In God’s faithfulness, He providentially brought to my attention some Scriptural details that I had completely forgotten. I regret my forgetfulness because the details in question are important and help to confirm the direction the Lord has been taking me for the last ten years or so. These details ought to be set before each student of God’s Word just as they stand in the text without any theological manipulation or cover-up.
You remember the story I’m sure. It is one of those Bible stories that is repeated so often that every child can basically tell the story. Three men see a badly hurt man beside the road. They are a Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The Priest and Levite crossed over to the other side of the road so they could avoid the man entirely. The Samaritan was the only one who felt compassion for the injured man and helped him. Then at that point, the preacher or teacher expounding upon Jesus’ story shows the need to reach out and meet the needs of others (even if they are hard to like or are our enemies). And while that is absolutely correct, it misses the main point of Jesus’ interaction with the self-defensive Lawyer who came to Jesus about a very important issue, one that he had analyzed correctly.
The Lawyer was a professional who was well-trained in the Law of the Old Testament. This particular Lawyer came up to Jesus to ask Him a question. But the question was also a test to see how Jesus would apply the commands in the Old Testament. One of the failures of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day was an inconsistency in applying the Word of God to its fullest extent (Matt. 5:21-48). And Jesus was consistently rebuking them for this.
The question that the Lawyer asked Jesus is of critical importance. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a straightforward question, simple in its scope and specific in its intent.
Teacher what must I do, what laws must I obey, what responses must I give for me to have any hope of obtaining eternal life?
Inheritances were gained by acting responsibly; they were not given gratis. In fact, a first-born son could lose the “double portion” of his inheritance by acting irresponsibly just as Reuben had done in the OT (1Chron. 5:1).
Preachers have trouble with the issue of eternal life today because they have misunderstood the basic issue. What is the eternal life referenced here and how does one obtain it.
Jesus responds to the Lawyer by asking basically, “How does the Old Testament answer your question? What answer do you find given there?”
Now that is an amazing response by our Lord. The Lawyer asked, “What shall I do?” and Jesus is referring him to the do’s of the Old Testament Law. And when the Lawyer answers, Jesus explicitly says that he has answered correctly! Then Jesus directed him to “do this [the commands just gleaned from the OT as a summary of the responsibilities that a man must fulfill to inherit eternal life] and you will live [i.e., you will inherit the eternal life that you seek].”
So, if we were to summarize the interaction between the Lawyer and Jesus at this point, it would go like this:
Lawyer: what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus: Do whatever the Law tells you to do. What do you think it requires of a person to reach this particular goal?
Lawyer: I believe that it requires a man to love God and to love his neighbor as he loves himself.
Jesus: Correct! Well done, sir. Do that and you will inherit the eternal life you seek.
That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It is for certain. But if the reader thinks that such a message can’t be true because, well, it doesn’t fit his theological beliefs, then, it can’t be left to stand as it is; it can’t be left to say what it is saying. There must be some evasion of the straightforward teaching that is given here.
If someone has made the mistake of believing that “inheriting eternal life” is synonymous with “going to heaven when I die,” or that “inheriting eternal life” is basically synonymous to “being saved and going to heaven” then he can’t possibly allow the message that is being given here to stand as it is. The contradiction to what he has been taught and believes is just too blatant, right?
But what does one do if these are not synonyms? What if “inheriting eternal life” is not the same as “being saved and going to heaven when I die”?
While there are several very important issues that should be carefully addressed, this short article can’t do that. But the most important of those topics of study is the clear affirmation by Jesus that the eternal life that is being sought here is indeed obtained by works of the Law and is not a grace issue. In fact, when Jesus’ answer is compared to those that we give today, it is clear that He did not say that eternal life was obtained by grace or by faith or by grace through faith, etc. He said, “Do this [the two commandments quoted by the Lawyer], and you will live [i.e., inherit the eternal life that you seek].”
If you have to explain away the straightforward messages of the Scriptures such as Jesus’ interaction with this Lawyer, then the theology that is leading you to make that choice is corrupt. It is really pretty simple.
We need to learn to bare our souls once again before the clear teaching of God’s Word and let it do a work on our character and our beliefs. But will we be too attached to our theology to do that again?
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