Mar 2, 2007

Can we inherit eternal life by DOING?

I find it interesting in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) the question this lawyer poses to Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Our protestant answer when we read such a question is, “You can’t do anything to inherit eternal life! You just got to have faith.” And not the George Michael kind.

What I find interesting is that Jesus not only answers the lawyer’s question with a question of His own (“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”), but Jesus goes on to answer it in the form of a parable that describes what people do and don’t do (i.e. the Good Samaritan).

But let’s look first at the answer this lawyer gives to Jesus. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus heard the lawyer respond in this way, Jesus agreed with him. In fact, we see Jesus giving this answer Himself in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. After Jesus tells the lawyer he’s answered the question correctly, Jesus says, “DO THIS, and you will live.”

So back to the first question, “What shall I DO to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds, “DO THIS (i.e. Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18), and you will live.” For some reason, many of us separate this whole concept of being and doing (or believing and doing). It’s difficult for us to see Jesus respond in this way. But if we look at these two great commandments, they are based upon a verb (ahav in Hebrew). A verb requires that we do something. It requires that we take action, or else it wouldn’t be a verb.

We can’t love God and our neighbor by mustering up enough feelings within ourselves, because love isn’t about what we feel, it’s about what we DO. Love pays the bills. Love comes home and plays with the kids. Love puts food on the table. Love even compels God to do something about our sin, so He comes to earth and dies in our place. This is why loving God isn’t about mustering up enough strength in your heart, mind, and soul as if they were feelings. There are many days when I don’t feel like my relationship with God is going well. I know many others who feel the same way. But love is not about what you feel, it’s about what you do. And this doing, Jesus says, is how we inherit eternal life.

But what about belief? Belief is there for the lawyer already. Of course He believes in God. In his mind, as for every other Jew at the time, they were concerned how they could honor God by what they do. They knew their actions couldn’t save them. Yet, actions followed their faith. The point is, if you truly love God and your neighbor, you’re going to want to express that with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We get the impression when we hear these two great commandments that we have to feel a certain way in our hearts, souls, and minds before we can love. Maybe we have it backwards. Love is what you do, and the person behind the love will drive you to be passionate.

Every core of who we are is wrapped up in this action of loving. Both Romans 13 and Galatians 5 says that love is the fulfillment of the law. This is all based on an action of doing (i.e. loving).

In addition, Jesus follows up this lawyer’s answer with a parable about doing. A parable about love in action. A man is walking along a dangerous road by himself and is robbed, assaulted, and left for dead. The one who loves the man is the one we least expect (the Samaritan), while the religious ones (priests and Levites) we expect to love - don't. The Samaritan loves the man by tending to his wounds, paying his bills, and providing for him a place to stay.

What we tend to miss in this parable is the fact that Jesus is not only showing us that we should be active in our love like the Good Samaritan, but we also should be the ones to love the Good Samaritan when we’re so used to hating him. Jesus ends the parable by asking another question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer (in context) answers Him, “The one who showed him mercy.” Notice how the lawyer answers Jesus. He says, “The one…” He can’t even say the word Samaritan. Could he possibly hate these people this much? Most Jews of the day actually did.

So Jesus says, “You go, and DO likewise.” Jesus exposes the lawyers stereotypes, prejudices, and hatred toward the Samaritans. How is he going to start loving God if he can’t even love his neighbor (the Samaritan)? How can this man inherit eternal life if he doesn’t show this active love to his own enemies?

Jesus fuses together being and doing (believing and doing), even eternal life and DOING. James, the brother of Jesus, caught on later to what this means. He says, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (2:14,18).

In no way am I advocating works righteousness. I don't necessarily think that's the main point anyway. What I think Jesus is really getting at is there is no distinction between Samaritans (outcasts) and priests when it comes to following Christ. He is breaking down the walls that separate them. That is the true Gospel being unveiled in real life. If you love your neighbor, then you’re respecting God’s image in that person, and are therefore respecting and honoring God.

Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Brandon & Jennifer said...

Thanks for sending me your blog link, Glen!

I enjoyed checking out your site.

It was great to hear from you and I hope things are going well for you.

Later on,