(Continued from page 384)Another Christ?
You write: I have accepted Christ as my personal Saviour. I have prayed and accepted him as my Lord and the ony true way to get to eternal life, yet you say I cannot get to heaven. Under your own definition that should be enough - regardless of our different interpretation of the scriptures.
TCE: If you were accepting him on His terms - as detailed in the Word of God, the Bible, alone - you are absolutely certain of your salvation. But once you insult Him by adding your righteous works, as well as all the occultic trappings brought in by Smith and Young, et al, you are certain of joining those who Jesus spoke about in Matthew 7:15-23 and Paul warned of in 2 Corinthians 11:4:
For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
We will return to this point later.
You write: You say we believe more in good works than grace. This is not true. We believe in them equally. We believe whole heartedly that we cannot reach the presence of our Heavenly Father without the Saviours intercession for us. The grace (divine help) he gives to us helps us to do what he has asked "If ye love me Keep my commandments," because no unclean thing can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
TCE: You believe you 'cannot reach the presence of our Heavenly Father without the Saviours intercession for us', but you add your good works as an essential for eternal life! Scripture makes it clear that anyone attempting to add their good works to God's grace in order to 'assist God' in getting to heaven, will fail. We will return to this subject shortly. The Mormon church has made many statements over the years making it clear that they deny death-bed repentance and, just as you have done (see later), deny the clear testimony of the 'thief on the cross' (Luke 23:43) which proves this to be Christ's teaching.
You write: When Christ was asked in Matthew 19:16 what men have to do to have eternal life, why didn't He just say, "Just believe. It is enough." Verse 17 is very clear and this story is repeated in the Saviours own words in other gospels.
TCE: If you consider all of the verses relating to Matthew 19:16 you will see that the verses following verse 16 point out very clearly that 'works' never play a part in getting us into heaven:
16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. 23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. 27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? 28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. 30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. (Matthew 19:16-30; cf. Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)
As you rightly say, each of the first three Gospels records this event. When we combine the facts, we learn that this man was rich, young, and a ruler - perhaps the ruler of a synagogue. We may even be able to commend this young man for coming publicly to Christ and asking about eternal matters. He may even seem to have no ulterior motive and to be willing to listen and learn. Sadly, he made the wrong decision.
The event seems to develop around several important questions: 'What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?' (19:16-17). He wondered how could be assured of entering Messiah's kingdom. He wanted to know what 'good thing' (work) would demonstrate that he was righteous and therefore qualified for the kingdom. The man seems sincere, although his approach to salvation was centred on works and not faith. But this was to be expected among the Jews of that day. However, in spite of his position in society, his morality, and his religion, he sought something more. He wants to earn eternal life and, in the light of verse 20, he apparently thinks there are good things he can do, beyond the demands of the law, by which he can assure his salvation. Many Jews believed that a specific act of goodness could win eternal life and this young man, assuming this opinion is correct, seeks Jesus' view as to what that act might be.
But the Lord*s first reply did not focus on salvation. He forced the young man to think seriously about the word good that he had used in addressing Jesus. 'Only God is good,' Jesus said. Perfection is required (Matthew 5:48; cf. 19:2) therefore one must be as good as God. He must have God*s righteousness, which comes through faith in Him (Romans 4:5). If you study the context carefully in the three accounts you find that Jesus' first question is most important and He is really asking: 'Do you believe that I am good and therefore that I am God?' Jesus clearly claimed to be Almighty God in many Biblical texts (e.g. John 5:17-23; 8:24, 57; 10:1-39). If Jesus is only one of many religious teachers in history, then His words carry no more weight than the pronouncements of any other religious leader. But if Jesus is good, then He is God, and we had better heed what He says. Did this young man heed His words - we will soon see?
Why did Jesus bring up the commandments? Did He actually teach that people receive eternal life by obeying God*s Law? If anyone could keep the commandments, he certainly would enter into life. But no one can keep God*s Law perfectly: 'Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the Law is the knowledge of sin' (Romans 3:20). 'If you want to enter life, obey the commandments' (v17) does not mean that Jesus is saying that eternal life is earned by keeping the commandments. The entire debate has been be-deviled by a false split between grace and obedience to the will of God. No less staunch a supporter of grace than Paul can insist that without certain purity a man cannot inherit the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Note - the 'thief on the cross' (Luke 23:43) was instantly cleansed and justified by belief in the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, and therefore had no need or opportunity to prove anything, for he had already expressed faith in the Saviour and this is all that is required for eternal life. Jesus tells this young man, in similar vein, what good things he must do if he is to gain eternal life, precisely because he perceives his questioner has little understanding of such things. But that is still far from telling him that by doing these things he will earn eternal life. Jesus did not introduce the Law to show the young man how to be saved, but to show him that he needed to be saved. The Law is a mirror that reveals what we are (James 1:22-25). When the man did not reply, Jesus indicated that life (i.e., life in God's kingdom) can be entered only if one gives evidence that he is righteous. Since the official standard of righteousness was the Law of Moses, Jesus told the man to obey the commandments.
