten into my head!). However, the post was really thought provoking. I may often be on a completely opposite (albeit equally damaging) position from the rich young ruler. That being the perspective of the poor, middle-aged, non-ruler. NONE of these have a I kept from my youth up. I frequently see the personal, total depravity (a true gift of grace) but sometimes have difficulty in grasping the grace available to cure the depravity. I have never really been one to "think I was okay." I have always had a pretty instrospective attitude, tender conscience (even though it was gradually being seared) and awareness of sin in myself. The difficulty has been in looking only to Christ for grace. The rich young ruler struggled with pride for sure but this poor, middle-aged, non-ruler struggles with it as well only it is masked in what AA calls "terminal uniqueness." To think that somehow I am beyond the scope of God's grace and Christ's blood is blasphemy. I can believe the chair will hold me all day long, it's only when I sit in the chair that I find rest. Perhaps that is a poor and hokey analogy (as they say, "all analogies break down at some point"), however, it gives me some perspective on the difference between mental assent (Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of all who repent)and saving faith (I believe that He died to save me and that belief is evidenced by resting in that confidence). I seemed to have gotten "off topic" a bit. The original point I was trying to make was that pride can take two forms. In America, people in general are overconfident of their righteousness and believe, as Sproul says, in "justification by death" (not Christ's death mind you, but their own death -- i.e. everyone who dies goes to a "better place"). However, there are unfortunately some of us who feel exactly opposite of that. I can disqualify myself from believing I am saved in a "New York minute." I am in good company though . . . William Cowper had some serious struggles and so did John Buyan early on in his writings ("Grace Abounding to the Chiefest of Sinners"). However, my twisted mind says, "Yeah, Cowper and Bunyan struggled, but I'm a REAL sinner." It's THE original sin (of Lucifer) . . . PRIDE. Pretty Rotten I Dare Exclaim (P-R-I-D-E). (original acronym provided for your enjoyment). Pride once again. Blessings to you and thanks for making me think.

Jim said...

Hmm. Isn't there a problem in that Jesus advances neither your part 2 nor part 3 responses?

After all, it is Jesus in Lk 18.20 who introduces the commandments in answer to the young man's v. 18 question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" If the passage pivots around v. 18, then Jesus would seem to be leading the young man into error.

And in response to the young man's v. 21 response "All these things I have kept from my youth," Jesus doesn't say, "Hypocrite! You haven't really kept them." Instead, he says, "One thing you still lack . . ."

I'd suggest that the text pivots around the idolatry of riches, as suggested in v. 22, which seems to be the point toward which Jesus moves the young man through his questioning, rather than pivoting around v. 18.

After all, even the Scriptures say that some people, like Zacharias and Elizabeth "were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord" (Lk 1.6). Who's to say that Jesus' v. 18 answer to the rich young rule isn't a like synecdoche?

Given the direction of his dialogue with Jesus, it seems to me that the rich young ruler's problem is idolatry, not a false conception that salvation can be earned.

AJF said...

Good point Jim, however I'll still stand by the first 3 posts. There's a 4th one coming that addresses the idolatry issue...that is the heart of what Jesus addresses, no doubt, but the lack of a formal rebuke at every point doesn't mean Jesus agreed.

rgmann said...

Jim wrote:

"Given the direction of his dialogue with Jesus, it seems to me that the rich young ruler's problem is idolatry, not a false conception that salvation can be earned."

Actually, I believe the rich young ruler's problem was both idolatry (i.e., a love of money) and the false notion that he could merit eternal life by his works. It's a "both/and" not an "either/or" situation. John Calvin's comments on this passage seem right on the mark to me. After pointing out that the rich young ruler was generally a "good" man, and wasn't trying to trip Jesus up ("as the scribes were wont to do"), he wrote:

"But, on the other hand, a blind confidence in his works hindered him from profiting under Christ, to whom, in other respects, he wished to be submissive... But, in order to form a more correct judgment of the meaning of the answer, we must attend to the form of the question. He does not simply ask how and by what means he shall reach life, but what good thing he shall do, in order to obtain it (see Matt. 19:16). He therefore dreams of merits, on account of which he may receive eternal life as a reward due; and therefore Christ appropriately sends him to the keeping of the law, which unquestionably is the way of life, as I shall explain more fully afterwards..."

