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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wealth and Salvation

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" - Mark 10:25

A dear non-Christian friend of mine sent me this passage this morning and asked me if I had written a blog post about this, saying "
seems VERY few professed Christians in the US actually pay much attention to this at all." This blog post is dedicated to my friend PB.

While catching up at 숯불집 (Soot Bool Jip - translated: charcoal fire house) in Koreatown, LA a couple weeks ago, we discussed the difference between people who call themselves Christians, but don't live like one and Christians that seem to count the cost of discipleship and live life differently. My friend is not a Christian and as many non-Christians seem to comment, the only difference he noticed between so-called Christians and non-Christians is that Christians seem to have a belief in God, but that belief doesn't seem to change them. I added that many people are just looking for an insurance policy instead of a real relationship with the living God.

This, I believe is the foundation of what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler in Mark Chapter 10:
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"

The reality is, people can put on the mask of the Christian faith because they were raised in the church. They can also put on the mask of the Christian faith if they have adopted the cultural norms of Christianity. If I wasn't willing to put all my eggs in the basket of faith, I personally would probably choose a life of sex, wealth creation, and fame, but for many, I believe that the idea of going to heaven is a good remedy to their lack of faith and their lack of willingness to give up the one or two things that are greater to them than God is. This, I believe is the blindness that covers us all.

The rich young ruler was clearly well-spoken, intelligent, sociable, and moral. He lived according to the laws of Moses and was raised with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. He was probably not much different from the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son who was perfectly obedient all his life, but was obedient for all the wrong reasons. For the elder brother, his obedience to his father wasn't because he loved his father, but because he loved the inheritance he would get from his father. At the end of the parable, the father has to come out to invite him to join the party, a great symbol for how God invites us to join him whether we are more like the rebellious younger brother or the self-righteous elder brother. Most likely, the rich young ruler was an upstanding citizen, very civil in his interactions with people, and by the standards of people around him, a very "good" person. But this wasn't what God was looking for.

I think there are many "good" people in this world. And as I continue to live life, my heart breaks when I find that these "good" people choose to reject God because they don't see that they need Him. It doesn't change the fact that I like them, or the fact that I think they are deserving of the same salvation through Jesus Christ as I am (which I am undeserving of), but too many people take a look at the world and assume that being good is what it takes to meet God. I think that its great to be nice, generous, kind, and serving. I think its awesome when I see people take the time out of their busy schedules to serve the poor and help the needy. It always moves me when I hear stories of sacrifice and stories of brotherhood. But at the end of the day, being nice helps you get along with people, it doesn't bring you into a relationship with God.

In the book of Job, the suffering servant talks about how he has also lived a blameless life. In fact, we are given a glimpse into the dialog between God and Satan. Satan was roaming the earth looking to snatch another person for the depths of hell and God said, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" To that, Satan said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." Job had incredible wealth and prosperity, was a great person amongst his community, and commanded great influence and great respect amongst his people. So God said, do what you like, but don't touch him. So Satan destroyed everything he had. All of Job's stocks plummeted and were worth nothing, his cash reserves went up in flames, his income property was destroyed, his farms were burned, people robbed whatever he had left, and worst of all, all of his children were destroyed when the building they were in collapsed. To this, Job was grieved beyond all human measure, then came to his senses in his loss, fell to the ground, then started to worship God saying, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

Every child he had was destroyed and everything he had was gone and he still worshiped God and blessed the name of the Lord.

Then, Satan requesting an audience before God again said about Job, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face." And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life." From then, boils came upon his skin, he couldn't sit or sleep, walking on his feet hurt and lying down was torture, it was as if he had 3rd degree burns atop of knife wounds and blisters all over his body. When his wife saw this, she said, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." To which he rebuked her saying, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?"

Job's wife was telling Job to say that God isn't as good as He says He is. That God isn't all powerful, all knowing, and all wise, and that He wasn't as loving as Job thought Him to be. She was telling Him to rely on the wisdom of the world and accept what He sees as the ultimate truth and that if God truly cared, then He would do something about this situation. Job, alludes ever so subtly to what is necessary in Chapter 9.

