Monday, March 18, 2013

The Rich Young Ruler: Tell-Tale Passage for Soteriology, Number One

Your take on a few passages in the New Testament will most likely tell where you fall in the spectrum of belief on the required saving response to the gospel message.  I don't believe there is a more important discussion today.  Nothing bothers me more than wrong teachings about salvation, some of which are found in professing evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Nothing matters more to an individual than whether he is ready for eternity or not.  Being deceived about this is the most damaging thing that could occur to a person, far worse than even genocidal murder on a scale of bad.  We don't want to tell someone the wrong thing about salvation.  We've got to get this right.  We know that Jesus and the Apostles were concerned about responses to the saving message, because that is expressed all over the New Testament.  We should be too.

As I considered writing about this, I went back and looked at an email exchange I made with Lou Martuneac in order to purchase his book, In Defense of the Gospel:  Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.  My check was received on August 9, 2011, over a year and a half ago.  I did read through it right away, knowing at some point I would talk about it.  Now is the time.

Not only have I read Lou's book, but I had already read several of John MacArthur's books:  The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles, and Hard to Believe.  A long time ago I read Charles Ryrie's So Great Salvation and Zane Hodge's Absolutely Free.  For that matter, I've also read Lewis Sperry Chafer's related He That Is Spiritual, and Darrell Bock's 1989 review in BibSac.  Furthermore, I waded through what Jack Hyles and Curtis Hutson wrote on the subject.  The most help was preaching through the entire New Testament over 25 years and then also exposing specific salvation passages for a year and a half of Sunday mornings several years ago.

My point in starting this series isn't to comment on Lou's book.  I will, but this won't be some type of critique.  I would rather look at what the Bible says about salvation.  Where it applies, I'll bring in In Defense of the Gospel.  Lou has a concern about "lordship salvation," and so do I.  There hasn't been enough consideration on Lordship in fundamentalism and evangelicalism.  Lou seems to think there's too much on it.

From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He preached, "Repent ye:  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  You see that in Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, Luke 10:9, 11, 11:20, and 21:31.  I asked a Hyles-Anderson College student the following question, as I was going door-to-door, two weeks ago:  "When Jesus preached, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," what did He mean?  He didn't know.  I asked him what it meant to repent, and he said, "Ask forgiveness for sins."  You may think I was talking to a theological doofus, but he was actually relatively pretty sharp.  When Jesus said that the kingdom was near or nigh, He was saying that the King had arrived and you're going to have to do something about that.  What is it that someone does with the true King when He arrives?  He receives Him as King.  That's what Jesus preached, that He was King, and He needed to be received if you were to be saved.  That fits in with Psalm 2, by the way.

I believe a key story in the gospels is "the rich young ruler."  We'll focus on the Luke edition in 18:18-30.

The essentially unconverted Jews of Jesus' day thought the kingdom was for them.  It was a given.  Jesus spent much time to dispel that wrong assumption in His preaching as recorded in the middle section of Luke.  The older son, representing religious Israel, was on the outside of the Father's house, and the prodigal younger son on the inside as that parable ended in Luke 15.  The rich man paralleled the religious leaders of Israel and he lift up his eyes in Hell in Luke 16.   Jesus spoke of the kingdom in brutal terms in Luke 17, ending with many as a feast for carnivorous birds.  If we are following along, at the beginning of chapter 18, we would be wanting to be sure that we were in the kingdom, rather than the victims of the slaughter there.

In Luke 18:9, Jesus starts in with example after example, teaching illustration after illustration, to indicate the saving response to the gospel.  He gives very little to no teaching on the work of Christ in salvation in them.  In the first one, He models the publican, who "would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."  Jesus said He went away justified.  Immediately after that example, Jesus deals with children and those becoming like children entering the kingdom of God.  Human effort or righteousness couldn't be the means of entrance, because children didn't have enough of those.

At the end of chapter 18, after the "certain ruler," we get the blind man (actually two of them in the parallel gospel accounts), who cried out, calling Jesus continuously "the son of David," and had a similar response as the publican with "Lord, have mercy on me."  The beginning of chapter 19 presents Zacchaeus and his response with almost no sense of his doctrinal belief, except that He was going to turn from his old way and follow Jesus, just like the blind man did.  Then in Luke 19, Jesus tells still another story to illustrate the right response.

Tucked in the middle of all this is the account of the "certain ruler."  From the words of this passage in Luke 18, I'm convinced that this ruler of the synagogue, a very religious man, already believed in Jesus Christ to the degree that many would see as sufficient to be saved if they didn't see later that he obviously wasn't. From the parallel accounts, he ran to Jesus and knelt down before Him.  This was all very public.  He called Jesus "Good Master."  The Pharisees didn't believe anyone was good, but God, which is why Jesus asked the question, "Why callest thou me good?" Then He said, "None is good, save one, that is God."  For all that this religious leader had done -- he believed that he had kept all the law from his youth up (v. 21) --  he still was not sure of eternal life.

