“Is it lawful?”
In which context might you hear that asked in 21st century London? “Is it lawful for me to break the speed limit if my wife is in labour?” “Is it lawful for me to cycle without bike lights if I stay on the pavement?” “Is it lawful for me to make copies of my MP3s for my friends?”
Whenever you hear the question, “Is it lawful?” the person asking the question is always asking ‘How close to the line can I get? What’s the least I can do?’ He’s not asking ‘How rigorous can I be?’ but ‘How much can I get away with?’
So when the Pharisees start this week with that question, we already know that the standard they’re setting is too low. Jesus doesn’t teach them anything new, but points them back to creation to show when the standard was set. It’s harder than they thought.
The same thing happens with the rich man in v17-26. He’s keeping half of the 10 commandments, but it’s the ones he’s not keeping that are significant. For him, money comes first. He needs to deny himself and follow Jesus (compare 10:21 with 8:34). It’s harder than he thought.
In fact, we see by the end of the passage, it’s impossible for man. As Jesus said in v18, “No one is good except God alone.” It is impossible for man to reach the standard. Like a child receives a gift or an adult receives an inheritance, you can’t contribute anything to earn salvation.
Peter’s question is inevitable, then. Is it pointless even to try? Had they given up everything and denied self in vain? Jesus’ answer is deliberately reassuring: No, the gospel pattern still stands. It wasn’t in vain. Losing life now does come before future glory, the last will be first.
One thing’s clear – the standard is too high; it is impossible for man to be saved by his efforts. Yet there’s great news: all things are possible with God.
Questions to ponder
- I think the answer to all of the questions at the start of this post is ‘no’; they’re not lawful. But in what ways do we ask that question of the Christian life? How do we set the bar too low – particularly in the areas of sex and relationships (10:1-12) or money (10:17-26)?
- What will it look like if I think God’s standard is attainable? What will my attitude be when I get things right? What will my attitude be when I get things wrong? How can I correct this kind of wrong thinking?
- What does it mean to ‘receive the kingdom of God like a child’?