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32. Perfection: Absolute Demand, Absolute Response

Chapter 32

Perfection: Absolute Demand, Absolute Response

In concluding these Biblical studies on regen­eration, renewal and perfection, we do well, by way of a summary, to return to the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19.16ff. This is one of the most difficult Scripture passages to exegete and to expound, because it is extremely difficult to get to the heart of the Lord’s message here.

Why Is It So Difficult to Understand the Lord’s Life-giving Words?

The difficulty lies not so much in Jesus’ teaching as within ourselves. We have the natural inclination to reject what we do not want to hear. That is why the Lord says, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Mt.13.13). This “hardness of heart” is innate to the human heart, and the apostles themselves were no exception to this (Mk.16.14). It is this hardness that constitutes the humanly insur­mountable obstacle within us to understanding what Jesus is saying to us. The tendency is to interpret his teachings superficially, and to evade the cen­tral message altogether. Unless, therefore, the Lord has mercy upon us to help us open our hearts, we will never understand his mess­age.

In an earlier chapter we discussed the question: Does the Lord Jesus preach one gospel and the apostle Paul another? Whereas Jesus demands absolute obedience and commitment, Paul seems to be preaching an easy gospel. Are they preaching the same gospel, or are these two different gospels? We have already shown that, undoubtedly, they do preach the same gospel; but we need to go deeper into the heart of the matter.

1. Eternal Life and the Commandments

The story of the rich young ruler is crucial be­cause it answers the most important question that one could ask: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Mt.19.16, NIV). The whole account, in fact, contains the Lord’s teaching on salvation in a nutshell. The great danger is to think that we know the answer to the young man’s question, when we actually understand it less than he does.

To refresh our memory, let us recall that in response to the young man’s earnest inquiry, Jesus replies, “If you want to enter life, keep the command­ments” (v.17).

The young man asks the next question, “Which commandments?” Jesus replies:

You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (v.18,19)

The young man says, “All these I have ob­served; what do I still lack?” Then Jesus gives him a most important reply:

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (vv.20,21)

Hearing this, the young man walks away dejectedly because he is exceedingly rich. Then Jesus says to his disciples,

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell 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” (vv.23,24).

How do we inherit eternal life? Are you con­fident that you know the answer to that question? Let us put aside all the theology we have learned, and listen afresh to what the Lord is saying as if we had never heard him speak before. A common danger is that our preconceived ideas often hinder us from listening to the gospel honestly and without prejudice.

To the question, “What must I do to get eternal life?” the Lord’s surprising answer is this: “If you want to enter life, obey the com­mand­ments.” Most Christians would immediately protest: “That can’t be right! (Interpretation: If Jesus’ teaching doesn’t accord with our doctrines, it is he, not us, who is wrong!) According to our theology, that would be salvation by works! Anyway, no one is saved by keeping the com­mandments.” But like it or not, that is what the Lord plainly says. Whether or not his teaching suits our theology, is immaterial.

If, however, we audaciously reject the Lord’s own explicit words we had better be ready to give a good explanation for that when we stand before him, assuming that will be of any avail. How quickly and daringly we allow our theology to reject Jesus’ plain and unam­biguous words. And when we cannot escape his words, we concede that though he did say them, that was not what he meant! The inescapable fact is that Jesus does say to the rich young ruler, in unmistakably clear language, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

If you are still unhappy about this, then con­sider another, unrelated incident, in which a lawyer asks Jesus the very same question, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25). To our surprise, the Lord gives the same answer: “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” The lawyer replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus responds positively, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (v.28). Like it or not, you must keep the commandments in order to inherit eternal life. The Lord gives the same answer to the lawyer as to the rich young ruler. The answer comes from Jesus’ own mouth. No matter what our theology says, we would be wise to tune our ears to what Jesus is saying.

2. The Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments

When the young man asks, “Which com­mand­ments?” Jesus presents the well-known list of command­ments: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, and so on. The stress is not, however, on keeping these individual commandments, but on keep­ing the commandments as a whole. Therefore, all these are summed up in the last item: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt.19.19). Jesus cites the latter half of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), all five of which have to do with the neigh­bor; and these five commandments are all in the negative form: “You shall not…”

It will probably not have escaped anyone’s notice that most of the Ten Commandments are in negative form. Only two are stated in positive terms, namely, the fourth and fifth command­ments: Keep the Sabbath (seventh) day holy and honor your father and mother.

