Lawkeeping Idolatry and Salvation
The Rich Young Ruler and the Lawyer

The Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke

Introduction: This one-part blog: Lawkeeping, Idolatry, and Salvation according to the Synoptic Gospels offers Jesus’ insights on a misunderstood and poorly taught issue. Lawkeeping is a live and well but so is idolatry.  proper view of salvation leads to a proper view of lawkeeping and idolatry.

Biblical narratives are designed to catch one’s attention. They are stories designed to be memorable and to challenge a person’s thinking and wanting, Such is the case with the so-called Rich Young Ruler which is recorded in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30). Not much information was given about the man. Matthew said he was young and Luke called him a ruler, an official of some kind. Each gospel recorded his coming to Jesus but there does not seem to be a context. His question focused on doing. Unknown to him, he had entered the realm of lawkeeping, idolatry, and salvation. He wanted to know what he should be doing so that he could inherit eternal life. The question may seem peculiar. One has to be an heir to inherit something or receive the inheritance as a gift. Apparently in the Synoptic gospels, eternal life, being saved, and entering the kingdom of heaven were closely associated. The young man was asking a salvation question: How can I be saved?

This was the same question asked by a lawyer in Luke 10:25: what must I do to inherit eternal life? Interestingly, Jesus answered each man’s question in the same manner. In each case Jesus appealed to law keeping. In all three gospel accounts, Jesus corrected the rich young ruler’s use of the word good. Jesus corrected the lawyer’s definition of neighbor. Jesus pointed the ruler, and eventually the lawyer, to a different standard for judging good and bad, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Jesus pointed the ruler and the lawyer to the Word of God and the proper understanding of God and the Law.

Unlike the ruler, the lawyer got the first part. In response to his answer, Jesus said: You have answered correctly, Jesus replied. Do this and you will live (10:28). The lawyer had appealed to Scripture – the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4; Leviticus 19:18). But he failed in his application. On the other hand, the ruler failed to understand either part. Jesus gave both a homework assignment which was to sell all their possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus illustrated the truth by giving the lawyer a parable. A Samaritan man had compassion on a man in need in contrast to the religious leader or a lay associate. Lawkeeping did not extend to those who were considered inferior.

Similarly, Jesus, after hearing the ruler’s claim that he was an excellent lawkeeper, gave him a homework assignment. Jesus told him to dispossess himself from “stuff” and follow Jesus. He left pained. We don’t know if either man got the message. Jesus taught both men and the disciples that lawkeeping is from the inside out. Each man was to divorce himself from self! Otherwise, they would be compassionate and merciful. Jesus called each man to move away from self and toward God and others.

Jesus met each man where each was in terms of their spiritual maturity and willingness to learn. As do others, each man thought in terms of personal and patterned lawkeeping, by a standard, and for a gain. Jesus appealed to what the ruler knew and wanted. Jesus presented several of the Ten Commandments to him. These had to do with the second table of the Law – man’s duty to others (fifth to the tenth Commandments). According to the ruler’s answers, he was the personal lawkeeper extraordinaire and from childhood no less. He thought patterned, personal lawkeeping was characteristic of him. However, his aim was to get for self. He had created a virtual world of his own reality through successful, personal lawkeeping according to his standard for his own glory. He presupposed that he did not need Christ’s lawkeeping. Jesus knew that the issues of lawkeeping, idolatry, and salvation were in the forefront and it was mandatory that Jesus address these issues with proper teaching.

Knowing this, Jesus brought the ruler to a point of no return. Jesus told the ruler that he lacked one thing and only one thing. Literally, in Mark’s and Luke’s account, Jesus said one thing is still lacking in you. Wow! How can that be? Jesus gave that one thing: you must divest yourself of that one thing which you hold so dear – yourself. It was not “stuff” that was the issue but the getter! Jesus exposed his heat with the command: sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. Following Jesus meant denying self and taking up living for Christ through the Holy Spirit daily. In this case, the ruler was called to think and see vertically and outwardly – to God and others. Apparently, God had blessed him with material things. He was to use those for God’s glory and the good of others. On the contrary, he reserved “things” for himself. Holding on to things for self, by self, and to self was his mantra for life. Jesus said that was The Way!

At this point many would point to possessions, power, people, and pleasure as idols. They may even say that one should turn from them to God in order to get satisfied. Whoa! Please think with me. For the ruler, self was on the throne. He was the idol, the idol maker, and the idol worshipper. We don’t know his motivation, but he was a getter. Things gave him something. But it seems he was not satisfied or he was looking for Jesus’ approval (people pleasing!). No matter. The issue was within – in the ruler’s heart. Gaining stuff and personal lawkeeping his way by his standard were part of self-pleasing. He had created his own world in which he was king.

The ruler’s response to Jesus’ homework assignment is staggering. He was deeply grieved. It is the same the word that Matthew and Mark used to describe Jesus’ response in the Garden the night before the crucifixion (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34). Please note that the degree of inner-man angst was similar for the God-pleasing Jesus and the self-pleasing ruler. But the contrast between the ruler and Jesus is simply staggering! The inner-man angst had very different sources. Jesus was giving Himself to the Father for undeserving sinners. In stark contrast, the ruler, a patterned getter, thought pleasing self was what life was all about. How could that be? As an understatement, the ruler was full of himself. Such is the life of the idolater.

We are not told what happened to the ruler. He left very saddened. We do know what Christ did in the Garden: He prayed not my will but God’s be done. He pleased His Father and reaped blessings and rewards for himself, the Triune God, and believers. Amazing!

Returning to the lawyer, we read that he was further along in his understanding of doctrine than the ruler. He knew the summary of the law and the prophets (the whole Old Testament): love God and neighbor. Yet, his self-focus and self-pleasing hindered him from taking Jesus at face value. He was trapped and exposed. So, as self-pleasers do, he sought to justify himself. He asked who his neighbor was (10:29). It is interesting to think along with the lawyer. Perhaps he thought: “Other people hinder me from taking care of me. How can I get Jesus to agree that I am good?” The fact of the matter is that Jesus and the Triune God have been addressing personal lawkeepers – idolaters – since the fall and God’s judgment. Simply, believers are called to please God rather than self.

1. What has God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit taught throughout the ages in regards to self-pleasing and self-worship?
2. How are you like and unlike the rich young ruler and the lawyer?
3. What makes self so important?
4. How may you use God and personal lawkeeping to please self and get something for self?
5. How will you change your view of God, self, others, and circumstances as put on pleasing God?