What would you do if someone ran up to you, threw himself to the ground before you, and begged to know how he might be saved? Surely this is the kind of opportunity every aspiring evangelist must dream of!
So what was Jesus thinking when he engaged this guy?
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?””Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'””Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
It seems to me that Jesus would have flunked out of evangelism class with this interrogation. Where were the Four Spiritual Laws? The Bridge Illustration? The Romans Road? He didn’t even need an alter call … the guy was on his knees already! It certainly wasn’t very seeker sensitive of him to hit this fellow with a demand that he sell everything before following Him. We enlightened, sensitive believers would have instead told him just to believe and receive Christ in his heart, and then all the rest of that stuff comes later. My word, hadn’t he been taught that you need to be patient with seekers?
Perhaps what Jesus knew is that “there is … no one who seeks God.” The presumption behind much of our evangelism seems to be that there are all these seekers just trying their best to find God, and we need to woo them in so that they can finally meet the One they seek. Well, okay … I suppose there are seekers, and surely they need God. But what do they in fact seek? Comfort? Fulfillment? Meaning? What if they find all these things in the church, but they don’t find true peace with God?
This is not a minor point. Much of the energy behind our evangelism presumes that the church needs to open its doors be ready to receive this body of seekers into our comforting embrace. The danger is that the church will succeed in giving them a place to feel accepted, but that place will offer them only a kind of fulfillment, not actual salvation from sin. They will achieve truce, perhaps, but not peace with God. They may achieve a false sense of salvation, finding themselves among those who say “Lord, Lord” on the day of judgment, only to learn the horrific truth: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
The Scripture tells us that Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him. He then told him what he needed most to hear at that moment–that his riches were his god, and that he wouldn’t find the true God without repenting of his materialism. Perhaps sensitivity impedes our love and impairs our message.
Perhaps the church’s biggest problem is not that we are insensitive, but that we are unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world. Certainly that sounds like my problem.
The Jailer can normally be found overseeing his inmates across the pond at The Philippian Jailer blog, where this post first appeared.
US Air Force Officer. Sinner saved by grace. Happy husband and father. Blessed beyond measure.
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