Due to a tragedy in my family, I have agreed to a summer Bible study with two godly women: my mother and my mother-in-law. Because both women are facing similar family difficulties, and because I want to surround myself with the blanket that is their support and guidance as we walk through this time together, we have begun a study of 1 Corinthians 13 and loving others. Especially the unlovely.
Which is all of us, really.
In chapter one, we were assigned to read about the rich young ruler in Mark 10. He comes to Jesus and says, “Good teacher!” falls on his knees, and asks how to have eternal life.
I looked at this familiar passage in a brand new way this time.
If you replaced “monetarily rich” with “spiritually rich,” the young ruler becomes RJ Conte. RJ Conte and many other homexchoolers.
This is us, people.
The young ruler was spiritually stuffed. He had it all – a good home (he was ruling something! Clearly succeeding financially and in the world’s eyes), and he had been taught, since childhood, to love God, honor his parents, to be truthful, etc. He had been given great spiritual training, and, in his eyes, he was practically perfect. Whether he was educated in the home or not, his parents and tutors had clearly been teaching him well for many years.
This guy had a spotless track record.
It was no accident that the narrative starts with him falling on his knees dramatically and saying, “Good teacher!” only to have Jesus answer, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” I think this was a clear discerning comment from the Lord to convict this righteous young man. I am sure he had been called “the good boy” his whole life. He clearly thought he was really pretty good. Downright good. A good person.
But Jesus is reminding this spiritually wealthy guy that no one is good but God. This young man had shown up, I think, for a praise session. “I’ve got to be the best guy Jesus has met. I’ve never done much of anything wrong. Wait until He tells me, in front of all His disciples, that I’ve got a shiny clean mansion in heaven just waiting for the likes of me.”
But the spiritually rich man, our guy homeschooled in all things Bible, wanted a cushy comfortable life where he could study God’s Word, do a bunch of good things, and live comfortably. And Jesus showed him his weakness: his comfortable, cushy life and his stuff. His truly disconnected attitude from the needy people around him. His lack of love.
Yet, before Jesus spoke, he looked at this young man and loved him.
Just loved him.
Because he saw his heart. This man was probably extremely excited to show off to Jesus. He was looking for encouragement and praise, affirmation and reassurance. He wanted a pat on the back and a promise of everlasting life. He had worked SO hard and done SO many things right. Right?
This is me. I was raised in one of the godliest homes you can imagine. I had a praying mother and a theology-loving father. My mom homeschooled us in the best programs imaginable. We studied God’s Word and prayed on our knees together for an hour before school. We attended the best churches, and I had studied all of the doctrines of TULIP, for instance, before I was fourteen. I didn’t date anyone ever, but had a family-oriented courtship when I was twenty. I saved my first kiss with my husband for our engagement day. I never had much of a seriously rebellious period as a young adult. My issues were with idolizing friends and being possessive over them, not trying out drugs or sleeping around. I never turned my back on the Lord, and attended Bible study faithfully, without taking a break, since the age of ten.
I’ve never had a drop of alcohol, kissed anyone on the mouth besides my husband, or broken any laws besides speeding.
Yet, I’ve been shocked to find that I really and truly struggle with sin! All the time! Truly ugly sinful attitudes that every Christian fights against! Me!
So there I am, the spiritually rich young person, running to Jesus, falling on my knees, and crying, “Good Teacher! It’s your good girl! The one who got it all right! Remember me? Can you praise me? Reassure me? Tell me I’ve done it all right and you’ve got a spot right next to you all warmed in heaven for me? Huh?”
Sound a lot like the picture-perfect homeschoolers you’ve met or heard about or watched on The Duggars?
First of all, I want to make something very clear. NONE OF THAT, ABOVE, WAS ME. God saw fit to put me in a safe home with wise parents who didn’t let me get away with anything. Because, inside, in the deep recesses of my heart, I was an arrogant, self-centered, rebellious, lying, terrible sinner like anyone else. And it came out in a sin far more clever, devious, and yucky than other sins: self-righteousness.
