“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’ But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.’”
What’s human’s biggest problem?
They live with many mistaken illusions.
Luke 10:28, “Do this and you will live.”
People live with many mistaken illusions. It seems that they are especially vulnerable in this respect. They seem to be intelligent but are easily deceived and remain unaware of their evil sides. We are born without knowing ourselves, but we still live as if we do. Since people do not know themselves, the Bible repeatedly tells us that we are sinners.
People talk about the existence of their own sins. It seems that people are incapable of doing good, however, they are inclined to characterize themselves as good. They boast of their good works and show off, though they say they are sinners with their lips.
They don’t know that they neither have good in them nor the ability to do good, so they try to deceive others and sometimes even deceive themselves. “Come on, we can’t be completely evil. There’s got to be some good inside of us.”
Consequently, they look at others and tell themselves, “Gosh, I wish he hadn’t done that. It would have been better for him if he hadn’t. He would have been much better off if he talked like this. I think it is better for him to preach the gospel in such and such a way. He was redeemed before me, so I think he should act more like one who has been redeemed. I was redeemed just recently, but if I learn more, I will do much better than he does.”
They sharpen the knives in their hearts whenever they are hurt. “You just wait. You will see that I am unlike you. You may think that you are ahead of me now, but just you wait. It is written in the Bible that those who come last will be first. I know it applies to me. Wait and I will show you.” People deceive themselves.
Even though he would react the same way if he were in the other person’s place, he still judges him. When he stands at the pulpit, he suddenly finds himself stuttering helplessly because he is over conscious of his attire. When asked if people have the ability to do good, most people say by their lips that they don’t. But in their hearts, they are under the illusion that they themselves have the ability. So, they try hard to be virtuous until they die.
They think that they have ‘goodness’ in their hearts and that they have the ability to do good. They also believe that they themselves are good enough. Regardless of how long they have been religious, especially among those who have achieved greater progress in the service of God, they think, ‘I can do this and that for the Lord.’
But if we take the Lord out of our lives, can we really do good? Is there good in humanity? Can we really live doing good works? Human beings do not have the ability to do good. Whenever they try to do things on their own, they commit sin. Some push Jesus aside after believing in Him and try to be good on their own. There’s nothing but evil in all of us, so we can only practice evil. By ourselves (even those who have been saved), we can only sin. It is the reality of our flesh.
What do we always do, good or evil?
In our praise book, ‘Praise the Name of Jesus,’ there is a song that goes like this, “♪Without Jesus we only stumble. We are as worthless as a ship that crosses the sea without the sail♪.” Without Jesus, we can only sin because we are evil beings. We have the ability to do righteous works only after being saved.
The Apostle Paul said, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). If a person is with Jesus, it doesn’t matter, but when he/she has nothing to do with Him, he/she tries to do good deeds before God. However, the more the person tries, the more he/she practices evil.
Even King David had the same innate nature. When his country was peaceful and prosperous, one evening, he went up to the roof for a stroll. There, he saw a tempting picture and fell for sensual pleasure. What was he like when he had forgotten the Lord? He was truly evil. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed Uriah, her husband, but he couldn’t see the evil in himself. He made excuses for his actions instead.
Then one day, the prophet Nathan came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had numerous flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little lamb. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd but took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (2 Samuel 12:1-4).
David said, “The man who has done this shall surely die!” His anger was greatly aroused, so he said, “He has so many of his own; he could surely take one of them. But instead, he took the poor man’s only lamb to prepare food for his guest. He should die!” Then, Nathan told him, “You are the man.” If we do not follow Jesus and be with Him, even the born-again can do such evil things.
It is the same for all people, even the faithful. We always stumble and practice evil without Jesus. So we are thankful again today that Jesus saved us, regardless of the evil in us. “♪I want to rest under the shade of the Cross♪” Our hearts rest under the shade of the redemption of Christ, but if we leave the shade and look at ourselves, we can never rest.
God Gave Us the Righteousness of Faith before the Law
Which one is earlier to follow, faith or the Law?
The Apostle Paul said that God gave us the righteousness of faith from the beginning. He gave it to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Seth and Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and finally to Jacob and his twelve sons. Even without the Law, they became righteous before God through the righteousness that came from the faith in His Word. They were blessed and given rest through the faith in His Word.
Time passed and Jacob’s descendants lived in Egypt as slaves for 400 years because of Joseph. Then, God led them out through Moses into the land of Canaan. However, during the 400 years of slavery, they had forgotten the righteousness of faith.
