Growing in Faith
- Consider what it costs to be a follower of Jesus.
- Trust that our salvation doesn't depend on keeping all the commandments perfectly.
- Strive to make God number one in our lives.
Now that we're finished looking at the Ten Commandments, the next question is So what? We can't read through these commandments, especially with Jesus' own commentary, without feeling that we're a long way from being perfect.
In a story reported in three of the four gospels, a young man comes to Jesus asking (begging, really) the "good teacher" to help him understand what "good things" he has to do to inherit eternal life. What's the basic requirement, he wants to know, the sine qua non for salvation? He probably asks the question because he doesn't yet think he's there.
Jesus, as is often the case in such situations, seems a bit prickly: "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good." In other words, he challenges the young man to consider whom he is asking. If he's asking about absolute goodness, then only God (or God's Son) has the answer. But God has answered the question---in the commandments.
"Which ones?" the young man asks. Not as strange a question as it would seem, since the Old Testament is brimming with commandments and the Pharisees had developed rules for keeping all of them. Jesus replies, interestingly, not by naming them all but by reiterating the ones that have to do with loving our neighbor.
"Well," the young man replies, "been there, done that." He really thought he had the whole loving his neighbor thing down. He wanted something more, well, challenging. Then Mark records something we don't find in the other gospels: "Jesus looked at him" (not in disgust, not in disbelief) "and loved him."
"Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, Come, follow me. At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." Now why did Jesus say such a hard thing to a young man he looked at with love? It's because the way to salvation means selling out to Jesus. It means giving our whole hearts and lives to him.
I don't think Jesus means that each of us must sell everything and become beggars for Jesus. But this passage does mean that following Jesus---being a Christian---is going to demand something of each of us that goes to the very heart of who we are. Letting go of whatever it is on which we build our life and our identity besides following Jesus, that's what it takes to become a disciple.
This is a hard teaching. Jesus himself acknowledges that by saying, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God." It isn't just a matter of keeping some outward commandments (though that isn't so easy, either!). It's about surrendering our hearts and our lives, everything we are and everything we have, to Jesus.
"Can you obey these commands perfectly?" today's Q&A asks. "Not in this life." God's law, summarized and completed in Jesus Christ, teaches us how far short we fall, reminding us that we need his forgiveness and help every day. But there's something---or rather Someone---at work in us: God's Holy Spirit. The Spirit, invited by prayer, will work in our lives over time to make us more holy---to sanctify us as God's people.
With what kind of attitude and demeanor do you imagine the young man came to Jesus?
Why does the text say that Jesus loved him?
Why is it so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? What is the big stumbling block?
This is a hard lesson to teach because we want to take Jesus’ words seriously, but that doesn’t mean we have to take them literally. It’s clear that Jesus isn’t hereby demanding voluntary poverty from each of his disciples. On the other hand, Jesus has the right to ask of us anything that stands in our way of being his fully devoted followers.
You might take some time to express how you have wrestled personally with this story.
Welcome everyone as they arrive. As they settle in, ask them to think of some good people they know. Then, at the top of a whiteboard or newsprint, write “Good People Are:” and encourage your group to shout out some characteristics of “good” people. What do “good” people do? What are they like?
When you have a sizable list, turn back to your group and mention that many people believe that good people will go to heaven based solely on their goodness, that God looks at how good people live their lives and saves them on that basis. And bad people? Well, they should have been good.
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