Repentance and Faith- Luke 18:18-23

This post will examine Jesus encounter with a rich ruler, in order to see how Jesus interacts with him and what type of “evangelism” Jesus employs and how it compares to our modern “evangelism”. This encounter is presented in Luke 18:18-23. Luke begins by telling us that this man is a “ruler”, archon in the Greek. This word is used by Luke elsewhere to refer to synagogue rulers, a leader in the local synagogue. This means that this man was a man of power, wealth and influence (funny how even then religious leaders tended to use their positions for material wealth and gain), one you would think would be a prime candidate for “evangelism”. He approaches Jesus and asks Him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question identifies him as a “seeker”, as one who desires and is looking to obtain “eternal life”, a prime candidate for an evangelistic appeal. All Jesus would really have to do now is lead him in the “sinner’s prayer”, and he will have eternal life. As we continue on, we will notice that Jesus does not do so, and we will attempt to identify why and what this has to do with our modern evangelistic tactics. We must note first that he refers to Jesus as “Good teacher”. It is immediately apparent here that this man does not know who Jesus truly is, for he refers to Jesus as merely a teacher, not as Lord or Messiah. We also see here his view of salvation by works, for he asks what he must “do” to inherit eternal life. Jesus then answers him in a way which seems rather odd at first blush, saying “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone?” Why does Jesus answer him in this manner? What He is saying is that only God is truly good, and if you wish to call me good you must also be prepared to call me God. He then refers to the “commandments” in verse 20. In doing so, He is not telling this man that they way to eternal life is through keeping the commandments, which Jesus knows this man has not done. He is telling the man that the commandments are a reflection of the character of God, and Jesus life reflects one who has kept the commandments, one who reflects the character of God because He is God. Jesus is trying to get this man to see who He really is, for we can only be saved by faith in the correct Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and faith in any other “Jesus” cannot save. It then becomes obvious that this man does not “get it”, because his response to Jesus is that “All these I have kept since I was a boy”. His life has been based on religious performance, it is his religious performance which has gained him his wealth, power and influence, and he still thinks his religious performance can earn him eternal life. Jesus then tells him to sell all he has and “come follow me”. Jesus plainly tells him here that the way to eternal life is not through religious performance (works), but through following Jesus (faith). The ruler then “became very sad” and departed. So what exactly did happen here? Why didn’t Jesus “evangelize” him and lead him in the “sinner’s prayer”? Why didn’t He tell him to just pray and ask Jesus into his heart? The answer here is that the ruler did not “repent”. In Mark 1:15, we are commanded to “repent and believe the good news”. Repentance must precede faith, and this man does not repent, so he cannot be saved. Repentance is a change of mind which produces a change of behavior. As we examine the ruler in this episode, we find that he still does not know and accept who Jesus really is (God incarnate), still does not know who he really is (a sinner), and still does not know that salvation is by faith, not works. Jesus knows there has been no repentance because the ruler is not willing to take up his cross (leave his wealth and power behind) and follow Jesus, which would be the expression of the faith of a true disciple, of one who has truly repented. Jesus told us, in John 6:37, that “All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”. The fact that this man went away shows clearly that this one was not given by the Father, and what we learn here is that salvation is a work of God and not of our evangelistic techniques. The Holy Spirit must bring someone to the place of “repentance”, to the place where they realize who Jesus is (God incarnate), who they are (a sinner under God’s wrath), and that salvation is by faith in Christ and not works, before they can truly be saved. Repentance must precede faith, and to “evangelize” one who has not been brought by the Spirit to the place of repentance will only serve to produce false converts, those who are not willing to be true disciples, to take up their cross and follow Jesus. Only when someone has been brought to the place of repentance are they truly ready to be “evangelized”, and it would be better (as Jesus does here) to let them “go away saddened” than to evangelize them into a “salvation” which is not genuine, which is not preceded by repentance.

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