So God let them cross the Red Sea through His miracle and led them into the wilderness. When they reached the wilderness of Sin, He gave them the Law at Mount Sinai. He gave them the Law, which contained the Ten Commandments and the 613 detailed articles. God declared, “I am the Lord your God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Let Moses come up to Mount Sinai, and I will give you the law.” Then, He gave Israel the Law.
He gave them the Law so that they would ‘have knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20). It was to inform them about what He liked and disliked and to reveal His righteousness and holiness.
All the people of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years crossed the Red Sea. They had never met the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. They didn’t know Him.
While they were living as slaves for those 400 years, they had forgotten the righteousness of God. At that time, they didn’t have a leader. Jacob and Joseph were their leaders, but they had passed away long ago. It seems that Joseph failed to pass the faith onto his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Therefore, they needed to find their God again and meet Him because they had forgotten His righteousness. We have to bear in mind that God gave them the righteousness of faith first and then gave them the Law, after they had forgotten the faith. He gave them the Law to return them to Him.
To save Israel and to make them His people, He told them to be circumcised.
His purpose in calling them was to let them know that He existed by establishing the Law and secondly, to let them know that they were sinners before Him. God wanted them to come before Him and become His people by being redeemed through the sacrificial system that He had given them. And He made them His people.
The people of Israel were redeemed through the sacrificial system of the Law by believing in the Messiah who was to come. But the sacrificial system had also faded away with time. Let’s see when that was.
In Luke 10:25, a certain lawyer who tested Jesus is mentioned. The lawyer was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were extreme conservatives who tried to live up to God’s Word. They tried to protect the country first and then live by God’s Law. Then, there were also the Zealots, who were very impetuous and tended to resort to violence in order to achieve their vision, the independence of Israel from Rome.
Whom did Jesus want to meet?
Sinners without a shepherd
There are some religious figures like them even today. They lead social movements with slogans like ‘save the oppressed people of the world.’ They believe that Jesus came to save the poor and oppressed. So, after learning theology in seminaries, they take part in politics, and try to ‘deliver the deprived’ in every field of society.
They are the ones who insist, “Let us all live by the holy and merciful Law...live up to the Law, by His Words.” But they don’t realize the actual meaning of the Law. They try to live by the letter of the Law while not recognizing the divine revelation of the Law.
Therefore, we can say that there were no prophets, servants of God, in Israel for about 400 years before Christ. Because of this, they became a flock of sheep without a shepherd.
They neither had the Law nor a true leader. God didn’t reveal Himself through the hypocritical religious leaders of that time. The country had become a colony of the Roman Empire. So, Jesus said to those people of Israel who followed Him into the wilderness that He would not send them away hungry. He took pity on the flock without a shepherd because there were many who were suffering at that time.
The lawyers and others in such positions were essentially the ones who had vested privileges; the Pharisees were of the orthodox lineage of Judaism. They were very proud.
This lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10:25, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He seemed to think that there was no one better than him among the people of Israel. So this lawyer (one who had not been redeemed) challenged Him, saying, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The lawyer is but a reflection of ourselves. He asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus told him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
He challenged Jesus while not knowing himself to be evil, a lump of sin who could never do good. So Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
What is your reading of the Law?
We are sinners who can never keep the Law.
“What is your reading of it?” With this passage, Jesus asks how one, including you and me, knows and understands the Law.
As many people do nowadays, this lawyer also thought that God gave him the Law for him to keep. So he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
The Law was without fault. He gave us the perfect Law. He told us to love the Lord with all our hearts and souls, with all our strength and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is right for us to love our God with all our hearts and strength, but it is a holy commandment that can never be kept.
“What is your reading of it?” means that the Law is right and correct, but how do you understand it? The lawyer thought that God gave it for him to obey. However, the Law of God was given to us so that we might realize our shortcomings, by completely exposing our iniquities. “You have sinned. You killed when I told you not to kill. Why did you disobey Me?”
The Law exposes the sins in people’s hearts. Let’s suppose that on my way here, I saw some ripe melons in the field. God warned me by the Law, “Don’t pick those melons to eat. It will shame Me if you do.” “Yes, Father.” “The field belongs to Mr. so and so, therefore, you should never pick them.” “Yes, Father.”
The moment we hear that we should never pick them, we feel an inclination to pick them. If we push down a spring, it bounces back up in reaction. The sins of people are just like that.
