If you ask people what is “at the heart” of Christianity, you will probably get a bunch of different answers. Loving God and loving others. Following the 10 commandments. Fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus. Etc.
There’s an interesting statement in the book of James that says the following: Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27).
This statement reminded me of a story from the life of Jesus, where Jesus confronted a man who was really great at following all the religious rules, but had actually missed the heart of what it meant to follow Jesus. Here’s what happened:
The Story of the Rich Man
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:17-22)
It’s interesting—the man was good at keeping the 10 commandments—he hadn’t murdered anyone or stolen anything. I think a lot of us are like this. We look to our left and our right and think to ourselves, “Well, I haven’t done anything TERRIBLE. I’m probably doing alright.”
A Higher Calling
But Jesus calls his followers to a higher calling. When asked by the religious leaders which command was the greatest, Jesus pointed to love—loving God and loving others. But love means more than not murdering or stealing. Love involves positive action—using our resources to help those less fortunate than us.
When the rich man realized Jesus was calling him to something more than the bare minimum, something that might actually cost him something, he went away sad. He cared more about his stuff than following Jesus and loving others.
I think a lot of times as Christians, we’re content to do the bare minimum. We might go to church sometimes, or pray before meals. But we haven’t yet put into action the high call of Jesus to actually love our neighbors as ourselves. We haven’t yet started to practice “true religion.”