But upon closer inspection even these two are essentially negative in character. How is the Sabbath day to be kept holy? By not doing any work on that day (Ex.20.10; Dt.5.14). It is not speci­fied in the Ten Command­ments what is to be done on that day. The whole stress is on not doing. No works are prescribed.

As for the command to honor father and mother, it must mean essentially: do not dishonor father and mother; because beyond that the commandment does not specify what one must do to honor them. Again, no specific works are prescribed. Surprisingly, the Old Testa­ment does not specifically link a command to obey one’s parents with the command to honor the parents, though such a connection could probably be assumed[92]. It is only in the New Testament that we find the injunction, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph.6.1; cf. Col.3.20).[93]

At a certain time in life, when children reach a certain age and financial capability, one possible way of fulfilling the command to honor one’s parents might be to provide for them financially if they are in need. But even this does not apply to the many people whose parents have passed away before they (the children) reached the age, or attained the financial capability, when they could have helped to support their parents had they been in need. Also, in many cases today, the parents are financially better off, or at least as well off, as compared to their children and do not need their support. So there is no uniform way of implement­ing this command in a positive form which is applicable in all or even in most cases.

It is evident that keeping negative commands does not involve doing anything, but is rather a matter of refraining from doing certain things. This should not be very difficult. Yet we must remember that Adam and Eve failed when instructed to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Thus keeping the Ten Commandments is largely a matter of not doing rather than doing. It is essentially a matter of refraining from doing certain specified acts. The keeping of these com­mandments is not a matter of works, especially when we again take note of the fact that Jesus only mentions the second half of the Ten Commandments which are all negative or prohib­itive.

To our surprise, therefore, the Ten Commandments do not provide any basis for a teaching of salvation by works. Many Christ­ians have the ignorant and (especially to the Jews) outrageous notion that Jews seek salvation by works (i.e. by observing the commandments) while Christians are saved not by doing works of any kind but by grace alone. In fact, as we have seen, it is possible to fulfill the written requirements of the Ten Commandments by doing nothing! —no works!

For this reason, the rich young man thinks he has kept the Ten Commandments. Nor does Jesus reject that claim. The young man, ever since his youth, has indeed genuinely refrained from breaking any of the commandments.

There are Christians and even non-Christians who have not deliberately broken the Ten Commandments. There are non-Christ­ians who could truthfully say, “To my knowledge, I haven’t broken any of the Ten Commandments. I have never wor­shipped an idol, killed someone, taken God’s name in vain, committed adultery, or robbed.” I myself was one of these. The apostle Paul, speaking of himself in the days when he hadn’t met Jesus, could say of his non-Christian life, “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless” (Phil.3.6). There are moral people who have kept the external requirements of the Law—by simply doing nothing that would transgress any of the commands.

But Jesus turns the Ten Commandments inside out, as it were, and brings out the positive character within it. Keeping the commandments is no longer just a matter of refraining from doing what the Law forbids. Now it means to fulfill the spirit of the Law, represented by the two greatest commandments: love for God and love for neighbor. This emerges clearly from the fact that, having quoted the second half of the Ten Commandments, Jesus summarizes those commands with the words “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt.19.19). These words are not a part of the Ten Commandments but are found in Leviticus 19.18. The command to love cannot be obeyed just by doing nothing.

This makes it clear that when Jesus says, “Keep the com­mandments and you will live,” he is not referring merely to the Ten Commandments in negative form, but to the two great com­mandments in positive form. If you love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself, you will inherit eternal life. On two separate occasions, Jesus gives the same answer to the same question about eternal life.

What has this got to do with regeneration, renewal and perfection? Everything! As we have seen in previous chapters, these are the three aspects of salvation in the Biblical message. They have to do with the whole question of inheriting eternal life that the rich young man was asking. It is precisely in answer to the question about eternal life that Jesus speaks of keeping the commandments and of perfection (“If you would be perfect…” Mt.19.21).

