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28. Perfection: Absolute Demand, Absolute Response

– Chapter 28 –

Perfection: Absolute Demand, Absolute Response

We do well, by way of summary, to return to the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16ff. This is one of the most difficult Bible passages to expound because it is difficult to get to the heart of the Lord’s message here.

Why is it so difficult to understand the Lord’s words?

The difficulty lies not so much in Jesus’ teaching as within ourselves. We are naturally inclined to reject what we do not want to hear. 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 disciples were not immune to this (Mk. 16:14). It is this hardness that constitutes the humanly insur­mountable barrier within us to understanding what Jesus is say­ing to us. The tend­ency is to interpret his teachings superficially, and evade the cen­tral message altogether. Unless the Lord has mercy on us to help us open our hearts, we would never understand his mess­age.

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

Eternal life and the commandments

The story of the rich young ruler is important 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). The whole account contains the Lord’s teaching on salvation in a nutshell. The danger is to think that we know the answer to the young man’s question when we actually under­stand it less than he does.

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 we sure we know the answer to this 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 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.” Many Christians will protest: “That can’t be true! (Interpretat­ion: If Jesus’ teaching doesn’t accord with our doctrines, it is he who is wrong!) That would be salvation by works! No one is ever saved by keeping the com­mandments.” But like it or not, that is what the Lord plainly says, even if it does not suit our theology.

If we reject the Lord’s own explicit words, we had better be ready with a good explanation for it when we stand before him, as if that will be of any avail. The inescapable fact remains that Jesus did say to the rich young ruler in clear language, “If you would enter life, keep the command­ments.”

In a separate incident, a lawyer asks Jesus the very same quest­ion, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25), and 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 to inherit eternal life. Jesus gives the same answer to the lawyer as to the rich young ruler.

The Ten Commandments and the two great commandments

When the young man asks, “Which com­mand­ments?” Jesus gives a list of well-known command­ments: you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, etc. The stress is not on keeping these individ­ual commandments but the commandments as a whole, all of which are summed up in, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt.19:19). In his answer to the rich young ruler, Jesus includes more or less the second half of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) which have to do with the neigh­bor and are put in negative form: “You shall not …”

It is striking that most of the Ten Commandments are put in neg­ative form. Only two are stated in positive terms, the fourth and fifth command­ments: keep the Sabbath holy, and honor your father and mother. Upon closer inspection, even these two are essentially negative in character. How is the Sabbath kept holy? By not doing any work on that day (Ex.20:10; Dt.5:14). The Ten Command­ments do not pres­cribe what is to be done on that day, for the stress is on not doing.

As for the command to honor father and mother, it must mean essential­ly do not dishonor father and mother because the command­ment does not specify what one must do to honor them. Again, no specific works are prescribed.

Surprisingly, the Old Testa­ment does not link the command to honor one’s parents specifically with a command to obey one’s parents.[1] 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).[2]

At a certain time in life, when children reach a certain age and financial capability, one way of fulfilling the command to honor one’s parents might be to provide for them financially if they are in need. But this does not apply to the many people whose parents are financial­ly self-sufficient or have passed away. In many cases today, the parents are financially better off than their children and do not need their support. So there is no uniform way of implement­ing this command in a positive form that is applicable in all or most cases.

Keeping negative commands does not involve doing anything, but is a refraining from doing certain things. This should not be very difficult, yet Adam and Eve failed when instructed to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Keeping the Ten Commandments is largely a matter of not doing rather than doing certain specified acts. The keeping of these commandments is not a matter of doing works; Jesus only mentions more or less the second half of the Ten Commandments which are all negative or prohib­itive.

To our surprise, 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 (by observing the command­ments) while Christ­ians are saved by grace and by not works of any kind. As we have seen, it is possible to fulfill the written requirements of the Ten Commandments by doing nothing! — no works!

The young man thinks he has kept the Ten Commandments, and Jesus does not reject that claim. The young man, since his youth, has genuinely refrained from breaking any of the com­mandments.

There are Christians but also non-Christians who have not deliber­ately broken the Ten Commandments. Some non-Christ­ians can 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, or committed robbery.” I myself was one of these. Paul could say of his earlier 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 doing nothing that would transgress the commands.

