ESV - 26 He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?
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In my opinion, Jesus was not indicating "salvation by works" in this passage, just as He also did not do so in the similar conversation that He had with the rich young ruler later in Luke's gospel (Luke 18:18-30). Instead, His goal in each case was to bring each of these individuals to a realization of how far short -- indeed, impossibly short from God's perspective -- he fell of the perfection demanded by God. (At least the rich young ruler was not being insincere or hypocritical in his question, whereas the lawyer is noted in the gospel account from which the verse cited in the question comes as wanting both to test Jesus, and to justify himself by arguing technicalities ("And who is my neighbor?"), which gives the impression that he was already aware that he did not have the type of love for others mentioned in the verse that Jesus prompted him to quote.) All Christians (to the present day) must come to the same realization that they are totally dependent for salvation and eternal life on God's grace through faith in Christ's death and resurrection to impute to them the perfect righteousness that they cannot hope to achieve on their own.
It appears that as Christians we are uncomfortable talking about the law - primarily because we are afraid of the ugly label of legalism. While on earth, Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Pharisees for their pretend pious ways and had harsh words for them (Luke 11:39-44) – certainly no one wants to be viewed in such unpleasant light and attributed such negative characteristics. Christ could read people hearts - we cannot. However, we should not be oblivious of the many instances when Jesus insisted in obedience as a condition of obtaining eternal life (Matt 7:21; 19:17; John 14:15; 8:47; 1 John 2:4; Heb 5:9 and many more). This is God’s word and was written for a reason. Yes, salvation is a free gift received by faith – no one should question that – but after we obtained the assurance of salvation, aren’t we supposed to be obedient to the one who saved us? In Matt 19:16-22 we read about a young man asking Jesus what to do to have eternal life. Jesus plainly replies: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matt 19:17) And to make sure there is no confusion about which commandments, He listed the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th commandment, plus the all-encompassing “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” - meaning that loving the neighbor would prevent the transgression of the last six commandments (Matt 19:18,19). In Luke 10:26, Jesus addresses again the obedience to the Ten Commandments – if we love God, we would not want to break any of the first four commandments. No one can say that loves God and has other gods and worship other gods, or take the name of the Lord in vain. God didn’t asked us to not to lie, fornicate, steal or covet just to make our life difficult – but to make it easier. Sin hurts! It hurts God, it hurts every person, families and the entire society. Imagine a parent giving his child a set of rule impossible to obey and then punishing the child for being disobedient. No normal parent would do that – why would God? Apostle Paul makes it clear that no disobedient, rebellious and habitual sinner will not be in heaven (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:10).
Ben, you asked a good question! God used the law such as His desire that we love Him with all we have and love our neighbor as ourselves! Pretty hard to do. In fact, impossible! But God uses the law to show us that, and thus our need of Him, of His help, etc. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” King James Version (KJV) The law doesn't and can't save us (Gal. 2:16, which says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”) King James Version (KJV)
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