Keeping the commandments and perfection are not two different things, but one and the same, provided we understand that Jesus does not refer to the negative commandments alone but sums these up in the all-embracing positive command, “love your neighbor as yourself”. If we are wondering what this command has to do with perfect­ion, we need only ask, “How can one who is not perfect keep this command?” It quickly becomes obvious that whoever can keep it is perfect, Christ-like. Once we grasp this, we perceive that Jesus’ ref­erence to the commandments and to being perfect are two aspects of the same thing.

As for the command to love the neighbor as oneself, if we understand this positive command at all, we will realize that it is humanly impossible to keep it. Since this has to do with Jesus’ reply to the question about inheriting eternal life, it is bound to lead eventually to the query: “Who then can be saved?” (Mt.19.25). The reason for Jesus’ answer, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19.26), now becomes clear.

What Do I Still Lack?

The rich young man might not fully under­stand the spirit of the law, but to his credit he knows that something is lacking in his life. Although, as far as he knows, he has kept the commandments faithfully, he senses that something is amiss. Do you sense that something is lacking in your own life too? Or that your relationship with God is weak? Or that your prayers are not getting through? Or that you have no spiritual direction? Or that you cannot do the good you want to do?

We can imagine the rich young man saying thoughtfully, “I have kept the command­ments to the best of my knowledge. Yet some­thing is missing. What is it?” The Lord answers him, “Since you are asking me, let me tell you. What is missing in your life is a total response to God. You have made a response in terms of keeping the commandments, but it is not a total response because you do not love God with all your heart.”

3. Absolute Demand, Total Response

God requires nothing less than total commit­ment. The nature of the new life in Christ is such that we cannot live it without total commit­ment. From our own life experience we know that we cannot live the victorious Christian life if our obedience to God is partial. Perfection is nothing more, nothing less, than the fulfilling of God’s absolute requirements by the grace which He supplies freely and abundantly. An absolute demand calls for an absolute response. “Absolute” here means total or complete as distinct from partial or inadequate.

That Paul concurs completely with Jesus is seen in the way Paul teaches God’s absolute requirements. Paul begins by going all the way back to the creation, for it is on the basis of the creation that God makes an absolute demand on all mankind. Man knew God as the Creator, who not only brought him into existence but who, in His love for man, also “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1Tim.6.17). Yet, “even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God” (Ro.1.21). Instead they went their own self-willed way, and refused to love, honor and serve the living God.

To Christians Paul says, “In view of God’s mercy (in Christ), offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Ro.12.1). It is in our bodies that we live in the world as living persons; therefore, to offer our bodies to God means offering up ourselves to Him as living persons. How can we offer our bodies without offering our whole being? To kill the body is to kill the person; to sacrifice the body is to sacrifice the whole person. How can anyone suggest that Paul’s teaching does not call for a total response to God?

But the gospel, as it is often presented today, not infrequently portrays God as a fatherly figure who demands nothing from us except that we be good and kind enough to believe in Jesus. God sent His only Son into the world, so please show him some kindness by accepting him. God, who is lenient and soft-hearted, says, “I demand nothing from you, but please spare an hour of your time every week to honor Me by going to church and dropping a few coins into the offering box (but only if you want to).” This beggarly portrayal of God is nothing less than an insult.

That is not the God of the Bible. God is Creator of heaven and earth, and King of kings. He “commands all people every­where to repent” (Acts 17.30). He is enthroned above, seated above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40.22). On judgment day, you and I will answer to Him. If He is not God absolutely, then on what basis or authority can He decide man’s eternal fate at the Judg­ment? But because He is the supreme God, He has the authority to send a person to heaven or to hell according to His righteousness and justice.

Paul says we must all stand before the judg­ment seat of Christ, and give an account of what we have done (Ro.14.10; 2Co.5.10). This fact is not negated even if you don’t believe in God. On the contrary, you will have to give an account to God for your unbelief.

God, the sovereign Lord of all, does not merely ask for an hour on Sunday, or a few coins in the offering box. He demands everything. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength”—notice the fourfold “all”! That is total indeed! He does not beg; He commands.

Jesus expresses the authority of his Father even in his compassion. He looks at the rich young man and loves him (Mk.10.21). Yet, in spite of his deep compassion for him, Jesus does not reduce the absolute demand by one iota.