But Jesus turns the Ten Commandments inside out, and brings out its positive character. 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. Having quoted the second half of the Ten Commandments, Jesus summar­izes them 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. You cannot obey the command to love simply by doing nothing.

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 when someone asks him about eternal life, Jesus gives the same answer.

What has this to do with regeneration, renewal and perfection? Everything! As we have seen, these are the three aspects of salvation in Scripture. They have everything to do with the whole question of inheriting eternal life that the rich young man asked. It is in answer to the question of eternal life that Jesus speaks of keeping the command­ments, but also of perfection (“If you would be perfect …” Mt.19:21).

Perfection and keeping the commandments are not two different things but one and the same, provided we understand that Jesus is not referring to the negative commandments alone but sums them up in the all-embracing positive command, Love your neighbor as yourself. This has to do with perfect­ion because how can anyone who is not perfect or Christ-like keep this command?

The command to love the neighbor as oneself is humanly imposs­ible to obey. Since it is tied to the young man’s question of inherit­ing eter­nal life, the disciples are compelled to ask: Who then can be saved? Jesus’ answer: With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Salvation is impossible for man to achieve, so it is attained by grace through faith (Eph.2:8). No one can fulfill the Law or the spirit of the Law except by God’s transforming power working in us through the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:4). Contrary to popular thinking, we do fulfill the spirit of the Law: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom.3:31)

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. As far as he knows, he has kept the commandments faith­fully, yet senses that something is amiss. Do you sense that something is lacking in your own life? 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.” The Lord answers, “Since you are asking me, let me tell you the answer. 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.”

Total 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 personal 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 totally with Jesus is seen in the way Paul teaches God’s absolute requirements. He 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. God as the Creator not only brought man into existence, but also in His love “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1Tim.6:17). But “even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God” (Rom.1:21). Instead they went their own self-willed way, and refused to love, honor and serve the living God.

It is to Christians that Paul says, “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Rom.12:1). It is in our bodies that we live in the world as living persons; hence, 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 person. How can anyone suggest that Paul does not call for a total response to God?

But the gospel as it is presented today portrays God as a fatherly figure who demands nothing from us except that we be kind enough to believe in Jesus. God sent His only Son into the world, so please show him some kindness by accepting him. Kind and soft-hearted, God says, “I demand nothing from you, but spare an hour of your time every week to honor Me by going to church and drop­ping a few dollars into the offering box.”

This beggarly portrayal of God is nothing less than an insult. It is not the God of the Bible. God is Creator of heaven and earth, and the King of kings. He “commands all people every­where to repent” (Acts 17:30). He is enthroned above, seated above the circle of the earth (Isa.40:22). On judgment day, you and I will answer to Him. The supreme God has the authority to send a person to heaven or to hell according to His righteousness. The sovereign Lord of all does not merely ask for an hour on Sunday, or a few coins in the offering box, but demands everything. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength” — the fourfold “all”.

One gospel for the rich, 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.” (Matthew 19:21)

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 is there one gospel for the rich, another 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? Some invent another gospel in order to flee from the sword of the Spirit, which penetrates our hearts and discerns our thoughts (Heb.4:12; Eph.6:17).

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 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 things but the Lord wants to transform our at­titude into a giving spirit. If the point is merely to sell your possessions, you might say to yourself, “How fortunate, my possessions are worth only twenty dollars. I can inherit eternal life for twenty dollars!” Is God so superficial?

There is but one gospel for the 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 from them. 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. If I get what I want, I would say it is a wonderful group. But if some in my group need my help in terms of encourage­ment or other forms of assist­ance, or if they tax my patience, then I consider them undesirable.

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).

Our mindset is focused on what we can get, not what we can give. Isn’t that the prevailing attitude among Christians, even those who claim to be regenerate? We go to church meetings for the purpose of getting, not giving. The carnal man — the man of the flesh — wants to get and to hoard, until his possessions choke him.

How did the young man become rich in the first place? Was it not by keeping what he already had, and storing up any additional income he was getting? No one becomes rich by giving away what he poss­esses, and, after buying what he personally needs, refrains from storing up what he receives. The young man most probably inherited his wealth, and now he wants to inherit eternal life. But he has yet to learn that we are only stewards of our possessions. The possessions we have, whether much or little, are what God has entrusted to us. As His stewards, we use what He has given us according to His will.