"Hence we infer, that this reply of Christ is legal, because it was proper that the young man who inquired about the righteousness of works should first be taught that no man is accounted righteous before God unless he has fulfilled the law, (which is impossible,) that, convinced of his weakness, he might betake himself to the assistance of faith. I acknowledge, therefore, that, as God has promised the reward of eternal life to those who keep his law, we ought to hold by this way, if the weakness of our flesh did not prevent; but Scripture teaches us, that it is through our own fault that it becomes necessary for us to receive as a gift what we cannot obtain by works..."

"But, intoxicated with foolish confidence, he fearlessly boasts that he has discharged his duty properly from his childhood. Paul acknowledges that the same thing happened to himself, that, so long as the power of the law was unknown to him, he believed that he was alive; but that, after he knew what the law could do, a deadly wound was inflicted on him, (Romans 7:9)."

Of course, Calvin has many other great things to say, and I would highly recommend reading his entire commentary on this passage.

AJF said...

Great insights...you guys are ahead of me...there is much to learn from this delusional young man...

Jim said...

The thing is, why would we assume that the rich-young ruler is asking for anything more than what Jesus says about good deeds and eternal life in John 5.29-30:

"an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."

None of us has a problem with what I believe is the conventional understanding of this passage -- to wit, those who do good are resurrected to life because their works are made good in Christ. "Good deeds" are just synechdoche for the faith in Christ which produces good deeds and salvation.

What basis is there to assume that the rich-young ruler is asking about "good deeds" in any other way than the way Jesus talks about them in John 5? Jesus' response -- "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" -- is a terrible response is the young man if he is in fact confused about works righteousness.

But it is an entirely appropriate response if the real question that Jesus is pushing the young man to answer is, "who or what is your Lord."

And Jesus' last response is of the same character -- if you want to enter eternal life, do this: sell all you have and give the proceeds to the poor; come and follow me.

Sadly, the young man's god is mammon. But trusting mammon as your god rather than trusting Jesus Christ is not the same thing as thinking that you can earn God's favor by doing good deeds.

rgmann said...

Jim wrote:

What basis is there to assume that the rich-young ruler is asking about "good deeds" in any other way than the way Jesus talks about them in John 5?

The very manner in which he asked Jesus this question is the basis: "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16). What convinced, guilt-ridden sinner would ever ask such a question? He clearly believed that he could earn or merit eternal life by his good deeds. At the very least he believed that his good deeds contributed to his justification before God (which is not only official Roman Catholic dogma, but is now taught in many so-called "Reformed" and "Presbyterian" churches as well!).

Jesus' answer to his question is quite straightforward and to the point: "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (v. 17). Was Jesus lying? God forbid! His answer is what is clearly taught in the law (e.g., Lev. 18:5; Rom. 2:13; 10:5; Gal. 3:12; etc.). Paul specifically states that the purpose of the commandments "was to bring life" (Rom. 7:10). Indeed, a life of perfect and complete obedience to the law is the only ground or basis upon which any man will obtain eternal life and be accepted by God. The problem is not God's law, which is "holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12), but our sinful nature (Rom. 7:11-13). Which brings me to my next point.

The rich young ruler's reply to Jesus is likewise the basis for this interpretation: "All these things I have kept from my youth" (Matt. 19:20). This man was self-righteous. He believed he had kept "all" of God's commandments from his youth. No he hadn't! Maybe in an outward, superficial sense, but not in their true, spiritual sense. He was as guilty as the rest of mankind (e.g., Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 3:9-20; etc.), and deserving of God's wrath.

Jesus' response -- "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" -- is a terrible response is the young man if he is in fact confused about works righteousness.

Not if His intent was to point out the young man's sin and guilt in failing to keep the law, which he so foolishly believed to have fulfilled. And that is precisely what Jesus did. By telling him to sell everything he had and give to the poor, Jesus masterfully brought to light the one commandment he was most guilty of. That's why, "when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful" (Matt. 19:22). Not only was he openly exposed for breaking God's law, but he was unwilling to turn to Christ for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus' intention was perfectly accomplished. He had stripped away this man's self-delusion. Never again could he honestly say: "All these things I have kept from my youth." Christ had used the law in the way that it was meant to be used with sinners: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19).