God told us to never do evil deeds. God can say that because He is holy, complete and has the ability to do so. On the other hand, we can ‘never’ not sin and ‘never’ be purely good. We ‘never’ have good in our hearts. The Law is stipulated with the word ‘never’. Why? Because people have lusts in their hearts. We cannot help but to act on our lusts. We commit adultery because we have adultery in our hearts.
We should read the Bible carefully. When I first tried, I analyzed the Word to the letter. I read that Jesus died on the Cross for me and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I was such an evil person and He died on the Cross for me.... My heart ached so terribly that I believed in Him. Then I thought, ‘If I’m going to believe, then I’m going to believe according to the Word.’
When I read Exodus 20, it said, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” I prayed in repentance according to this commandment. I searched my memory to recall if I had ever had other gods before Him, called His name in vain, or if I had ever bowed before other gods. I realized that I had bowed to other gods many times during the rituals in honor of my ancestors. I had committed the sin of having other gods.
So I prayed in repentance, “Lord, I have worshiped idols. I have to be judged for it. Please forgive my sins. I shall never do it again.” Afterwards, one sin seemed to be taken care of.
I then tried to recollect if I had ever called His name in vain. Then, I remembered that when I first started to believe in God, I smoked. My friends told me, “Aren’t you bringing shame to God by smoking? How can a Christian smoke?”
That’s the same thing as calling His name in vain, isn’t it? So I prayed again, “Lord, I called Your name in vain. Please forgive me. I’ll quit smoking.” So I tried to quit smoking but continued to light up, on and off for a year. It was really hard, almost impossible to quit smoking. But at last, I managed to quit smoking completely. I felt that another sin had been dealt with.
The next one was “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” This meant that I shouldn’t do other things on Sundays; work or earn money.... So I stopped that too.
Then there was “Honor your father and your mother.” I could honor them when I was away, but there was a source of heartache when I was near. “Oh my goodness, I have sinned before God. Please forgive me, Lord.” I prayed in repentance.
But I couldn’t honor my parents anymore because they were both dead by then. What could I do? “Lord, please forgive this worthless sinner. You died on the Cross for me.” How thankful I was!
This way, I thought that I had dealt with my sins one by one. There were other laws such as not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to covet.... Until the day I realized I hadn’t kept even a single one, I prayed all night every night. But you know, praying in repentance is not really enjoyable. Let’s talk about it.
When I thought about Jesus’ crucifixion, I was able to sympathize how painful it was. And He died for us who could not live up to His words. I cried all night thinking how He loved me and thanked Him for giving me real pleasure.
My first year of attending church was generally quite easy but for the next couple of years it became more and more difficult for me to cry in repentance because I had to think much harder for the tears to flow since I did it so often.
When the tears still did not come, often I went to pray in the mountains and fasted for 3 days. Then, the tears came back. I was soaked in my tears, came back to society, and cried in the church.
People around me said, “You have become so much holier with your prayers in the mountains.” But the tears inevitably dried up again. It became really hard the third year. I would think of the wrongs I had done to my friends and fellow Christians and cry again. After 4 years of this, the tears dried up again. There were tear glands in my eyes, but they no longer worked.
After 5 years, I couldn’t cry, no matter how hard I tried. My nose started to run. After a couple of more years of this, I became disgusted with myself, so God made me turn to the Bible again.
The Law Is for the Knowledge of Sin
What must we realize about the Law?
We can never keep the Law.
In Romans 3:20, we read, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” At first, I considered this verse to be merely a personal message to the Apostle Paul and only tried to believe in the words that I preferred. But after my tears dried up, I couldn’t continue my religious life of faith.
So, I sinned repeatedly and found out that I had sin in my heart and that it was impossible to live by the Law. I couldn’t bear it, but I also couldn’t discard the Law because I believed that it was given to be obeyed. In the end, I became a lawyer, like those mentioned in the Scripture. It became so difficult for me to continue a life of faith.
I had so much sin that, while reading the Law, I began to realize those sins whenever I violated each of the Ten Commandments in my heart. Sinning in the heart is also committing sin, and I had unwittingly become a believer in the Law.