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 stands as a warning to us. He will have all eternity to reflect on it.

How can the two great commands, loving God and loving the neighbor, be carried out except through the attitude of giving? It is in the nature of love to give. To love God with the fourfold “all” is, in practice, to give all. It is to offer our whole being to God, and to give our possessions to meet the needs of our poor neighbors, whom we love as ourselves. What the Lord told the rich young ruler to do (go, sell, give, come) was the implem­entation of the two great commands, which apply to everyone, and not only 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.

So miserly were the brothers that they would not throw anything out, not even a newspaper, a magazine or an empty bottle. They inher­ited a big mansion, but with time it became cluttered almost 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 because they wanted nothing to do with people, so why waste money on the monthly telephone fee?

But one day they got sick apparently from food poisoning, and had to get a doctor. Presumably they will tolerate this expense if they are 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 struggled to find their way to the door 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. The police found them lying half buried in the garbage.

Their thinking is hard to understand. These two brothers exhibit the opposite of what it means to be generous, giving, or openhanded. Their tightfistedness reached the level of the ridiculous. But if we have not learned to be generous, we would differ from them only in degree but not in kind, in quantity but not in quality.

We are by nature selfish and greedy. These traits are often instilled by education, but never eradicated. If there is good food at a function, everyone will be well mannered, as they have been taught to be. But in a situation where food is scarce, a very different type of behavior will emerge from the natural man. Only when Christ has transformed us into new persons will a change take place at the core of our being, making us Christ-like.

Following Jesus without encumbrance

But giving 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 free from the weight of his possessions and the demands of the world, and then 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 finite 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 one cent with him at his departure from this world. 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). It takes denying one’s own life to follow Jesus, as the young man realized. His possess­ions were to him his very life which he refused to part with. 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 parallels). 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: “The Son of Man 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). To follow him means to follow him to the cross. No one who clings to his possessions and saves his life will want to walk this path.

The rich young ruler turned away from Jesus’ absolute require­ments, and many are doing the same today. 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 that the Lord cannot lower the requirements. When the command says “all,” it is total and absolute; it cannot be adjusted to mean 99 per cent, much less 50 percent.

Jesus represents his Father, who is the absolute God and the One from whom Jesus derives his life (John 5:26) and even his authority to judge (v.27). God issues absolute commands, and expects an absol­ute response. All else is relative to Him and dependent upon Him. All life derives its existence from Him as its Creator. He is perfect and com­plete in Himself. Nothing can hinder His plans. Theologians describe His absoluteness with such terms as omni­potent, omniscient, and omnipresent to convey that God is not limited in power or know­ledge, or restricted by time and space. It is by the absolute authority of his Father that Jesus gives absolute commands.

A cut-price gospel on offer

There are vast multitudes of Christians in the world today, 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.[3] All the highly industrialized nations of the world are Christian except for a couple of Asian countries. The indust­rially advanced countries of Europe are predominantly Christian; the same is true of North America, Australia and New Zealand.

But let this be recognized with deep concern: There are so many Christians today only because the cost of obtaining eternal life has been slashed. In almost all churches, one would be surprised if the true cost of being a Christian is even so much as 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? If eternal life is available for nothing, why not give it a try? Then people need only attend church once or twice a year, during Easter or Christmas, or even just once or twice in a lifetime, which is already the case in many “Christian” countries.

A good part of the world is Christianized by slashing the price (to a voluntary offering perhaps?). So much of Western Christianity has de­valued itself and brought itself to the edge of irrelevance. And who authorized the price cut?

The absolute demand of Christ’s call to discipleship has been re­moved, and Christianity has been 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.

A cheap gospel quotes Bible verses selectively without regard for their context. The cross to which Jesus calls us is rarely 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 the Christians whom the Lord will recognize on that Day.

How can we experience God?

It is when we come to Jesus in the obedience of faith, beginning with repentance, that we begin to experience his unlimited love for us. Mark 10:21 says that Jesus “loved” the rich young man. But the young man turned away from Jesus’ call, so he will never experience that love in time and eternity.

King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for a woman’s love. What would we not forsake for Jesus’ pure love? Paul rejoiced in Jesus “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20).