4. One Gospel for the Rich and Another for the Poor?

Jesus says to the rich young ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mt.19.21, NIV)

In this day of diluted Christianity, a thou­sand voices will protest: “This can’t be true for everyone! This teaching applies to the rich young man, not to us!” But do we really think there is one gospel for the rich, and one for the poor? We see only one gospel in the Bible. If there is another gospel, it must be a false one. Everyone, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, is saved through the same gospel. Does the Lord custom-design a gospel for the rich young man? If he does, what then is the gospel for the poor?

There are people who try to invent another gospel because they want to flee from the sword of the Spirit, which penetrates our hearts and discerns our thoughts (Heb.4.12; Eph.6.17). We do well to submit to that sword if we wish to enter life.

5. Giving as a Spiritual Key

What is the heart of the matter? What is Jesus saying to the rich young man? That he can gain eternal life by selling his possess­ions? That a millionaire can buy eternal life for a million dollars, and a poor man can do the same for two dollars, so long as you empty your bank account? Again we see the danger of looking at things externally.

The Lord speaks of four things: go, sell, give, come—in that order. The young man must go before he can sell; and sell before he can give; and give before he can come to Jesus.

The key idea is to give. Giving is at the heart of the matter. It is human nature to grab and snatch, but the Lord wants to transform our grabbing attitude into a giving spirit. The point is not just to sell your possessions, or else you might say to yourself, “How fortunate I am, my possessions are worth only twenty dollars. I can inherit eternal life for twenty dollars!” Do we think God’s character is so superficial?

There is but one gospel for rich and poor alike. Everyone, rich or poor, must have a transformed heart attitude, from that of taking and grabbing, to that of giving and helping.

By nature we make decisions or make friends according to how much benefit we get. Whether I join a certain group or not, will depend on how much I can get out of it. It will depend on whether those in the group will give me help, encouragement, or money when I need these things. If I get what I want, then I would say it is a wonderful group. But if some in my group need my help in terms of encouragement or some other form of assistance, or if they tax my patience, then I consider them undesirable and even reprehensible.

Let us examine our own attitude. If someone gives us a hundred dollars, we say, “Hallelu­jah! God is so kind to me.” But if God tells us to pass it to a needy person, we say, “Why me? There are richer people around.” It is not in our nature to think that it is blessed to give, even to the needy. Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20.35).

Isn’t it true that our mindset thinks in terms of what we can get, not what we can contribute? Is this not a prevailing attitude among Christians, even among those who claim to be regenerate? We attend meetings with the aim of getting, not giving. The carnal man—the man of the flesh—wants to get and get, and hoard and hoard—until his possessions choke him. It takes a miracle to transform a grabbing attitude into a giving attitude.

How did the rich young man become rich? Was it not by keeping what he already had, and storing up what he was regularly receiving by way of additional income? No one can become rich who gives away what he possesses and, after using what he needs, does not store up what he receives. The young man most probably inherited his wealth, and now he hoped also to inherit eternal life. But he had to learn that we are only God’s stewards of our possessions. Such possessions as we have, whether much or little, are what He has entrusted to us. As His stewards we use what He has given us according to His instructions.

God is a God who is always giving, and we must learn to do the same if we hope to inherit eternal life. The rich young man’s failure at this crucial point stands as a stern warning to us. He will have all eternity to reflect on his tragic failure. To be perfect as God is perfect also means to be giving as He is giving.

How can the two great commandments be carried out if not through the attitude and action of giving? It is in the nature of love to give. To truly love God with the fourfold “all” is, in practice, to give all. This means that we give our whole being to God, and our possessions to meet the needs of our poor neighbors, whom we love as if they were ourselves.

It now becomes clear that what the Lord told the rich young ruler to do (go, sell, give, come) was nothing more or less than the implementation of the two great commands. And these two commands apply to everyone, not only to the young man.

The Collier Brothers

A striking example of the grabbing mentality is seen in the Collier brothers. They were two wealthy bachelors who were famous in their time, more than half a century ago. The Collier brothers were so stingy that they remained single for fear that marriage could prove to be expensive. In those days there were very few career women who could support themselves.

So miserly were the Collier brothers that they would not throw anything away, not even a newspaper, a magazine or an empty bottle. They had inherited a big mansion, but with time the mansion became cluttered almost up to the ceiling with newspapers, maga­zines, bottles and jars. Hoarding had reached the level of absurdity. The rooms in the mansion were filled with all this garbage that they would not throw away.