Faith, in essence, is a pure dependency on God. It is the realization that we must believe, and keep believing that God is first and foremost sovereign over all things and that all that He does is for the good of those He loves. Ultimately, this means that nothing will happen apart from his allowance of it. Even though at the end of Job, he was blessed with far more than he ever had to begin with, I believe that it was through his suffering that he really learned this dependency on God. Everything he believed was revealed through his suffering and you could tell his belief was true because he remained true. The thing is, there is often times a huge gap between what we know about God and what we experience with God. Doubt is clearly standard protocol because we don't want to let go of the control we have over our lives. All people have an understanding that they can't control everything around them, but those that don't trust God do their best to.

The rich young ruler never really trusted God for those who trust God would be able to let go of what they have. In the modern day context, because we spend so much time investing in building up wealth for ourselves, building up an image for ourselves, building up a career for ourselves, of building up relationships for ourselves, we find ourselves hitting a point when we find it impossible to give those things up. We rationalize to ourselves that it doesn't make sense for us to give everything up because it took us so much time to build up what he had, and if we come to some point where we verbally say that we are willing to give it all up, we then find another reason why we shouldn't, often times using the excuses that we aren't 100% sure that God really wants us to give it up or that we have too many obligations and bills and that God wouldn't want us to. We use human reasoning to deny our need to step out in faith.

The thing is, faith isn't just a belief that something exists. It's a daily dependence that the many small decisions we make in wisdom will be used for the glory of God when our motivations are right with God and that we trust God with the results of our big decisions. This is what makes it all a relationship. Immediately before the rich young ruler approached Jesus with his questions, it says in Mark 10:13 that as Jesus was preaching, "they were bringing children to him (Jesus) that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." The rich young ruler must have heard about this child-like faith and began to question whether or not he had this sort of faith.

When I think of child-like faith, I don't think of one that is childish and immature, but one who fully accepts the good-will of the father. As a child places their faith in their father, they notice what delights their father, that their father does everything to protect them, and that no matter what, the father is there for their child. They simply accept that the father is good, loving, kind, and generous. They don't need to go out and build security for themselves on their own because their father's protection and care is enough for them. Essentially, they don't feel a need for anything because they have the father and know that the father will cover them in all that they need. The rich young ruler had spent so much time amassing wealth and protecting his wealth that he probably felt like God was going to take it all away if he didn't do some good. I don't doubt that he was a good person, but there is a clear cost of discipleship when following God that you must give up everything in order to follow Jesus.

Tim Keller, writing about Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones wrote, "In Preaching and Preachers, Lloyd-Jones warns preachers not to "assume that all…who are members of the church, are…Christians. This, to me, is the most fatal blunder of all." (p.146) He (Dr. Jones) goes on to say that many people have accepted Christianity intellectually but have never come under the power of the Word and the gospel and therefore have "not truly repented." (p.150) We must not preach as if everyone is a Christian, and we shouldn't think that believers no longer need the gospel, but only more "advanced" instruction. He (Dr. Jones) believed that church members needed to be exposed to the Gospel not only because some of them needed to realize they had never repented, but also because "all the people who attend a church need to be brought under the power of the Gospel."

The reason Jesus said it is easier for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God is because we place more value on the things of this earth than we ought to, and we put more value on those things more than we value God. If you really take things into perspective, people are very myopic. We try to build up for ourselves, mini-kingdoms with our bank accounts and our friends, our girlfriends and our cars, our houses and our toys, and everything else we live for. We focus so much on the 100 years that we are living on earth that we pay little attention to what could be beyond these 100 years. And if we do pay some attention to what could be, we quickly dismiss it because it means that we have to give up the things we currently hold onto so dearly and love. We don't want to give up our aspirations to become an actress or our hopes to retire on our own estate, our white picket fence with two and a half kids or the career that seems to provide the stability and social affirmation we need. We don't want to give up our comforts or our current lifestyles and we don't want to change how we spend our weekends or our money. Even as you read this, you are probably saying, "Yea, why should I give these things up? I worked damn hard for them and unless if I am forced to, there shouldn't be any reason I should be willing to give up everything. Plus, why does God need this stuff anyway? Isn't He God after all?"