'Which commandments?' (19:18-19) asked the man - was he being evasive? Other standards of righteousness were being promoted by Pharisees, who had added to Moses commandments far beyond God*s intention. The young man was in effect ask Jesus, 'Must I keep all the Pharisees commandments?' If he had been asking about the Ten Commandments he would certainly be making a mistake, for one part of God*s Law cannot be separated from another part. To classify God*s laws into 'lesser' and 'greater' is to miss the whole purpose of the Law: 'For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all' (James 2:10). The Law represents the authority of God, and to disobey what we may think is a minor law is still to rebel against His authority.
It seems clear that the young man thought only of external obedience. He forgot about the attitudes of the heart. Jesus had taught in the Sermon on the Mount that hatred was the moral equivalent of murder, and that lust was the equivalent of adultery. This young man seemed to have good manners and morals. But we also see that, regretfully, he did not see his sin, repent, and trust Christ.
The one commandment that especially applied to him, Jesus did not quote: 'Thou shalt not covet' (Exodus 20:17). The young man should have pondered all of the Commandments and not just the ones that Jesus quoted. Was he looking for easy discipleship? Was he being dishonest with himself? His testimony may have been as sincere as a Mormon testimony - and true as far as he knew. But he did not permit the light of the Word to penetrate deeply enough. Jesus is full of love for all of us sinners, and His love for this young man is recorded (Mark 10:21: Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me), so He continued to try to help him by telling him the sure way to heaven - 'take up the cross, and follow me'.
But now we see that the young man missed the mark - and why! He missed Jesus invitation to follow Him and asked: 'What lack I yet?' (19:20-22). He shows his uncertainty and lack of assurance of ever being good enough for salvation, as well as his notion that certain 'good works' are over and above the law. Showing mercy towards the poor would demonstrate inner righteousness. If he were righteous (based on faith in Jesus as God), he should have given his wealth to the poor and followed Jesus. This young man could not face that. He was willing to discipline himself to observe all the outward stipulations and even perform supererogatory works but, because of his wealth, he had a divided heart. His money was competing with God, and what Jesus everywhere demands as a condition for eternal life is absolute, radical discipleship. This entails the surrender of 'self'. Keeping the individual commandments is no substitute for the readiness for self-surrender to the absolute claim of God imposed through the call of the gospel. Jesus' summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship. Formally, of course, Jesus' demand goes beyond anything in Old Testament law: no Old Testament passage stipulates verse 21:
'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.'
Clearly the focus on God's will (v17-19) culminates in following Jesus, for He is the prophesied culmination of the Old Testament. The will of God, as revealed in Scripture, looks forward to the coming of Messiah (cf. Matthew 2:15; 5:17-20; 11:11-13 etc.). Absolute allegiance to him, with the humility of a child, is essential to salvation. The condition Jesus now imposes not only reveals this man's attachment to money but shows that all his formal compliance with the law is worthless because none of it entails absolute self-surrender. What the man needs is the triumph of grace for, as the next verses show, his entering the kingdom of heaven is impossible (v26: But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible). God, with whom all things are possible, must work. The following parable (20:1-16) directly speaks to this issue. But the young man is deaf to it: he leaves because, if a choice must be made between money and Jesus, money wins (cf. 6:24). So, instead of leaving with joy in the certainty of his salvation, the man went away sad (Greek lypoumenos: 'grieved or sad to the point of distress'; cf. 14:9; 18:31) for he had great wealth. His unwillingness to share his wealth showed he did not love his neighbour as himself. Wealth he enjoyed (v22), while suffering barrenness of soul. Thus he had not kept all the commandments, and he lacked salvation. Nothing more was written about this young man; probably he never left all and followed Jesus. He loved his money more than God, and thus violated even the first commandment!
Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that a sinner is saved by selling his goods and giving the money away. Many piously misguided people have become monks and nuns in a misguided attempt to reach heaven in this way, but Jesus never told Nicodemus to do this, or any other sinner whose story is recorded in the Gospels. Jesus clearly knew that this man was covetous - he loved material wealth. By asking him to sell his goods, Jesus was forcing him to examine his own heart and determine his priorities. With all of his commendable qualities, the young man still did not truly love God with all of his heart. Possessions were his god. He was unable to obey the command: 'Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.'
The young man went away grieved, but he could have gone away in great joy and peace. We cannot love and serve two masters (Matthew 6:24ff). We can be sure that, apart from Christ, even the material possessions of life give no lasting joy or pleasure. It is good to have the things money can buy provided we do not lose the things that money cannot buy. Unless this rich ruler eventually turned to Christ, he died without salvation, one of the 'richest' men in the cemetery.
'Who then can be saved?' (19:23-26) asked the astonished disciples. The Jewish people of that day believed that riches were an evidence of God*s blessing. They based this on the promises God gave the Jewish nation at the beginning of their history. It is true that God did promise material blessing if they obeyed, and material loss if they disobeyed (see Deuteronomy 26-28). But this was God's way of teaching the infancy of the race, who had been saved out of paganism, through rewards and punishments. We teach young children in the same manner.
