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Jesus: Our Good Samaritan

Jesus is Good Samaritan

A repost from the King's English.
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It’s one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told.  A beautiful stranger helps a man left for dead when his own people disdain and forsake him.  Those who ignore his sufferings are Levites and Priests – the holiest of the holy.  The stranger is a Samaritan – from that race of hated half-breeds to the north.  Nonetheless he shows incredible compassion.  And Jesus ends with that famous imperative: “Go and do thou likewise.”

And so it is generally assumed that this is a simple morality tale.  We conclude that Jesus wants us to copy this good ethical practice.  Or He wants to break down racial divides and show that love is the heart of it all.  Or…  what is the point of this parable?

Well read it for yourself - Luke 10:25-37.

And first notice the question that prompts the story.  The lawyer asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (v29).  When Jesus finishes the story He asks the crowd who was neighbour to the one left for dead? (v36).  Therefore the key interpretive question is this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? The Levite? The Samaritan?

None of the above.  Not first of all.  First and foremost we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from his perspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  This is the first clue – we are meant to put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man.

Why do I say ‘fallen’?  Well the man’s fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He “goes down from Jerusalem (which in biblical imagery is an earthly counterpart to the heavenly Zion).  He is heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (notice the echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the man “falls” among robbers.  He is stripped, plagued (literally that’s the word in v30), abandoned and half-dead.  Here is the man’s precidament.  And Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  No, no hope there.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a ‘certain Samaritan’?  (Notice how the ‘certain’ mirrors the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  This Samaritan is the answer to the fallen man.

And this man is nothing like the religious.  In fact he would equally have been shunned by the priest and Levite!

Yet this Samaritan ‘had compassion’ (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated ‘he was moved in his bowels with pity’, is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it is used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), this story and the father in the Two Sons (Luke 15:20).

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and, for emphasis, we are twice told about him ‘coming’ to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized, fallen man.  Now read from v33:

As he journeyed, [he] came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.  (Luke 10:33-35)

So there you are in your half-dead wretchedness.  Religion has been no help to you, but this beautiful stranger does everything.  He comes near, takes pity, heals, carries, cares and pays for it all.  A penny was a day’s wage (Matthew 20:2).  The inn keeper is given two pence.  We therefore assume that when he “comes again” it will be the third day.  Then he will bring to completion the work he has begun.

Are we in the picture? Have we put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man?  Have we appreciated the love of the good Samaritan?

Well then, now:

Go and do thou likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the compassion of this loving Outsider.  Then go and do likewise.

This is not a simple morality tale.  The centre is not our resolve to be good samaritans.  The Centre is Christ Himself.  If we miss Him in any part of Scripture we turn gospel into law and blessings into curses.

But when we see Jesus… well, that’ll preach!

I was like a wounded man

Jesus came all the way down.

On a Friday evening, He died on a Roman cross

Early one Sunday morning He got up

How many of you believe – He got up?

Thank You, for being a Good Samaritan

Thank You, You didn’t have to do it

Thank You, for taking my feet out of the miry clay,

Thank You, for setting them on the rock

Thank you, for saving me,

Thank You, for binding up my wounds

Thank You, for healing my wounds

Thank You, for fighting my battles

Did He pick you up?

55 thoughts on “Jesus: Our Good Samaritan

  1. Tim V-B

    I do enjoy teaching this parable with Jesus the Good Samaritan. To see the human predicament as BOTH rebellious (going from Jerusalem to Jericho) AND injured (beaten up by others) is, I think, a great way to explain our situation. And then we see that part of the rescue is that we are placed in an inn (church) for ongoing healing until the return of the Samaritan. Great to get so much in an easy conversation with unbelievers.

  2. Brian Midmore

    I agree that Jesus is very much the GS. What I don't like is when this story is framed within the controversies of the reformation: For Luther this parable would have been used against him 'we get eternal life by doing likewise not by faith alone'. I worry when I hear sermons that imply something like this: 'because Jesus has done it we don't have to do likewise'. For me Jesus is describing his kingdom (In Matthew many parables begin with 'the kingdom of God is like'). Of course in his kingdom he is the supreme example of how to behave. He fulfils the attributes of the GS perfectly. Thus when he says go and do thou likewise he is not saying 'try to work your way heaven by obeying this new very hard law' but rather change your heart attiude acknowledge my Lordship and become a subject in this new kingdom. The way the lawyer will achieve this is by doing likewise. Faith without works is dead.