When I kept the Law, I was happy. But when I couldn’t keep the Law, I became miserable, irritated and sad. Eventually, I became desperate over it all. How smooth it could’ve been if I were taught from the beginning the very true knowledge of the Law like this, “No, no. There’s another meaning to the Law. It shows you that you are a lump of sin; you have love for money, the opposite sex and for things that are beautiful to look at. You have things that you love more than God. You want to follow the things of the world. The Law has been given to you, not to keep, but to recognize yourself as a sinner with evil in your heart.”
If only someone had taught me the truth then, I would not have had to suffer for 10 years. Thus, I had lived under the Law for 10 years before I came to this realization.
The fourth commandment is “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” That means that we should not work on the Sabbath. They teach that we should walk, not ride if we are traveling far distances on Sunday. I thought that it was more appropriate and honorable to walk to the place where I was to preach. After all, I was about to preach the Law. Thus, I felt that I had to practice what I preached. It was so difficult that I was about to give up.
As it is recorded here, “What is your reading of it?” I didn’t understand this question and suffered for 10 years. The lawyer misunderstood it as well. He thought that if he obeyed the Law and lived carefully, he would be blessed before God.
But Jesus told him, “What is your reading of it?” The man answered according to his legalistic faith. And then He said to the man, “Yes, you answered right; you are taking it as it is written. Try and keep it. You will live if you do, but die if you don’t. The wages of sin is death. You will die if you don’t.” (The opposite of life is death, isn’t it?)
But the lawyer still didn’t understand. This lawyer is like every one of us, you and me. I studied theology for 10 years. I tried everything, read everything and did everything: fasting, having illusions, speaking in tongues...etc. I read the Bible for 10 years and expected to accomplish something. But spiritually, I was still a blind man.
That is why a sinner must meet someone who can open his/her eyes, and that someone is our Lord Jesus. Then, one can realize that “Aha! We can never keep the Law. No matter how hard we may try to keep the Law, we will only die while desperately trying. But Jesus came to save us with the water and the Spirit! Hallelujah!” The water and the Spirit can redeem us. It is the grace, the gift of God. So we praise the Lord.
I was lucky enough to graduate from the hopeless line of legalism, but some spend their whole lives studying theology in vain and never realize the truth until the day they die. Some people believe for decades or from generation to generation, but are never born again.
We graduate from being a sinner when we realize that we can never keep the Law, then stand before Jesus and listen to the gospel of the water and the Spirit. When we meet Jesus, we graduate from all judgments and damnation. We are the worst sinners, but we become righteous because He saved us by the water and the blood.
Jesus told us that we could never live in His will. He told this to the lawyer, but he did not understand. So Jesus told him a story to help him understand.
What makes men fallen in the life of faith?
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). Jesus told the lawyer this parable to awaken him from the fact that he suffered all his life, just as this man was beaten by thieves and almost died.
A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jericho represents the secular world while Jerusalem represents the city of religion; the city of faith, populated with the boasters of the law. This story tells us that if we believe in Christ in just a religious way, we will be ruined.
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” Jerusalem was a big city with a large population. There was a high priest, a host of priests, Levites and many outstanding men of religion there. There were many who knew the Law well. There, they tried to live up to the Law, but eventually failed and headed for Jericho. They kept falling into the world (Jericho) and could not avoid meeting thieves.
The man also met thieves on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho and was stripped of his clothes. ‘To be stripped of his clothes’ means that he lost his righteousness. It is impossible for us to live by the Law, to live up to the Law. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:19-20, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
I wish I could do good and live in His words. But in the heart of a man are evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murder, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness (Mark 7:21-23).
Because they are in our hearts and come out now and then, we do what we will not to do and we do not do what we should do. We keep repeating those evils in our hearts. What the devil has to do is to give us only a small stimulus to sin.
The Sins within the Heart of All Humankind
Can we live by the Law?
It is said in Mark 7, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him those are the things that defile a man.”
Jesus is telling us that there are evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murder, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, and an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness in the heart of a man.
We all have murder in our hearts. There is no one who does not murder. Mothers yell at their children, “No. Don’t do that. I told you not to do that, damn you. I told you over and over not to do that. I’m going to kill you if you do that again. I said don’t do that.” That is murder. You might have killed your children in your mind with your thoughtless words.
Our children must be alive because they run away from us so swiftly; but if we had let out all our anger on them, we may have killed them. Sometimes we scare ourselves. “Oh my God! Why did I do that?” We look at the bruises after hitting our children and think that we must have been crazy to do that. We cannot but act that way because we have murder in our hearts.