They did not install a telephone line because they wanted nothing to do with people. Why waste a few dollars for the monthly telephone fee when you have no desire to talk to anyone anyway?

But one day they got sick, apparently from food poisoning, and they had to get a doctor. Presumably, they had to tolerate this expense if they were to survive long enough to store up more bottles and magazines. But they had no telephone! According to the news reports, the mansion was so cluttered with rubbish that they had to struggle to find their way to the door in order to make a call from a public telephone. As they tried to plow a path through the refuse, they ran out of strength, collapsed, and died. Eventually, the police found them lying half buried in the garbage.

Do we find their mentality hard to understand? These two brothers portray the exact opposite of what it means to be generous, giving, or openhanded. Their tightfistedness reached the level of the ridiculous. Yet if we ourselves have not learned to be generous, is it not true that we differ from them only in degree not in kind, in quantity not quality? Their refusal to part with anything they had was taken to the extreme, but does the fact that we don’t go to that extreme make us qualitatively different from them?

Is it not true that we are by nature selfish, greedy and grasping? These ugly traits are usually subdued early in life by training and education, but never eradicated. If, for example, there is a lot of food available at a gathering, then everyone is in general reasonably well mannered, as they were taught to be. But in a situation where food is scarce, a very different type of behavior emerges from the natural man. Only when Christ has transformed us into new persons does a change begin to take place at the core of our being, and we cease to be clutching and grasping and begin to become Christ-like in his self-giving.

6. Following Jesus without Encumbrance or Distraction

Giving, however, is not an end in itself. The young man was to go, sell, and give, in order to “Come, and follow me”. He was to be absolutely free from the weight of his possessions and from the demands of the world, to follow the Lord without distraction.

But sadly for him, the rich young man chose to cling to what Paul would have considered “rubbish” (Phil.3.8) in comparison to the eternal riches that could have been his. Within a number of years, death would in any case part the young man from his wealth. He had not learned the wisdom of Job’s observation, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1.21). He wouldn’t be able to take so much as a cent with him at his departure from this life. When he walked away from the Lord’s call to be his disciple he walked away from eternal life. He who does not consider eternal life with Jesus to be worth all that he has, is not worthy of it.

Will you, too, walk away disappointed? You were expecting a spiritual bargain but ran into an absolute demand. The gospel is costly because, firstly, it cost God His Son, and secondly, it will cost us all that we have. “If anyone would come after me”, says Jesus, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk.9.23; Mt.16.24; Mk.8.34). But that amounts to denying one’s own life to follow Jesus, as the young man rightly realized. His possess­ions were to him his very life, which he refused to deny. Jesus continues, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Lk.9.24, and pars.). Only in this way can one follow Jesus without hindrance or distraction. This is a fundamental truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Only after the “go and sell” do we finally come to the Lord and follow him. But follow him where to? Soon after his conversation with the young man, Jesus talks about his own death: “He (the Son of Man, that is, Jesus himself) will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (Lk.18.32-33; Mt.20.18,19, NIV). To follow him means, therefore, to follow him to the cross. Ob­viously, no one who wants to cling to his possessions and save his life will want to walk this path.

The rich young ruler turned away from Jesus’ absolute requirement, and many today are doing the same. But the standards of truth are not alterable or negotiable. If truth could be adjusted to suit each person’s likes or dislikes, it would no longer be truth. The unalterable character of eternal truth is the reason why the Lord cannot lower the requirements. When the command says “all”, it is total and absolute; it cannot be adjusted to mean 98 or 99 per cent, much less 40 or 50 percent.

A Cut-Price Gospel on Offer

There are vast multitudes of Christians in the world today. Statistics give the number as being about 1.5 billion in the 1980s, growing to over 2 billion by the year 2000, and representing over 32% of the world’s population[94]. All the industrialized nations of the world are “Christian” except for Japan. Russia was once Christian and is now beginning to return to Christianity again. The indust­rially advanced countries of Europe are predominantly Christian; the same is true for North America, Australia and New Zealand.

But let this fact be recognized with deep concern: There are so many Christians today only because the cost of obtaining eternal life has been drastically slashed. In fact, in all those churches one would be surprised if the cost of being a true Christian is even so much as occasionally mentioned. Instead, being a “Christian” often means nothing more than membership in a particular church or denomination.

