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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Caught Up in the Loopholes

My previous series sparked a number of conversations with friends and family members about spiritual matters. I've been asked questions that have challenged me and strengthened my faith as I've sought the answers. I will be starting this new series based on these conversations and I hope that they will stregthen your faith and answer some of the same questions you may have wondered about.

Can you explain the parable that states that a camel has more chance fitting through the eye of a needle than a rich man getting into heaven? How do Christians reconcile that parable, found in no less than three gospels, if they own any wealth? I would think true believers would give it all away and strive to live in poverty.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”...
[Jesus replied]“If you want to enter life, obey the Commandments.”
“Which ones?” The man inquired.
Jesus replied, “’Do not murder’, ‘do not commit adultery’, ‘do not steal’, ‘do not give false testimony’, ‘honor your father and mother’, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these have I kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
[Jesus answered], “One thing you lack…Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
(Excerpted from Matthew 19:16-28, Mark 10: 17-31, Luke 18: 18-30)

The rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what good work he could do to be saved. He didn’t understand faith and the fact that good works cannot earn eternal life. Jesus hit the man’s point of pride- self righteousness. Jesus shows the man that he had not kept the Ten Commandments as he thought he had, and therefore he needed God’s grace. Jesus identified the one area that revealed the man’s true lack of devotion to God- his love of money. When Jesus told the rich man that in order to have eternal life, he would have to “sell all that he had to the poor…and come, follow me”, the rich man was very sorrowful because money was more important to him than following the Lord, and he didn’t want to give up his riches. This is why the Bible says, “you cannot love both God and money”, because greed consumes and the love of money takes the place of the love of God in people’s lives. Matthew 6:21 sums it up: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Anything in our lives that is more important to us than God is a form of idolatry and if it keeps us from coming to the Lord in repentance then it is “harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” than for us to get into heaven without forsaking our “riches” (whatever they might be) to follow Jesus Coming to Jesus requires a humble spirit, and people with an abundance of money and stuff don't think they need anything else to fulfill them, much less God to save them.

It is hard to give up material possessions, but if they are what is keeping us from a relationship with the Lord, then it would be better to live a life of poverty (and we aren't all called to do that, but we must be willing to if we are) than end up in hell for eternity. We can't take any of our riches with us when we go, anyway! I think many true believers are called to give up their possessions to follow God's calling on their lives. Christians are not all called to sell all we have to the poor and live destitute lives for Christ, but making a decision to follow Jesus with your life does require sacrifice (see my blog entry called 'Counting the Cost'). You have to be willing to give up what is most important to you- for the rich young ruler it was his money- to put the Lord first in your life. What you get in return is worth much more than any seeming ‘sacrifice’ you have to make. What is keeping YOU from coming to Christ?


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