No matter how shocking thievery, hatred, and lust can be – there’s nothing quite as difficult to uproot as self-righteousness. It’s a nasty, distorted, hideous sin that wears a beautiful camouflage robe over its seeping sores.
It hides itself as a good-looking young man, falling perfectly to his knees at Jesus’ feet – doing the proper thing like he’s been trained to do for his whole life. Don’t let anyone down. “Be the good girl, you’ve always had to be. Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let it show!” Until we’ve fooled ourselves that we’ve “kept all the commandments since our youth.”
But there we have, on Jesus’ other side, Mary Magdalene, someone who had seven demons cast out of her, and had possibly done other evil things. She had probably been ostracized by her people as someone unwholesome and unlovely. Yet, who are we going to see in heaven some day? It’s probably going to be Mary, not our home-educated friend. According to Scripture, from what we can tell, it seems like the rich young ruler did all of his “good deeds” without love. Once Jesus pointed out his cushy, comfortable life was his idol, he gave up in despair, unable to repent and let go of Self-Righteousness’ hand. That’s how sinister and disgusting this sin is, folks.
However, Jesus sees the heart, and in a rare look into Jesus’ deepest emotions, we are told that Jesus saw this naive young homeschooler, with his good deeds and self-righteousness blinding him like a patch over one eye, and he saw how hard he had tried and how clueless he was to the fact that good works are nothing but dirty rags without love… and Jesus did for the young man what the young man could not do for others.
He loved Him.
It’s a random, yet powerful sentence, placed there to indicate Jesus’ heart when He gave the wealthy guy a test. Jesus just loved Him. Loved Him enough to die for Him. Jesus had such a deep compassionate for the “perfect little homeschooler.” So much love and understanding. He loved Him enough to mourn the difficulty of saving someone like Him.
Jesus didn’t say, “Wow, it’s so hard for those prostitutes to come to know me!” or “Burglars and murderers… Whew! It’s hard to get those guys saved.”
He said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to be saved.” And I, personally, think He meant the spiritually rich as well.
Does this mean we throw our kids to the wolves and tell them to “sin it up!” so that they get saved easier? Does it mean all homeschoolers are self-righteous and probably aren’t real Christians? Does it mean I’m a lesser Christian because I didn’t experience enough of sin before I was saved to know what I was saved from? No, to everything!
I used to be a bit ashamed of my testimony when I was younger.
Someone asks me to get up and stand in front of the microphone and share how I came to know Christ: “Uh… I was two and a half. Uh… My mom told me about Jesus… I grew up in a Christian home…” *feedback from mic*
Instead of feeling blessed and grateful and rejoicing in the spiritual wealth that God decided to bestow on my family and me, I felt almost embarrassed that I had experienced so little of the raw and wrong. As if no one would listen to me or care about me – as if I couldn’t touch lives for Christ with my lack of a track record.
But no! I should be thankful! God decided, in HIS perfect wisdom, that it would give Him more glory, and be better for me to be one of his sheep that got to be spiritually rich, and just simply grew up my whole life knowing all about Him. What a blessing that is, right? It’s absolutely nothing I did! I didn’t choose my family. I didn’t cleanse my own heart. I couldn’t accept Christ without the Spirit deciding to work in my heart! So it’s all of God, and it’s only because He decided I would glorify Him by showing the impossibilities that only God can do: sending that camel through the needle after all.
Hey, it was harder for God to save ME, than it was for Him to save you. My case was more impossible. 😉
I’m joking. Kinda. It’s really not hard for God to save anyone. And don’t any of you forget that. If He can save me, He can save anyone.
Hopefully, the way I glorify God is because people whisper to themselves, “Hey, if God can bring a self-righteous little pharisee like RJ to Christ, He can save me!”
And that’s because Jesus looked down and loved me. He loved his prideful little homeschooler, and said, “Oh, I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone, little lamb. Wait and see how I’m going to clean the junk out of you.”
And, no matter what your testimony or your sins or your successes, . We serve the same great God. And He has great plans for you too. 😉