Friday, February 6, 2009


Our Lord and the Rich Young Ruler

Jailer’s thoughts on our Lord’s interchange with the “rich young ruler” are an opportunity to think about evangelism in terms of some basic categories: The young man’s opening question, “What must I do to have eternal life?” was a “covenant of works” question. The context for this is set forth in Chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved ...
The conceit that the covenant of works has to do with something less than “perfect and personal obedience”, with simply being “a pretty good person”, and so that many of us are at most a detail or two away from eternal life, is hardly one that has ceased to be held since the young man’s time. A plausible case can be made that most of our “nice” neighbors think that way today, at least on the surface. So an important task in evangelism is disturbing that conceit. Of course, our Lord gives us a perfect paradigm for that. First, He challenges the notion that goodness is that easy: “There is only one who is good.”; Second, He insists on a standard: “... keep the commandments.”; Finally, He exposes the truth that, contrary to the young man’s self-assessment (“All these I have kept.”), the young man was, like us all, desperately corrupt, by, as Jailer put it, exposing the fact that “his riches were his god”. If we are to follow this paradigm, then the crux will come with that last step, as we’ll have to take the time and trouble to understand the particular person with whom we’re dealing. People are different, and have different characteristic sins. A “cookie cutter” speech won’t suffice.

We can hope that the young man “went away sorrowful” not just because “he had great possessions”, but, much more importantly, because he now realized that he had a desperate need of goodness, if he was to have any hope of eternal life. If our neighbors can be brought to that point, they may move with the original Philippian Jailer to the covenant of grace question, “What must I do to be saved!”

Jailer's Note:  Welcome to the Presbyter, a man I have known literally all my life, as he is my father.  We were saved at about the same time, through the patient love, prayer, testimony and teaching of the same man.  I'm grateful to have the Presbyter on board, and I think you'll find his insights challenging and biblical, and his historical perspective illuminating.


  1. This brings to mind a thought I've had for some time ... I need to devote a separate blog to it:

    - Grace is only meaningful to me when I clearly see my sin, but ...
    - Sin only has meaning to me when I see it against the light of God's holiness

  2. On Jailer's thoughts:

    Perhaps a third point, brought out in an old book by R. C. Sproul, "If there is a God, why are there atheists?":

    - I'm only willing to face my sin and His holiness, when I believe His grace. (Otherwise, Sproul points out, I run headlong from the truth.)

    Of course, that makes the whole thing a bit circular, which then shows us the unity of the gospel: "Repent and believe ...."

  3. My understanding of this passage is that the rich man was looking more for kudos than repentance and guidance. Remember that God knows what's in a mans heart and a loving God would never turn away a true follower.

  4. Jesus approach to the rich young ruler underscores something I'm beginning to notice about my students - they leave our Bible classes with their heads stuffed with knowledge but with no idea how to apply the truth they are learning to real life situations right now(i.e. ok, I John 4 says I'm supposed to love folks because God loves me - what do I do about it this week and who is there to hold me accountable in love?) We are experimenting with changing how we emphasize application. Perhaps this was also a problem with the rich young ruler - perhaps he failed to ask the question "what does Yahweh's lordship have to do with my possessions?" I know that many a factory owner in the industrial revolution failed to heed to prophetic call of James 5:1-6 in his treatment of his workers. And what would the world look like if he had?

  5. Jesus only said what the Father told Him to say and he said it only how the Father told Him to present it.

    John 12:48-50 "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49"For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50"I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."

    That is how we should present the gospel to others too! Be fully led by the Holy Spirit and lean not on our own understanding.

    Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the LORD with all your heartAnd do not lean on your own understanding."

  6. On the day of Pentecost, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit gave a rousing evangelism sermon and 3,000 came to the Lord. THEN the disciples went house to house teaching them daily. Jesus said if HE be lifted up, not our programs, not our worldly education, then HE would draw all men unto Him. He is looking for those who will speak the truth about Him, directly and through the Holy Spirit. God isn't looking for motivational speakers, he is looking for those who will serve Him through the Spirit and in Truth.

    We need to get back to real discipleship, teaching the Word not man's doctrine and evangelism should be through the direction of the Holy Spirit not a motivational speaker.

    Everyone is called to make disciples, the evangelist brings souls to repentance and presents the gospel message.

  7. I don't know, while all those tools are good for presenting the gospel. I think most who have the calling of an evangelist, have the gift to be honest and direct. I guess when you state "evangelism class" I am thinking what I learned in seminary vs. what I have learned in a "presenting the Roman Road" presentation.
    Heck I remember taking a "spiritual gifts" test and found I had the gift of evangelism and martyrdom. What! Oh boy! Well what a good way to go I if presented to me.

  8. I've taken a different angle on this which you might find interesting. It's here:


Record your thoughts on the cell wall