Q.

I work with a large number of Muslim families. We sometimes engage in religious discussions. Muslims view Jesus as a prophet or messenger from God but not as God Himself. They have a difficult time understanding the Trinity. They have asked me to explain Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19.

A.
It is great that you have and take these opportunities. You may be interested in, and helped by, reading books on evangelism such as the one we reviewed this month on page 37. But always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is the One Who must ultimately convince and illumine a person concerning spiritual things. The new birth is what a person needs, regardless of his or her religious background. Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Baptists—we all need the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross for our sins, His resurrection, and ascension. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The passages you refer to are about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus inquiring about eternal life. Luke 18:18 and 19 read,

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good 1acher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good [perfectly righteous] but One, that is, God.”

Your Muslim friends may be seeing these verses as evidence that Jesus is not God, that Jesus was in this encounter distinguishing Himself from God. But it isn’t just Muslims who falter in this regard. Anyone who doesn’t believe on Jesus Christ as Savior is, in essence, denying that Jesus is God. Jesus cannot be our Savior if He is not God, for only God can save.

These verses are not saying that the Lord Jesus denied He was God. Rather, Jesus was trying to get the ruler to see and believe that He was and is God, that whatever he saw in Jesus to lead him to say He was good was the result of His being God. If Jesus was good, as the young ruler addressed Him, then He had to be God, because only God is good [perfect].

The ruler erred in his basic thinking on eternal life. He thought it was something that could be earned, rather than something received as a free gift apart from any merit in the recipient. It isn’t hard to see how a rich young ruler might have inheritances on his mind. What is interesting is that he thought he needed to do something to inherit eternal life. Inheritances aren’t generally something people have to labor for; they just receive them. But how many people are in the same boat? They are trying in countless ways to work their way into Heaven and eternal life.

The Lord, in His reply, took the young ruler to the Ten Commandments, not because someone such as he could be saved by keeping them, but because the law points Out that we cannot keep them perfectly and, therefore, need a Savior. The Lord intended that the Ten Commandments reveal the young man’s sinfulness and that the young man then respond by repentance and obedience to Him.

The ruler thought that he had kept the commandments (just as many people think they keep them when they don’t murder, rob, and so on). But Jesus showed him that he failed to keep the most fundamental law of all, love for his neighbor. When confronted with that failure, the man responded the wrong way—he went away sorrowful because he loved his great possessions too much to distribute them to the poor. He loved possessions rather than loving others, letting them come between him and eternal life. Thus, he didn’t really love God. Otherwise, he would have obeyed Him no matter the cost.

Here Jesus gave the young ruler what amounted to rebuke. The man thought of Jesus as merely a good teacher or rabbi. Jesus responded that if He were not God but just a good teacher, then He was not “good.”

People among us who deny the basic doctrines of the faith are similar to the young ruler. They might readily call Jesus a good person, a moral leader, a great example, and so forth. But this acknowledgment is insufficient. If they do not believe that Jesus is God, it is contradictory to speak of Jesus in these ways. Only God is “good.” If Jesus is “good [perfectly righteous],” He is God.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (May 2000).
© 2000 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.