Is it possible to reduce the cost even more (it is already rock-bottom), so as to gain more converts? After all, everyone is out for a bargain. If eternal life is available for nothing, why not give it a try? Then people need only attend church once or twice a year, on Easter Sunday or Christmas day, or even just once or twice in a lifetime—this is, alas, already the case in many “Christian” countries.

They Christianize the world by slashing the price (to a small voluntary offering perhaps?). But by so doing, much of Western Christianity has devalued itself, and brought itself to the verge of irrelevance. But even the non-Christian knows in his heart that ultimately you get what you pay for: you do not get pearls for peanuts.

In any case, who authorized the price cut? The absolute demand of Christ’s call to discipleship has been removed, and Christianity is repackaged into something easier to accept and more suitable for converting the world. But surprising as it may seem, Jesus is not interested in convert­ing the world en masse, but in making disciples who obey God. His only concern is for speaking the truth.

A cheap gospel is preached by quoting Bible verses selectively without regard for their context. The cross to which Jesus calls us is never mentioned; neither is dying with Christ to the old life and rising with him to become a new person. Multitudes have been brought into the church, or were brought up in the church, on a diluted gospel. But, sadly, these are not Christians that the Lord will recognize on that Day.

7. God’s Perfect and Wonderful Character

We need to understand that God’s commands are the expression of what God is in His Being and character:

(1) God is holy. A holy God gives holy commands.

(2) God is love. A God of love will, of course, command us to love. When we look at the two great commands, we can deduce what kind of God would give this kind of command. A God of absolute love would expect us to love absolutely.

(3) God is absolute. It is to be expected, therefore, that God who is absolute has absolute requirements or commands, and expects a per­fect, unequivocal and absolute response with “all” of our heart.

8. The Absoluteness of God

God is not a relative being. God is absolute in the essence of His Being. All life derives its existence from Him as its Creator. All creatures exist in relation to Him. God is absolute, and all else is relative to Him and dependent upon Him. If God were relative, that is, someone who exists and is measured in relation to some other absolute person or standard, He would not be God at all.

Many Christians lack even a basic idea of who God is. Clearly we cannot here provide an extended discourse on God. But since we have stated that God is absolute, it may properly be asked, “What basically does this mean?” This statement calls us to understand that God is perfect, pure, and complete in Himself. Nothing can limit, restrict, or hinder Him in what He plans or does. He is dependent on nothing and no one, but all creation depends on Him. Theological language describes God’s absoluteness by such terms as “omni­potent”, “omniscient”, and “omnipresent” to convey the fact that He is not limited in power or in knowledge, nor is He restricted by time and space.

All creatures live relative to Him who is absolute, which is to say that without Him we cannot live or exist at all. This is true even physically even though most people are unaware of it. Concerning Christ “in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form” (Col.2.9), it is written that by him “all things hold together” (Col.1.17), and that he is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb.1.3). What this means is that all would cease to exist if he withdrew his sustenance. Without him we have nothing, with him we lack nothing.

When the young man asked Jesus, “What do I still lack?” (Mt.19.20), little did he know that in all the world he was addressing his question to the only Person who could provide whatever he lacked—yet he turned away! I have often wondered how he will feel about this encounter with Jesus when he will have all eternity to reflect upon it. To err in this way, because of fleshly weakness, in matters of eternal consequence is to live with eternal regrets.

Knowing our weaknesses, God abundantly provides the grace and power we need to respond unreservedly to His call, if we respond in faith.

9. Depending on God’s All-Sufficient Grace

The disciples asked Jesus, “If the rich young ruler, decent man that he is, cannot be saved, who then can be saved?” Do you remember the Lord’s reply? With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Salvation is impossible for man to achieve, that is why it has to be by grace through faith (Eph.2.8). The important truth that salvation is not a human accomplishment has been repeatedly em­phasized in this book because of the experiential fact that we can never meet God’s requirements in our own strength; it is possible only by His grace and power at work in us. No one can fulfill the Law, or the spirit of the Law, except by God’s transforming power working within us. It is by the Holy Spirit that the righteous require­ments of the Law are fulfilled in us (Ro.8.4). Contrary to what many Christ­ians think, we do fulfill the spirit of the Law. The Apostle affirms this with characteristic conciseness and clarity, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Ro.3.31)

It doesn’t take great insight to see that if we teach a cheap salvation, we will also teach a cheap grace and a cheap faith. But if we refuse to dilute the gospel or to remove the Lord’s absolute com­mands, then we will be driven to depend wholly on God’s all-suff­icient grace, and in that grace we experience His absolute love for us.

