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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

9/1/10 Matthew 19:16,17 The "Good" of Eternal Life

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments."

(Christ and the Rich Young Ruler Heinrich Hoffman c. 1896)
Thoughts: This was a man of faith.  He believed in eternal life.  He believed in doing good.  Jesus did not toss out as useless but encouraged the keeping of them.  Yet, he noted there is only One who is good. Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18 indicate the young man called Jesus "good Teacher", but Matthew leaves out this- which tends to focus on what consists of being good rather on the goodness of Jesus. 
According to Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, the fastest growing religion in America is "Moral Therapeutic Deism".  It consists of the idea that there is a God; that He/She/It wants people to be nice, fair and good; That our chief end in life is to feel good about ourselves; God doesn't want to be involved in your life unless there is a problem; good people go to heaven when they die (  This is the faith of the Rich Young Ruler.  It is the faith of the Rich Young Americans as well. He believed he could be good enough to go to heaven.  That is almost like telling an officer in a traffic trap, "But I stopped at 99 green lights before, I don't deserve a ticket now."  If heaven is a perfect place, then the standard to maintain its perfection is our own perfection- which none of us have.  Only One- God- is good/perfect.  We go to heaven by his grace, and any good we do is also by His grace.  We cannot/should not expect God to grade on the curve.  Nor should we sluff off our own evil as if it really doesn't matter. We are too good at excusing and justifying ourselves.  Deep down we know we need grace- a way to get rid of our sins/mistakes/failures/evil.  Christianity is about grace and changing lives- not feeling better or good about yourself.  The good that counts is not our imperfect goodness, but the goodness of the One who is perfect- God.

Prayer: Lord, it is not one good thing, that I must do- or even a million.  You alone, are good.  Help me to hang onto you and your goodness this day. 

John Calvin abridged: Though he was a young man, he belonged to that class of people who upheld the integrity of the Elders by a sober and faithful life. He comes to Christ not in treachery like the scribes, but wanting instruction.  Yet he was blinded by confidence in his own efforts at goodness.  He asks for an award for his efforts- so Christ appropriately sends him to the Law (though he cannot keep it- to convict him of his need for grace).  Some have interpreted this passage as indicating that we might earn our way to heaven by keeping the law.  The law does show us how to live holy lives (Lev. 18:5; Deut. 30:19), but none of us keeps the law perfectly (Rom. 3:23). Paul speaks of a righteousness of works (Rom. 10:5) and of law (Rom. 10:6).  The young man was inquiring about the righteousness of works- so Christ referred him to the law.  God does not bestow salvation to us as if it were an obligation or debt to us because of our goodness.

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