Mark 12:32-34 (NIV): “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
This teacher of the law, unlike many of them at that time, was not out to get Jesus. Instead, he was in pursuit of a solid relationship with God that would lead him to eternal life. In Jesus’ answer, he found the same truth that he himself had arrived at through years of arduous study.
He had found, contrary to the beliefs of the Pharisees, that the answer was not to be found in rituals and sacrifices. He had seen countless numbers who were scrupulous in their sacrifices and ritual observances, and had been for years, but had not the slightest scent of God about them.
He had found, contrary to the beliefs of the Sadducees, that the answer was not to be found in worldly wealth, power, position, and prestige. Many of that party had all of those things, and pointed to them as signs of God’s favor, but at the same time they had corrupt and ungodly hearts.
And he had found, contrary to the beliefs of the other teachers of the law, that the answer was not to be found in devotion to the study of books. Many in his own group could recite long passages of Scripture forward and backward, but were no more godly than those who were largely ignorant of the finer points of Scripture.
He had come to realize that the real key lay in complete devotion to God, loving Him with the entirety of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. If he withheld any part of himself from that devotion, it would quickly become a toehold for the enemy, and would corrupt all of it, leaving him ultimately in the dark.
But that love for God could not be considered real unless it showed itself in wholehearted love for others. This was echoed by James: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17 NIV) It was also John’s point in 1 John 2:9-11 (NIV): Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. Both commands, whole-hearted love for God and sacrificial love for others, have to be obeyed. If either is absent, it betrays darkness still abiding in the soul.
Jesus could clearly see that this man had searched long and hard for the truth, and had found it. He was not far from the kingdom of God. Good theology is not enough to be in the kingdom, but bad theology will blind us to the truths necessary to enter. All that was missing in this man’s life was saving faith in Jesus Himself, which would come soon enough.
Father, thank You for making these truths clear. We, as New Testament Christians, have been commanded by Jesus Himself to love You with every part of ourselves, and to love our neighbors, caring for them in the same way that we care for our own needs. But in addition to that, we must enter Your kingdom through the one way of Jesus, the Lamb of God (cf. John 14:6). Help us, Lord, to walk in this way of obedience and faith, starting right now. Amen.