God doesn't want your stuff, He wants you. The thing is, as long as you are enslaved to what your have or the relationship (except marriage) you are in or the hope you have in your career or in your life that isn't God, He doesn't have you. He wants your heart and nothing else. The reason it feels like he wants you to give up so much is because you are too attached to what you think he wants you to give up. A good standard of measuring what your idols in life are is to look at the things you are most afraid to lose. For Job, even though he was in agony, it didn't pale in comparison to the goodness of God in His life, otherwise he would've just cursed Him.

There seems to be a clear distinction between people who have knowledge about God and the Christian faith and people who actually believe. Furthermore, the distinction seems to be clear that all who know and maybe even like the teachings of Christ may not have come to a point of repentance in their lives. Jesus foretold Peter that he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Peter did. Then He fell on his face in shame only to find that the love of God was greater. Repentance is the realization and the movement away from the things that enslave you the most. For Peter, it was fear that enslaved him more than His love for Christ, and as soon as he recognized how deeply rooted his sinful nature was, he immediately turned back towards Christ. He was no longer afraid of what the world would think of him because He found Christ's love to be so much greater than the world could offer. This belief, he demonstrated by requesting that he be turned upside down as he was being crucified for preaching about Christ because he wasn't worthy to die the same type of death that Jesus did.

In Job 9, Job says that it doesn't matter if you live a life without sin or full or sin, that all are not safe from the consequences of sin. He continues to say that God is God and that we are, but His creation and at the end of the day, we have no control over that which happens in the world. Then he expresses the need for an arbiter between humankind and God! One must remember that Job lived around the time Abraham did. This means that there was an understanding that being "good" wasn't enough to get you into heaven. No matter how much charity work you give, no matter how much you donate, and no matter how nice you are as a person, has no bearing in regards to eternity. All that does contribute to the good of mankind and I do think it is certainly admirable when people devote their lives and resources to causes that go beyond themselves, but if that was enough, that that would mean that we could save ourselves from Hades.

This world is the Titanic, a sinking ship. It was once perfect, but we chose to sin and ruined it. Those that hold onto the possessions on the ship will sink with it and those who let go and heed the call of the captain, will find themselves on a lifeboat. The thing is, there is more than enough space for anyone who wants to accept the reality that their possessions are meaningless and only those that do will let go of whatever it is that they are holding onto and get on the life boat. Some will refuse the call of captain because of their own pride, their own image, or literally because they don't want to lose what they consider so dear. They try and find a way to save themselves along with everything they are holding on to, but by that time, it is too late and they sink with the ship.

What can save you? Only Christ.

The arbiter that Job placed his future hope in was Christ. Resting in that hope allowed Him assurance of God's sovereignty that He would not be left to "save himself" and that He could rest like a child in God's arms. That is exactly what God is telling us to do except the afflictions of Christ have already covered all of our sins. By putting our full faith in the completed works of Christ through his crucifixion to pay for our sins and resurrection to defeat death, we are essentially accepting that we don't need to do anything except rest in what He did as a result of who He is. When we rest in Christ, we are truly free because we don't serve money or are enslaved by our deficiencies. We find that we are complete in Christ and that our moods don't change with the stock market. We hold everything with an open hand and don't tie ourselves down to things that the world considers supremely valuable because we recognize that God is most valuable and that everything pales in comparison. We begin to shed our need for comforts of the world, control over our lives, and the approval or respect of people. We let go of outcomes because we trust that God will take care of them and our work becomes better because everything that we do, we begin to do through our enjoyment of God. What the rich young ruler failed to see was that you cannot earn salvation. Salvation was a gift that was fully paid for by Jesus, who was 100% man and 100% God, so that if we simply trusted in who He says He is and what He says as a result of it, that we would find salvation for all of eternity.

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