Jim said...

rgmann,

Thanks for the interaction. I don't want to be a bore (nor a boar), so I'll do my best to make this my last comment.

But I do have two questions:

First, on your reading, in what sense can Luke truthfully write of Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1.6, that they "were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord"?

Secondly, where is the command in the law that requires people to sell all of their property and give the proceeds to poor people?

My only interest is with an accurate exegesis of the passage, as I am sure it is your only interests, as well as Reepicheep's.

I agree with all of your theological statements regarding works righteousness. I just do not see that they have much to do with the actual text, and am loath, as I am sure you are as well, to import an extra-textual agenda -- no matter how true and commendable the doctrine -- and make a text confess it.

While post-Reformation sensibilities don't let us talk the way the young man talked (and I certainly wouldn't express myself the way he does -- no Lutheran would), I am concerned that we nonetheless remain able to accommodate texts that affirm, as Luke does, that, in some true way, some people can be described as "righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord" and that we can affirm non-problematically, as Jesus put it, that those who will receive the resurrection of life are "those who did the good deeds."

Otherwise, people who read those passages might think that they are inconsistent with a theology that teaches that justification is by grace alone through faith alone, and might be tempted to conclude that the Bible teaches some syncretic form of faith and works.

Hmm, here's a final thought: This might be a plausible test of my claim about the text -- Look at sermons and commentaries on the text by early church fathers, and see what they focus on, i.e., whether they see the text primarily as a warning about works righteousness, or as a text about loving God above all things.

If early (pre-Reformation) exegetes also understand the text primarily to warn against works righteousness, I'll concede that my exegetical scruples have been misplaced in regard to the text. (And just to be clear, I'm not at all suggesting that you have the burden of doing this, rgmann, I'll take a look when I get home tonight.)

rgmann said...

Jim,

I’ve enjoyed the interaction with you as well. Thank you for your comments. I’ll try to "briefly" answer your questions, but I’m prone to being long-winded, so please bear with me.

First, on your reading, in what sense can Luke truthfully write of Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1.6, that they "were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord"?

Since Scripture should always interpret Scripture (WCF 1.9), I do not believe that Zacharias and Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God” because of their obedience to the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. Scripture clearly refutes such a position:

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)

“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’” (Galatians 3:11-12)

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Romans 4:2-3)

Thus, Zacharias and Elizabeth were accounted righteous “before God” solely by the righteousness of Jesus Christ -- received through faith alone -- by which all of the saints have been made righteous, both before and after the coming of Christ (see Acts 15:11).

Regarding their “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord,” I believe John Gill’s comments on this passage are right on the mark:

“…and as to their moral and religious character and conduct before men, they did not indulge themselves in any known sin, but lived in all good conscience among men: nor were they remiss and negligent in the discharge of duty: they were not guilty of any notorious breach of the law of God, or of any remarkable negligence in the business of religious observances: and though they might observe enough in them to charge themselves with, and to humble themselves before God and men; yet so strict were they, in their lives and conversations, that those who were the most intimately acquainted with them, had nothing very material to blame them for.”

Secondly, where is the command in the law that requires people to sell all of their property and give the proceeds to poor people?

Of course there is no such command. But I think you’re missing the point. As I wrote in my previous post, by telling the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give to the poor “Jesus masterfully brought to light the one commandment he was most guilty of” (i.e., idolatry/love of money and possessions), a clear violation of God’s law. Since he was violating God’s law in this one area (at the very least!), Jesus demonstrated that he disqualified himself from earning eternal life “by keeping the commandments” (see Gal. 3:10; Jas. 2:10).

I am concerned that we nonetheless remain able to accommodate texts that affirm, as Luke does, that, in some true way, some people can be described as "righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord" and that we can affirm non-problematically, as Jesus put it, that those who will receive the resurrection of life are "those who did the good deeds."

Since Paul states that God’s redeemed people “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10), and James says that genuine faith produces good deeds (Jas. 2:14-26), I see no problem with either of these passages. However, for the reasons outlined in my former posting, I don’t believe either of them apply to Christ’s discussion with the rich young ruler.

By the way, I’ll try to find the time to look up a few pre-Reformation commentators on this text, and see what they have to say. Take care.