The rich young man’s heart was fixated on temporal and transient things, so he lost sight of the things of eternal value. When we over­value the temporal, we undervalue the eternal. He was afraid to burn his bridges behind him because he wanted to keep his link to the world. If he gives away his riches, who will support him in his old age? Or cover his medical fees? Or pay for his child­ren’s education? Did it not cross his mind that if he were following Jesus together with the other disciples, he can trust Jesus to provide for all these needs?

A total response to God is impossible without faith. Without faith, it would be 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 implem­ent the Lord’s teaching outwardly without having the right heart attitude. If you rush out and sell all 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.

It was love that affixed Jesus to the cross

A main reason for the lack of faith is the failure to see the extent of the Lord’s love for us, or the significance of his death for us. Jesus was transfixed upon the beams of the cross by crude nails, but more than that, 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 human­kind that held him firmly to the cross. When he had laid down his life out of his unreserved love for God and man, the Father raised him from the dead and affirmed that death can 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 not literally a physical cross-shaped instrument of death but the call to love God totally and the neighbor as ourselves. Even in death we conquer it by God’s power working through the cruciform form of love.

It was this that the rich young ruler was called to. But he took the transient path of self-preservation, to perish at the end clutch­ing his earthly treasures which cannot benefit him one iota in the grave.

Jesus’ love and the “mind of Christ”

Experiencing Jesus’ love will inevitably transform us into new people created in his likeness. The new person will begin to think, feel, and act as Jesus does. This is having the “mind of Christ” (1Cor.2:16; Phil. 2:5). Following Jesus is not just an external act. Judas followed Jesus outwardly but not with his heart. It is crucial to be a heart follower of Jesus. Are we willing to let God transform us by letting Him renew our hearts and minds? A study of the mind of Christ would take a separate work, but let us note its characteristic fea­tures:

(1) He gave all he had. “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 giving up various possessions for our sake. Rather, Scripture uses the remarkable term “emptied himself” (Phil.2:7) to describe his self-giving. It expresses in vivid terms that Jesus kept nothing for himself. He didn’t hold back his life, but offered his whole self on the cross: “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. Hence Jesus never asks us to do anything which he himself did not do first.

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

The blessing of following in his steps

God is always giving. His supernal generosity is reflected in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. The one who has the mind of Christ is one who will gladly, yet with “fear and trembling,” follow in his steps.

Many Christians find no joy in giving, whether it is the giving of money or the giving of themselves. Since it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), God’s blessings are reserved for those who, like Himself, are happy to give. The word “blessed” (makarios) also means “happy”.

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” (Lk.6:38, NIV). Six 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. Who then will get what you have prepared for yourself?” What this rich man refused to give in life was taken from him in death. He was called a “fool” for not understanding 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 what the Lord has taught: it is in giving that we receive. After we have given what we have, we will discover that God will give us even more to pass on to others, and we become a channel of God’s life and gener­osity to others.

If we walk on the narrow road of self-giving, we will discover that God becomes very 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, or burn the bridges be­hind them; they want to retreat to their worldly security if the Christian life gets too tough. They choose the path of compromise, and settle for a partial commit­ment to Christ. They do not experience God’s reality, leading to a Christianity that lacks joy, conviction, and power. Like the rich young man who was called to perfection, they are unwilling to face the cost or to walk on the narrow road in response to that call.

The mind of man is by nature focused on man, not on God. That is why it was impossible for the young man with his self-centered mind to respond to Christ’s call, which is a God-centered call, heavenly and upward. But he who has the mind of Christ will know that: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt.19:26).



[1] There is no command in the OT that specifically states the require­ment to obey one’s parents. Regarding filial disobedience, the only refer­ence to a son “who does not obey” his parents is found in a provision of the Law in Dt.21:18-21. In this case the son dishonors his parents by being “a profligate and a drunkard” (v.20), and refuses to listen to their pleas for him to change his ways. If a 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 an effective deterrent to lawless behav­ior. In the case of a gross violation of the law regarding honoring one’s parents, by behavior that publically dis­honors them (e.g., drunkenness), the provision for a public execution would serve as a warning to other recalcitrant sons.

[2] The fifth commandment is referred to in Eph.6:2 but the Greek has no parti­cle connecting it with the previous verse. Col.3:20 makes no reference to the fifth commandment. Hence it seems that the injunction to “obey your parents” stands in the NT as a command in its own right, distinct from the fifth commandment.

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

 

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