It was an encounter of the divine kind. A lawyer of Israel stood before the Judge of all mankind and sought to put Him to the test. The topic? How to inherit eternal life. The question? What shall I do? The answer? You tell me.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “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.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:25-29 ESV)
Jesus engages with the man, though the lawyer’s motives were less than sincere. He wanted to know what to do. Jesus told him he already knew what to do, so do it.
At first, it might sound like Jesus is preaching a salvation by works. But had that been the case, there would have been no need for the lawyer’s second question. No need for him to try to justify himself. He understood that if meriting heaven required obeying the law then it would be impossible without some qualifiers.
I imagine the sweat forming on his brow as Jesus turns the tables on his smug answer. I’m thinking the lawyer rattled the two greatest commands off pretty quickly. Jesus’ question was from home-schooling 101. He had memorized them as a child. Been quizzed on them repeatedly in synagogue. He knew the answer. But there was something in how Jesus told him to “just do it” that cut deep. Something that pricked his conscience.
A light went on revealing that what had been pretty easy to recite his whole life was, in fact, pretty impossible to actually do. Perhaps for the first time he paused to consider the implications of trying to practically obey the command. In the presence of the Truth, as he had never before, he was honest about how well he had been keeping the Law. And so he tries to maintain some sense of self-righteousness by seeking to reduce the field of “neighbors” he has to love as himself. (Funny that he didn’t try and probe what it really meant to love God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength and with ALL your mind.)
And I’m noodling on this not to judge the lawyer. But to marvel afresh that the answer doesn’t lie in, “What shall I do?” but in what God has already done. The law, whether the one given to Moses on Sinai or the one written on my heart and conscience, can only serve to condemn. It can only set a standard which, in and of myself, I am unable to meet. It’s design is to do what it did to the lawyer, to reveal my great need for a salvation which isn’t dependent on my performance.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.
(Romans 3:21-25 ESV)
A righteousness apart from law. Transgression and rebellion dealt with by grace. Declared not guilty before God as a gift. All because of Christ’s blood shed to pay the price for my sin. The price paid in full. Redemption secured.
What shall I do? Receive it by faith. That’s what Jesus knew the lawyer needed, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
O, what a Savior!
To Him be all glory!