The Jews believed that life came from God.  If they were to have eternal life, it would come from God, because God was the source of all life.  For him to come to Jesus to receive life, He thought that Jesus had it.  For all that he had done, he still knew he was falling short.  He knew there must be more to do to "inherit eternal life."  He came to Jesus to find out.

The rich young ruler had two problems, and Jesus dealt with both of them in this passage.  His first problem was not understanding His need.  His righteousness was not sufficient to save himself.  He needed to see the desperate condition he was in if he was going to confront his second problem.  Even if he did see his need, that wouldn't assume he was saved.  The ruler was obviously covetous.  Jesus pinpointed that sin.  He was self-righteous.  He was proud.

The second problem related to His reception of Jesus Christ.  He was confessing that Jesus was God and that He was the source of eternal life.  He was confessing that.  Confessing it doesn't mean believing it.  Jesus challenged that confession.  If Jesus was God, He could command.  He listed commandments obviously from God that the young ruler said he had kept from his youth.  Then Jesus focused on one other commandment, "Thou shalt not covet," one He left out of His original list.  He commanded the young ruler:  "Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me."  There are four commands here, "Sell, distribute, come, and follow."  Jesus ends with "follow me."  This is exactly what Jesus had said in Luke 9:23-26, what Lou would call a "discipleship passage."  Jesus is preaching to a lost Jew  -- why would he talk about discipleship with a lost person (hmmm)?  What he preached to the lost person in Luke 18 is the same that He preached in Luke 9.  This is the response that should be called for in order for someone to be saved.

If you take the name of Jesus out of the equation here, the non-lordship or anti-lordship people would say that this person blew his opportunity with the young ruler.  He was frontloading works.  He was confusing grace.  The young ruler was confessing Jesus was God and could give eternal life.  Alright, if you think I'm God, in essence, Jesus was saying, then you will do what I tell you, and here's what I want.  And Jesus commands him to sell, distribute, come, and follow.  The young ruler wouldn't do that.  Why?  He wasn't desperate enough.  He was too self-righteous.  He was proud.  He wasn't really convinced of Who Jesus was.  He wasn't receiving Jesus as His Lord.  What got between him and Jesus, if he was serious about obtaining eternal life, was his stuff.  He valued his things, his possessions, more than He did the Lord, heaven, the kingdom of God, the King, or obtaining eternal life.

Jesus was expecting total allegiance to Him as a term of salvation.  If the young ruler really did believe Jesus was God, and He believed in God for salvation, then He would do what Jesus told him to do. The young ruler must be willing to do whatever He told Him to do.  This is lordship.  Someone who will not "follow Jesus," does not believe in Him.  He is in rebellion against God.  He will not repent even though the King has come and revealed Himself.

In Luke 18 or any of the parallel passages, Jesus says nothing to the young ruler about substitutionary death or sacrificially shed blood.  The assumption there is that the man already knew that He could obtain eternal life from Jesus.  He wasn't willing, however, to follow Jesus Christ, to do whatever Jesus said.  If you are not willing to do that, then you do not in fact believe in Jesus Christ.  You don't trust in Him.  You are continuing to trust yourself.  You are hanging on to your own life (and your own possessions) for your own sake.  Your life doesn't belong to Jesus, it belongs to yourself.

All of the above is in the context of what is required to get into the kingdom, to have eternal life.  To turn it into a "discipleship" context or a "dedication" context is to rip it from its context, to confuse what is required for salvation.  It is to pervert the gospel.  It diminishes saving faith to the merely intellectual.

Salvation does come from believing in Jesus Christ.  However, He must be the Jesus of the Bible, Who is God and is Lord.  That is a clear implication of the young ruler passage in Luke 18.  The non-lordship or anti-lordship people shrink or depreciate the identity of Jesus.  They make Him more palatable to a worldly audience who wish to keep their lives for themselves, to in essence be saved by a less than scriptural Jesus.  Lots of people want Jesus as Savior.  The rich young ruler wanted eternal life from Jesus, but they don't want Him as a boss.  It's the apostate of 2 Peter 2:1, who denies the Lord who bought him.

Lou gives a whole chapter to the rich young ruler in his book.  He doesn't so much exegete the passage, as he attacks John MacArthur's position.  Lou explains at the end of the chapter why the man wasn't saved.  First, the man thought Jesus was nothing more than "a great and respected teacher" (p. 185).  If he thought Jesus was only that, he wouldn't have called him "Good Master," and thought that Jesus, unlike anyone else, could bring him eternal life.

