The other day I was accused of being a “bad Christian.” I would have simply agreed with the woman making the accusation, apologized, and moved on – if the reason she had given had made a lick of sense. I had made a series of statements that amounted to the following:
If my neighbor is suffering or finds himself in want, it is my job to help him. The responsibility to support those in need does not lie with the government, rather with the families and friends of those less well off than we are. It is our job as Christians to do as much as we can for as many as we can as often as we can.
Because I do not believe “doing as much as I can” includes supporting higher taxes for the rich, extending unemployment benefits and entitlements that are easier to abuse than to use properly, and government funded healthcare, according to her I could not be a very good Christian.
Her justification for that statement was the story of the Rich Young Ruler. A young man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus replied that he must follow the commandments and love his neighbor as himself. “All these I have kept since I was a child,” he said. To which Jesus responded, “Then go. Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow me.”
(I must have missed the part where Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the government, who could then distribute it to the poor.)
But more importantly, if this story is read alongside the rest of the Bible, it becomes clear that Jesus was applying a little irony to the situation. When the young ruler asks what he must do to gain salvation, Jesus gives him an answer that is based on works. The entirety of the New Testament, that statement excluded, presents a different view – that salvation is given by grace alone, through faith and belief in Jesus as the perfect sacrifice.
So why, then, after saying such things as “no man comes to the Father but through Me” would Jesus tell this man that he could earn his way into Heaven by following the law? Jesus knew two very important things: First, that complete obedience to the law (which the young ruler claimed he had accomplished) is impossible for a human being who is born with a sinful nature. And second, that to place full faith in Him, people have to stop viewing their possessions as their own – rather as gifts from God to use in the furtherance of His glory. The only way to make that young ruler view his possessions as belonging to God was to make him give them up. The point was obvious – in making the young ruler realize that he was unable to give up his possessions, Jesus gently directed his attention to the false idol he had made for himself of those possessions. By proving that the young ruler had in his heart violated the first commandment, he made it clear to him that earning his way into Heaven was going to be an impossibility.
Thus Jesus’ instructions were not intended to tell the young ruler what to do to be a good Christian; rather, they were intended to illuminate the fatal flaw in his approach to gaining salvation.
While I agree that I – or any other Christian, for that matter – could be legitimately called a “bad Christian” for not doing enough for our fellow man, it is solely because we as individuals do not do enough. It is not because we demand that help for the poor come from individuals rather than the government.