10. How can we experience God?

Here is a great spiritual secret: It is when we come to Jesus in the obedience of faith, beginning with repentance, that we begin to experience his limitless love for us. Concerning the rich young man, the gospel of Mark notes the fact that Jesus “looking upon him loved him” (Mk.10.21). But because the young man turned away from obeying Jesus’ call, he will never, neither in time nor in eternity, experience that love. For the same reason, many Christians do not experience God’s love through Jesus.

There was a king who abdicated his throne for a woman’s love. What would we not let go of for Jesus’ pure love? The apostle rejoiced in Jesus “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2.20). Everyone who, like the apostle, follows Jesus can exper­ience that supernal love in his own heart.

But the rich young man’s attention was fixated on temporal and transient things, so he lost sight of the things of eternal value. When we overvalue the temporal we are bound to undervalue the eternal. He was afraid to burn his bridges behind him because he wanted to keep his link to the world. He did not make a radical spiritual response for fear that, if he did, he would be left with no material support to lean on when the going gets tough.

For example, if he gives away his riches, who will support him in his old age? Or cover his medical fees? Or even before that happens, pay for his children’s education? But why did it not cross his mind that if he were following Jesus together with the other disciples, he could trust Jesus to provide for all these needs? Can we not learn to trust the Lord to care for us, and thereby experience his love for us?

But total response to God is impossible without faith. Without faith, it is spiritually pointless to contemplate selling one’s possess­ions. If we are not open to God’s transforming work in our lives, we should not even think about giving away what we have. It is dangerous to try to implement the Lord’s teaching outwardly when we lack the right attitude of heart. If you rush out and sell all that you have, two days later you will start regretting what you have done. What the Lord calls for is a change of heart, not mere external compliance.

11. It was Love that Affixed Jesus to the Cross

One main reason for the lack of faith is that we have not per­ceived the enormous extent of the Lord’s love for us, nor glimpsed the significance of his death for us. We can begin by grasping the fact that Jesus was not transfixed upon the rough-hewn beams of the cross solely by its crude nails. In God’s eternal wisdom, the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross symbolize love for God (vertical) and love for man (horizontal). It was Jesus’ absolute commitment to God and to man (to you, to me) which held him firmly to the cross. Were it not for love, no earthly nails, no matter how strong, could have held him there.

When he had laid down his life out of his unreserved and unflinching love for both God and man, the Father raised him from the dead and thereby affirmed that death could never triumph over love.

Though Jesus is no longer on the cross, the cross will always be an inseparable part of him because he will forever bear its marks in his body. He is forever the crucified One (1Cor.2.2), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev.5.12; 5.6; 13.8).

The cross that Jesus calls us to take up after him is, likewise, not some cross-shaped wooden instrument of death but the call to love God totally and to love the neighbor as ourselves. By it, as was true for him, even in death we conquer death by God’s power, which always works powerfully through the cruciform pattern of His love.

It was this that the rich young ruler was called to. But instead he chose the transient path of self-preservation, only finally to perish still vainly clutching his earthly treasures—treasures that could not benefit him one iota in the grave. But saddest of all, he will never experience for himself the depth and power of Jesus’ love.

Jesus’ Love and the “Mind of Christ”

Experiencing Jesus’ love inevitably transforms us into new persons who are created in his likeness. Being in his likeness means that the new person begins to think, to feel, and to act as he does; and this is what it means to have “the mind of Christ,” the attitude of Christ (1Cor.2.16; Phil.2.5). Following Jesus is not merely an external act. Judas followed Jesus outwardly, not with his heart. It is all important to be a heart-follower of Jesus. Are we willing to let God transform us by letting Him renew our hearts and minds?

To discuss the mind of Christ in any detail would require a separate work, but let us take note of its most characteristic fea­tures:

(1) He gave all he had. This is how Paul describes it: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2Cor.8.9).