Second, Lou says that "he believed he could by "good things" (works) earn for himself eternal life" (p. 186).   That's not true.  The rich young ruler believed he had kept all the law since he was a youth and he still didn't think he had obtained eternal life.  That's why he came to Jesus.  This is eisegesis by Lou.  He's just reading into the text.

Third, Lou says "he did not remain with Christ and by faith accept Him as Savior" (p. 186).  The text says nothing about that.  Nothing.  There is nowhere in that text that would have you conclude what Lou says.   The man believed in Jesus as Savior, believed that Jesus could provide him the way of eternal life, or in other words, be saved.  A plain reading of that text would have one conclude that the young ruler left sorrowful because He didn't want to sell, distribute, come, and follow.  He wanted to keep his life for himself, because He didn't believe in Jesus.

The story in Luke 18 provides an example of how Jesus dealt with unbelievers.  If they professed to believe in Him in some fashion or to some degree, He challenged that.  In this case, Jesus manifested the rebellious heart of the young ruler by commanding him to sell, distribute, come, and follow.  Are people saved by selling, distributing, coming, and following?  No.  But if they won't do those, then they don't believe in Jesus Christ.  His willingness to do those would have manifested a true saving faith.  And I say "saving faith," not works.  Those who won't believe in Jesus Christ as Lord are not saved, just like the rich young ruler wasn't saved.

Don't believe it if someone (like Lou) says that what I just explained is adding works to grace.  Salvation is only by grace through faith.  However, the faith must be in Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, not a made up one that makes it more convenient for modern, worldly evangelistic methods.  You want people to be clear about who Jesus is.  If Jesus was in fact the King, which He was, and the rich young ruler believed in Him, He would do whatever He said.  He didn't want to do that because He wanted to hang on to His riches.  And then Jesus goes on to talk about that after having that experience.

I know this is going to sound rough, but Lou perverts the passage and the words and intentions of Jesus Christ.  The man came to Jesus to ask how to obtain eternal life.  Do you think that Jesus was telling him what he needed to know or what?  Look at the little phrase between "sell, distribute" and "come, follow me."    "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven."  If he would "sell, distribute, come, and follow," he would have treasure in heaven.  That's what Jesus said.  Lou would explain away what Jesus said and turn what Jesus said into salvation by works.  No.  The rich young ruler would never believe in Jesus because he loved his possessions too much.  Lou mocks the idea of giving up his possessions to be saved.  "No one has to give up his possessions, does he?"  Jesus said he did.  He has to give up everything.  You can't put Jesus on the shelf with all your other Gods -- He must be alone there -- if you believe in Him.

The rich young ruler presents a major problem for those who wish to hijack the salvation explanations of Jesus and turn them into something more convenient to superficial professions of faith.

More to Come


Gary Webb said...

This passage is a very telling one against the Hyles/easy believism/pray a prayer crowd. When the ruler asked Jesus what he should do to have Eternal Life, Jesus did not lead him to pray a prayer. Also, when the ruler turned away in sorrow, Jesus did not run after him or say, "I guess I said the wrong thing." No, Jesus blamed the man's love of money for keeping him from believing on Christ. This would have to be one of the key passages on how to do evangelism, but it is rarely used as such.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Gary, I agree. Possessions were an idol to the guy, and he wasn't desperate enough to say no to them and yes to Jesus.

PSFerguson said...

Kent, I agree with the thrust of your analysis. Lordship salvation is salvation. You cannot divide Jesus Christ up and cherry pick which part of Him you desire. He is the LORD Jesus Christ. His rule must be submitted to in all areas of life. My point of disagreement is that the rich young ruler did think that he needed to "do" something more to earn salvation. He states "what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). As a successful self-made man at such an early age, he felt he could achieve what was missing in his life by his own efforts. Christ revealed not only that he had not kept the law perfectly but that he cannot by His questions. That should have led the man to recognise that he was a sinner and needed a Saviour. This Saviour was a Saviour that he had to submit to His rule.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Paul,

He wasn't willing to trust in Christ, I agree. But the ultimate issue was sell, distribute, come, follow. And he wouldn't, so he walked away. Why? He didn't believe in Jesus. No one can be saved by works, and the truth of leaving His life to follow Jesus meant He didn't believe in Him. It was a 'no go.' I don't think his "do" in his question is such a big deal. Surely he thought he was pretty good, and didn't know what he was missing, it's true. He wasn't desperate enough in his condition, despite some desperation. Sell, distribute, come, follow definitely were not discipleship for someone already saved. They were trading a temporal worthless life out of faith for eternal life.