So, ‘I do what I will not to do’ means that we do evil because we are evil. It is so easy for Satan to tempt us to sin.
Let’s say that a man who has not been redeemed sat in a hut for 10 years, facing a wall and meditating like Sungchol, the late great Korean monk. It is fine while he is sitting with his face to the wall, but someone has to bring him food and take away his excrement.
He has to have contact with someone. It would not be a problem if it was a man, but let’s suppose it was a beautiful woman. If he happened to see her by chance, all of the time he spent sitting would have been in vain. He may think, “I should not commit adultery; I have it in my heart, but I have to blot it away. I have to drive it out. No! Get out of my mind!”
But his determination is evaporated the moment he sees her. After the woman leaves, he looks into his heart. Five years of his ascetic exercises turns into nothing, all for naught.
It is so simple for Satan to take away a person’s righteousness. All that Satan has to do is give him/her a little push. When a person struggles not to sin without being redeemed, he/she keeps falling into sin instead. That person may pay the tithe faithfully every Sunday, fast for 40 days, offer 100 days of dawn prayers...etc. But Satan tempts and deceives him/her with the seemingly good things in life.
“I would like to give you an important position in the company, but you are a Christian and you cannot work on Sundays, can you? It is such a great position. Maybe you could work 3 Sundays and go to church just once a month. Then, you would enjoy such high prestige and have a big fat paycheck. How about it?” At this, probably 100 out of 100 people would be bought.
If that doesn’t work, Satan plays another trick on people who are easily trapped in lust for women. Satan puts a woman in front of him and he falls head over heels in love, forgetting God in an instant. That is how the righteousness of man is stripped.
If we try to live by the Law, all we have in the end are the wounds of sin, pain and spiritual poverty; we lose all righteousness. “Went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”
This means that though we may try to stay in Jerusalem by living by the will of Holy God, we will stumble time after time because of our weaknesses and will eventually be ruined.
You may still pray in repentance before God. “Lord, I have sinned. Please forgive me; I shall never do it again. I promise you that this will really be the last time. I beg and implore you to forgive me just this once.”
But it never lasts. People cannot live in this world without sinning. They may be able to avoid it a couple of times, but it would be impossible not to sin again. So, we cannot help but to repeatedly commit sins. “Lord, please forgive me.” If this goes on, they will drift away from the church and their religious lives. They drift away from God because of their sins and eventually end up in hell.
To travel to Jericho means to fall into the secular world; getting closer to the world and farther away from Jerusalem. In the beginning, Jerusalem is still closer, but as the cycle of sinning and repenting is repeated, we find ourselves standing in the downtown of Jericho; fallen deeply into the world.
Who can be saved?
Those who give up trying to establish their own righteousness
Who did the man meet on his way to Jericho? He met thieves. One who doesn’t even know and live by the Law lives a life similar to an abandoned dog. He/she drinks, falls asleep anywhere and urines anywhere. This dog wakes up the next day and drinks again. An abandoned dog would eat its own excretion. That’s why such a person is called a dog. He/she knows not to drink, yet does so and repents the next morning, repeating the process over and over again.
It is like the man who met thieves on the way to Jericho. He is left behind, wounded and almost dead. It means that there’s only sin in his heart. This is what a human is.
People believe in Jesus while trying to live by the Law in Jerusalem, the religious community, but are left behind with only sin in their hearts. All they have to show for their religious lives are the wounds of sin. Those with sin in their hearts are thrown into hell in the end. They know it, but don’t know what to do. Haven’t you and I been in a similarly religious city too? Yes. We were there all the same.
The lawyer who misunderstood the law of God would struggle all his life, but end up in hell, wounded. He is one of us, you and me.
Only Jesus can save us. There are so many intelligent people around us and they constantly brag about what they know. They all pretend to live by the Law of God and aren’t honest with themselves. They cannot call a spade a spade, but are always bent on grooming their outer appearances to look faithful.
Among them are sinners on the way to Jericho, the ones who are beaten up by thieves and left almost dead. We have to know how fragile we are before God.
We should admit before Him, “Lord, I will go to hell if You do not save me. Please save me. I will go wherever You want, whether it hails or storms, if I can only hear the true gospel. If You leave me alone, I will go to hell. I beg You to save me.”
Those who know that they are heading for hell and give up trying to pursue their own righteousness, while hanging on to the Lord, are the ones who can be saved. We can never be saved by our own efforts.
We must understand that we are like the man who fell among thieves.