(2) He gave himself wholly. “He became poor” doesn’t just mean that for our sake he gave up various possessions at his disposal. Rather, Scripture uses the remarkable term “emptied himself” (Phil. 2.7) to describe his self-giving. This expresses in vivid terms the fact that Jesus kept back nothing for himself. He didn’t hold back his life, but offered it up on the cross for us. He gave his whole self, as the apostle declared in profound gratitude: “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2.20).

(3) He gave first. Jesus’ giving was not in response to someone else’s giving; He took the initiative. Accordingly, it is important to observe that Jesus never asked us to do anything which he himself did not do first.

Looking at these unique features of his character and his actions we can only exclaim: What a wonderful Person is the Crucified One!

12. The Blessing of Following in His Steps

As we saw earlier, Yahweh God is always giving. This is precisely what is seen in the life and character of His Son, Jesus Christ. Becoming a new person who has the mind of Christ is, therefore, to become a person who will gladly, though with “fear and trembling,” follow in his steps.

Many Christians admit they are unhappy. These unhappy people are usually those who haven’t yet learned to find joy in giving, especially the giving of themselves, and not only in giving away things or money. Let us remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20.35). That is to say, God’s blessings are reserved for those who, like Himself, are happy to give. The word “blessed” (makarios) also means “happy”. To receive God’s blessing is to re­ceive joy from Him.

Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6.38, NIV). A few chapters later, in Luke 12.20, a rich man is called a “fool” for accumulating riches, much like the Collier bro­thers, and for constructing larger and larger storehouses for his grain and goods. God says to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” What this rich man refused to give in life was taken from him by death. He was a “fool” because he did not understand, or wish to understand, the transience of earthly treasure or the permanence of heavenly treasures.

Experiencing the Reality of God

When we have the mind of Christ, we will experience a joy and power which the Lord himself gives us. We will experience what the Lord had taught, that in giving we receive. After we have given what we have, we will discover to our surprise that the Lord will give us even more to pass on to others. In this way we become a channel of God’s life and generosity to others. Many of us can testify to this from our personal experience.

If we walk on the narrow road of self-giving, we will discover that God becomes very real to us. I have never met anyone who lives according to the mind of Christ who does not find God to be real.

Many Christians say that God is not real to them; that’s because they are not living according to the mind of Christ. They refuse to let go of their self-centered interests, they refuse to burn these bridges be­hind them; they want to retreat to their worldly securities if the Christian life gets too tough for them.

So they choose the path of compromise, and settle for a partial commitment to Christ. As a result, they cannot experience God’s reality. They leave themselves with a Christianity lacking in conviction, joy, and power. Like the rich young man who was called to completeness, to perfection, to being a true disciple, they too are unwilling to face the cost or to walk the narrow road in response to that call.

The mind of man is by nature focused on man, not on God. This is why that young man soon realized that it is impossible for man, with his self-centered mind, to respond to Christ’s call, which is a God-centered, heavenly and upward call. However, he who has the mind of Christ will know, as Jesus says, that even though “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt.19.26).

[92] There is no command in the Old Testament that specifically states the requirement to obey one’s parents. Regarding filial disobedience, the only in­stance where there is a reference to a son “who does not obey” his parents is found in a provision of the Law in Deuteronomy 21.18-21. In this case the son dishonors his parents by being “a profligate and a drunkard” (v.20, NIV), and stubbornly refuses to listen to their pleas for him to change his ways. If the son persists in his ways, the death penalty could be applied according to the Law (v.21). There is, however, no recorded instance of this death penalty having ever been carried out. The Law can be effective as a deterrent to lawless behavior; in this case a gross violation of the law to honor one’s parents by behavior which publically dishonors them (drunkenness, etc), hence the provision for a public execution, which would also serve as a public warning to other recalcitrant sons.

[93] The fifth commandment is referred to in Eph.6.2, but the Greek has no particle connecting it with the previous verse. In the case of Col.3.20, no reference what­ever is made to the fifth commandment. It seems, therefore, that the injunction to “obey your parents” stands, in the New Testament, as a command in its own right, distinct from the fifth commandment.

[94] Cf. World Christian Encyclopedia, A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World A.D. 1900-2000, Ed. By David B. Barrett, Oxford University Press, 1982, pp.3&4.


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