Lou Martuneac said...


I’d like to address just one item where you wrote, “There hasn’t been enough consideration on Lordship in fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Lou seems to think there’s too much on it.”

Actually, my opinion is that in the last 25 years men in IFB circles who recognized the errors of Lordship Salvation (LS) have not done nearly enough to answer LS and resist its insidious spread. That is largely why we have seen LS’s false teaching gain a foothold in some segments of fundamentalism.

After some early reaction to John MacArthur’s original edition of The Gospel According to Jesus, such as Dr. Ernest Pickering’s review of TGATJ, there is precious little we can turn to from a fundamentalist. The evangelicals have, however, been hard at advocating LS without interruption. Dr. Pickering was clear about his concern with LS as JMac defined it. Dr. Pickering wrote,

John MacArthur is a sincere servant of the Lord, of that we have no doubt.... We believe in his advocacy of the so-called lordship salvation he is wrong. He desperately desires to see holiness, lasting fruit, and continuing faithfulness in the lives of Christian people. This reviewer and we believe all sincere church leaders desire the same.... But the remedy for this condition is not found in changing the terms of the gospel.”(LS: An Examination of John MacArthur’s Book, TGATJ, p.7)

Dr. Charles Ryrie’s So Great Salvation was a helpful response to the first wave of LS from MacArthur. As for Zane Hodges, I have been very clear: While he had some helpful reactions to LS his “Crossless” gospel is the most egregious reductionist assault on the gospel ever introduced to the NT church by one of its own. That is why I never cite Hodges in answer to LS in my book or from my blog. The Zane Hodges “Crossless” gospel heresy, is perpetuated nowhere other than through the membership of the Grace Evangelical Society (Bob Wilkin, Executive Director). In fact I added several sections to the revised and expanded edition of IDOTG to expose and refute Hodges’s “Crossless” gospel. Furthermore, I have in excess of 70 articles at my blog dealing with the Hodges, Wilkin, GES “Crossless” gospel.

Finally, please indulge me one small excerpt from my book that will tie this off.

“In Titus 1:9 the Bible says we must ‘exhort and convince’ those who speak against the truth. In Titus 1:13 the Bible also says we are to ‘rebuke them sharply.’ If the advocate of Lordship Salvation cannot be convinced of his error, and he does not respond to a ‘rebuke,’ then his error must be exposed and its spread opposed. That is biblically ‘contending for the faith.’ Dr. Ernest Pickering wrote: ‘It is not a mark of graciousness to allow false teaching to be propagated.’ [The Tragedy of Compromise, p. 6] The Bible teaches that we must refute and resist the doctrine of false teachers. It is a biblical command!”(IDOTG, p. 218).

If from 1988 there had been more serious “consideration” given to understanding Lordship Salvation’s corruption of the “simplicity that is Christ,” (2 Cor. 11:3) and continuous contending for the faith once delivered (Jude 3) from fundamentalists against LS there’d be less of Lordship Salvation to contend with now.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps fundamentalists haven't been writing much about LS (and I do share some of your concerns about MacArthur's extreme view on this), but many are constantly preaching against anything that smells like it. You can't listen to any of the Sword-type guys for very long without them making sure you understand that a person can be living completely like the world for years or even decades, and we ought not question the person's salvation. I'm guessing they are thinking of the many "converts" they've made (through enticing words of man's wisdom) that they still want to claim for there own. I hope you can see that this is a real problem in fundamentalism today.


KJB1611 said...

Dear Lou,

Please correct me if I am wrong on this; my understanding of the difference between MacArthur, Ryrie, and Hodges is that MacArthur says that Christian growth will always begin at the moment of regeneration, although it is imperfect and can be different for different people, while Ryrle says that one can be converted yet be entirely unchanged for a while, although at some point he will make a surrender decision and then Christian growth will start, while Hodges says one can be saved and live like the devil for one's entire life without any change whatsoever (and now has gone crossless). If that is a correct understanding, I would be interested in seeing the texts that show one can be converted and freed from the dominion of sin and still have this astonishing translation have no effect in the life whatever for some months, years, or whatever.

I would also be interested in seeing if there is any Baptist confessional material that supports Ryrie's take on things. If Baptist confessions teach that repentance/faith includes surrender, then Ryrie's view would be the new one in fundamentalism.

I also look forward to seeing how you respond to Pastor Brandenburg.

I personally don't use the term "Lordship salvation" because it seems to mean so many different things to so many different people that I have difficulty seeing its usefulness. I will happily say that when one receives Christ one receives the whole Christ, who is both Lord and Savior, who is Prophet, Priest, and King, and that one cannot receive Him in His Priestly office without wanting Him in His Kingly office.