I find myself returning, again and again, to Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Ruler. You know the one; in Luke 18 where the guy asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?”
I keep coming back to this event for a least two reasons.
. First is because of the frequency with which I encounter atheists who are intently focussed on Jesus telling this individual to, “Sell all you have and give your money to the poor.” Atheists do this solely to prove, or so they think, the hypocrisy of we who claim to follow Jesus. “You’re no Christian if you haven’t given everything away.”
. More than that however, I return to this account because the most important part of Jesus’ response, the part that atheists ignore, is so radical and life transforming that I can scarcely look away.
“What must I do to have eternal life?”
“Follow Me,” says Jesus.
“How must I live to have eternal life?”
If you notice, in this account and in the account preceding it with the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, both the Tax Collector and the Rich Ruler are already doing pretty good at keeping the law.
“I don’t steal,
I don’t commit adultery,
I tithe," -
These guys see themselves as being pretty good people. Jesus however draws their focus to a new locale.
Notice that the focus of the Tax Collector (“God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Luke 18:9-14) is on his relationship with God whereas the focus of the Pharisee is on his works / deeds. Yet Jesus says that the Tax Collector (a horrible sinner) and NOT the Pharisee (who keeps the rules) goes home forgiven. In similar fashion, notice how Jesus takes the focus of the Rich Ruler from his good deeds and puts it onto what is missing - again, a focus on God.
“Follow Me. Become like Me. Do what I do in My relationship with others.”
That’s the point that people completely miss when they focus on giving all his money away. They’re incapable of seeing that yes, money and possessions had become his idol. Jesus saw this clearly. More than that however, without becoming a follower of Jesus, the man could have given everything away and still been completely lost.
Both the Rich Ruler and the Pharisee, and atheists for that matter, are inwardly focussed.
“Look at me. See what a good person I am. See all the rules that I follow? I don’t need God in order to be good.”
But God and His kingdom are to come first in our lives.
We don’t need more rules.
We need to follow one rule, and one rule only.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and mind, and strength."
We don’t need to try harder.
We need to allow Jesus to make us a different kind of people.
This is what spending time with Jesus does. Jesus, the Truth, sets us free from all the rules. When we become the kind of people that Jesus wants us to be, the rules, as humans generally understand rules, simply no longer apply. Rules are no longer a burden. Rules no longer feel confining.
. Spending time with Jesus makes us men and women of integrity. With Jesus as our guide we become the kind of people where killing the weakest members of society is no longer needed to experience freedom. With Jesus as our guide, we no longer need to abandon our spouses and children to find love in the arms of another.
. Spending time with Jesus brings about a way of life and freedom where I can follow my dreams. This is because with Jesus as my guide, which slowly but surely transforms my character, my dreams and desires stem from a healthy mind and soul.
. Spending time with Jesus makes me the kind of person where God’s will and my will slowly mesh until they are one and the same.
Jesus, as well as the rest of the New Testament writers talk about the kind of character that naturally produces in those of us who were profoundly and desperately wrong, the kind of behaviours that almost incidentally keep the rules or guidelines that God has set up for correct living. Words like transformed, predestined, conformed and such (see Romans 8:29) means that being a follower of Jesus shapes who we are. Our new nature produces the kind of behaviour / character / personality to which most people think that rule keeping will guide us, but which a “rule-keeping” paradigm can never achieve.