Luke 18, Mark 10, and Matthew 19 give us the familiar story of the rich, young ruler. This story is perhaps the most commonly used model for evangelism from the Gospels, and provides a stunning insight into Jesus’ approach to evangelism.
Obviously the synagogue ruler did not get saved. This fact is essential in understanding how Jesus models “ successful” evangelism. This is not to suggest that Jesus failed, but it does show that the goal of Jesus’ evangelism was to expose the motives in the heart, more than it was to convince people to follow him. If anything, this exchange is remarkable because it shows Jesus saying things designed to drive this ruler away.It seems that many of today’s gospel presentations are geared to trap someone into a logical corner where reason dictates that they make a commitment to follow Christ (if you want out of hell, if you want a happy life, if you want your hole in your heart filled, just repeat after me). Reason demands that people follow Christ, and God demands that people follow Christ. But Jesus did not appeal to reason or a logical argument when talking with the rich young ruler. Instead, Jesus structured this command in a way that caused the person to ask, “Is Christ more valuable than everything in life?” Most of our gospel presentations ask, “Do you want to go to hell? If not, then follow Christ.” Jesus asked, “Do you value me more than everything in the world?”
Jesus used the Law as an entry point into the conversation with the ruler. But, he did not use the Law to lead him to repentance. Remember that when Jesus used the Law, the ruler replied that as to the Law, he was blameless. Jesus did not argue with him. He did not say, “so are you saying you have never lied, not even once?”
Instead, he set the whole discussion of the Law aside, and asked the ruler if he would treasure Christ above the riches of the world. Jesus used the ruler’s self-professed obedience to the Law to make a dramatic point: law keeping does not save anyone, but rather treasuring Christ leads to salvation.
People need to know the bad news, that they are sinners, before they know the good news, that Christ died as a substitutionary atonement for their sin, and rose from the grave. But, when Jesus met the rich young ruler, he did not make the issue the Law. It is as if Jesus said to the ruler, “You have kept the Law your whole life? So what? You are lost because you love your life more than you love me.”
If I could change modern evangelism in one way, this is it: that we would stop reasoning people to a commitment or decision, and we would start calling people to deny their life, and follow Christ.
Even if it means that they walk away.