Monday, June 8, 2015

Does the Rich Young Ruler Story Teach Lordship Salvation?

I suppose it is no mystery that TETH has long opposed the teaching that is commonly referred to as Lordship Salvation.  Having spent a great deal of time in the company of Lordship Salvationists, I am aware that there are some texts in the bible that they believe support a Lordship Salvation point of view.  I was recently confronted with the following statement about the Lord’s interaction with the Rich Young Ruler (RYR) in Matthew 19:

One of these I struggle with is The Rich Young Ruler. It's hard to avoid the lordship message in Christ's reply to him. "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Anonymous Response to TETH)

Plain Meaningism or Right Division?

Taken at face value without due consideration of all that is said here, I can see why this dialog might lead one to this conclusion. But to do this would be to utilize the popular precept of plain-meaningism rather than following the biblical admonition to “rightly divide the word of truth” which requires “study” to avoid being “ashamed” (II Timothy 2:15) by positing hasty assertions about the bible that are both unnecessarily coarse and grotesquely contradictory to precepts laid down elsewhere in scripture (I Corinthians 2:13).

None Good = No One Keeps the Commandments

A closer examination of the dialog in Matthew 19 is helpful in dispelling the aforementioned false conclusion of Lordship Salvation.  First and foremost, we should note that Jesus has already affirmed that there is "none good but God" and that if the RYR wanted to inherit eternal life he should "keep the commandments." Stated plainly, the moment that Jesus declared, "there's none good but God," he has likewise affirmed that "no one keeps the commandments" as an unavoidable consequence, because it would take a “good man” to rise to that challenge – would it not? I’ll repeat this again so that we don’t lose sight of this critical point - Jesus’s proclamation that “there’s none good but God” is identical in meaning to the statement, “You are incapable of keeping the law.” This observation is absolutely essential to having a right understanding of the intended meaning of Jesus’s words to the Rich Young Ruler.

Go Keep the Commandments

Jesus then tells him, “If thou wilt enter unto life, keep the commandments.” So, plainly stated, Jesus first states that man is incapable of keeping the law, and then states that man must keep the law in order to gain eternal life. I would ask the following question – Is Jesus Christ suggesting that there is a real means of eternal salvation open unto this man provided he will adhere to the Lordship Salvation requirement of keeping the commandments even though the man is not good by his own admission and is therefore incapable of compliance? A more self-contradictory notion is hard to imagine, but this is precisely what the Lordship Salvation crowd suggests is being taught in this exchange. Moreover, if in this second statement, Jesus is talking about how the RYR can obtain eternal life, then he is most certainly going against his previous affirmation that this is impossible (affirmed later in 19:26), and also teaching salvation by works, since keeping the commandment is clearly a work of righteousness.

The Abject Futility of Works-Based Salvation

The Lord’s point in this exchange it not to offer the Rich Young Ruler an opportunity for eternal salvation provided he adheres to the Lordship tenet of keeping the commandments, but rather is intended to demonstrate the abject futility of works based salvation. A proper response to the Lord’s words would be to admit, "I haven't done that, and I can't do that." Instead we find the RYR making the ludicrous claim that, "I've done that, now what else do I need to do?" It seems the Lord's point is completely lost on the RYR as evidenced by his clueless reaction.

Lordship Salvation and Total Commitment 

Many Lordship adherents go on to insist that when the Lord Jesus Christ stated, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” that he is demanding total commitment from the RYR in order to obtain eternal salvation. But once again this is just doubling-down on the notion of salvation by works to any rational observer. The unalterable fact of remaining sin in the lives of God’s regenerate people (I John 1:8) so completely obliterates the notion of man’s total commitment to God as to make it a matter that is worthy of absolutely no consideration among God’s people whatsoever. Those who believe their salvation is in any sense either the result of or evidenced by their total commitment to God are plainly guilty of thinking too much of their dedication to God, and too little of the efficacy of Christ’s total commitment to them, where in is ALL their salvation (II Samuel 23:5).


So we find that the Lord’s words to the RYR do not promote the notion of Lordship Salvation, but rather design the absolute futility of procuring favor with God through the law. When cut-off from the notion of law as a means of obtaining favor with God, a wise man finds his only hope in the undeserved mercy of God. The gospel comes to one such as this and tells them their warfare is accomplished (Isaiah 40:2) and the work of their salvation is finished (John 19:30). It assures them that those who believe this testimony HAVE eternal life (John 8:47) because apart from being born again they would regard it as foolishness (I Corinthians 2:14), and it admonishes them to present their bodies as a living sacrifice unto God, not as a Lordship Salvation prerequisite to obtaining eternal life, for this would undeniably be the teaching of works-based eternal salvation, but as their “reasonable service to God.” (Romans 12:1)

At the end of the day, I can say it no better than this…

The only one who has EVER achieved TOTAL COMMITMENT 
to God is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ himself; 
to the extent that one of God’s children fails to embrace that truth, 
they have failed to understand the gospel.

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