However, the highest kind of obedience is not based on a desire for reward or the fear of punishment. It is motivated by love. In His life and His teaching, Jesus tried to show the people that the inner spiritual blessings are far more important than the material gains. God sees the heart, and God wants to build character. Salvation is the gift of God in response to man*s faith. Material riches are not a guarantee that God is pleased with a man. The disciples, being good Jews, were amazed at the Lord*s statement about riches. Their question reflected their theology: 'If a rich man cannot be saved, what hope is there for the rest of us?' Of course, Jesus did not say that the possessing of wealth kept a man from the kingdom. Mark 10:24 therefore reads: 'Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!' This is certainly the sense of our Lord*s teaching. Abraham was a very wealthy man, yet he was a man of great faith. It is good to possess wealth if wealth does not possess you.
We cannot follow the King and live for worldly wealth. We cannot serve God and money. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Jesus Christ demands of all who will follow Him that they love Him supremely.
Peter was quick to see the contrast between the wealthy ruler and the poor disciples (19:27-20:16). 'We have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?' Peter, impressed by 'impossible' and speaking for his fellow disciples, thinks Jesus' words are unfair to the Twelve (v27; cf. 4:20). Even here, he and the others are thinking in terms of deserving or earning God's favour. Yet Jesus does not castigate his disciples for being mercenary: they have made sacrifices and deserve an answer. But what he says - that the blessing to come, whether belonging exclusively to the Twelve at the renewal (v28) or to all believers now (v29-30), far surpasses any sacrifice they might make - and implies that it is a gentle rebuke. Jesus gave them a marvellous promise of rewards in this life and in the next. They would even share thrones when He established His kingdom. Whatever good things they had forsaken for His sake would be returned to them a hundredfold. In other words, they were not making sacrifices - they were making investments (not that they were looking at their belief in Him as a self-interested way!). But not all of the awards would be received in this life.
However, Jesus detected in Peter*s question the possibility of a wrong motive for service. This was why He added the warning that some who were first in their own eyes would be last in the judgment, and some who were last would end up first. This truth was amplified in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16):
Matthew 20 1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. 8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
If you believe that our good works play some part in salvation you have problems with this parable. Some say that the 'penny' (a day*s wages in that time) cannot represent salvation in orthodox Christianity, for nobody works for his salvation. Nor, in orthodox belief, can the parable be talking about rewards, for we are not all going to receive the same reward: 'And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour' (1 Corinthians 3:8).
We believe that the parable is emphasizing something else altogether. Can you see what it is? It is important to note that there were actually two kinds of workers hired that day: those who wanted a contract and agreed to work for a penny a day, and those who had no contract and agreed to take whatever the owner thought was right. The first labourers that he hired insisted on a contract.
This explains why the householder paid the workers as he did: He wanted those who were hired first (who insisted on a contract) to see how much he paid the workers who were hired later. It was one way the owner could show those workers how really generous he was.
Put yourself in the place of those workers who were hired first but paid last. They each expected to get a penny, because that was what they agreed to accept. But imagine their surprise when they saw the labourers who were hired last each receiving a penny! They obviously thought that this meant their own wages should have been 12 pennies each!
But the three o'clock workers also received a penny - for only three hours of work. The men last in line quickly recalculated their wages: four pennies for the day*s work. When the men hired at noon also were paid a penny, this cut the salary of the contract workers considerably, for now they would earn only two pennies.
But the owner gave them one penny each. Of course, they complained! But they had no argument, because they had agreed to work for a penny. They received what they asked for. Had they trusted the goodness of the owner, they would have received far more. But they insisted on a contract.
He reminded them they should not be envious of his generosity toward those who had laboured only briefly. By this illustration, Jesus was teaching that the matter of rewards is under the sovereign control of God, 'the Landowner' in the parable. Jesus deliberately and cleverly led the listeners along by degrees until they understood that if God's generosity was to be represented by a man, 'the Landowner', such a man would be different from any man ever encountered. This is in utter contrast to the view that suggests that believers such as 'the thief on the cross' needed to do more to enter the kingdom of God! God is the One before whom all accounts will be settled. Many who have prominent places will someday find themselves demoted. And many who often find themselves at the end of the line will find themselves promoted to the head of the line: The last will be first, and the first will be last. This supports what Jesus had said in 19:28-30. In the final accounting, the Lord*s analysis will carry the greatest and only important weight. Everything about the God of the Bible reveals that He has different standards to man. Everything He offers man - eternal life and great spiritual gifts - are distributed in a divine manner because they are God's, and not because they are earned but because he is gracious. Jesus is not laying down principles for resolving some kind of union-management disputes. On the contrary, whereas the principle in the world is that he who works the longest receives the most pay, and man would consider that to be just, in the kingdom of God the principles of merit and ability are set aside so that grace can prevail.
(Continued on page 386)