  3. the Old Adam


    There it is. We always have to turn it in upon ourselves.

    We just can never relax in Him, and that He has accomplished all that is needful.

    You'd better get busy, then. You've got a lot to prove.

  4. Brian Midmore

    Old Adam,
    I don't believe I am turning it (whatever it is) upon myself. I am turning it upon the kingdom of God where Jesus is King. We need to 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'. Yes we need to repent, change our attitudes our priorities etc. Repent to make Jesus our king. The focus is open Jesus the king. When Jesus proclaimed that salvation had come to Zacchaeus it was after he had promised to make restitution, i.e he was accepting Jesus as King. His faith that Jesus was king needed to be backed up with actions. He was'nt saved by his works but his works were the necessary proof of his faith. Faith and works operating absolutely hand in glove together. Likewise for the lawyer for him to 'go and do likewise' would be the confirming actions of his faith in Jesus as Messiah. Zacchaeus needed to change by restoring money, the lawyer needed to change by seeing humanity in a kingdom of God way.

  5. Paul

    Brian, I agree. As Glen said, when Jesus the Good Samaritan has rescued us, then He sets us free to learn to live as He does. That is a wonderful part of the good news. Jesus not only pays the price for us without any contribution from us at all, but He also shares His own new life with us, taking us on as His own disciples, to take His yoke and learn from Him.

    That is what is such wonderful news - He saves us from the Hell-deserving guilt of sin and He also liberates us from the tyranny of the power of sin, as He teaches us to walk in His steps.

    The idea that 'trusting Jesus' really means ignoring His commands is just so utterly depressing. It is just the powerless flipside of works righteousness. When faith in Christ is made into nothing more than the negative image of works righteousness rather than the vividly coloured living faith of the gospels then it is not good news at all.

    Most of us are sharing the good news to people who have never heard of indulgences or pilgrimages, but know a great deal about messed up lives, selfishness, sin, addictions, depression, guilt and shame. If we tell people that it is good news that Jesus lived a wonderful life without any of these problems so that we can stay stuck in them until He returns... that is gnostic, depressing and impossible to find in the Bible.

    As Glen puts it...

    Have we put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man? Have we appreciated the love of the good Samaritan?

    Well then, now:

    Go and do thou likewise. (v37)

    Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan. First be the fallen man. First experience the compassion of this loving Outsider. Then go and do likewise.

  6. the Old Adam

    "Learn to live as He does.."

    Good luck.

    You guys don't seem to realize that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

    Yes…we 'ought to'…but we don't…other than the few times when we might do something that doesn't cost us 'too much' in either time or treasure.

    Otherwise, you do what Jesus told the disciples to do. "Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, otherwise you cannot be my disciples."

    Maybe you should with your computers, if you are really serious about following what Jesus told us to do. But somehow I doubt there will be any stampede by you, or any other Christians out there to run out and help the poor.

  7. Glen

    OldAdam, I don't see your views reflected in Scripture or in Luther for that matter. This seems to be semi-Lutheran. You affirm a passive righteousness before God by faith but not an active righteousness towards the world in love. You affirm that God does not need our good deeds, you seem to deny that our neighbour does. You affirm that we are sinners in our flesh, you seem to deny that we are saints in Christ. Luther affirmed both sides of these truths.

    Here's my biggest problem with what you're saying: salvation is not a deposit in a heavenly bank account kept in trust for us - it's a participation in Christ that begins from the moment we trust Him. If you want to uphold that we are still sinners as well as saints until we die, I'll agree 100%. But nonetheless we are saints in Him and His life is ours to live as a gift. What other life is there to live than the self-giving life of Christ? And, having been saved entirely by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the good life *is* Christ's life. If He says He's freed us, then lets's walk in that freedom.

  8. Brian Midmore

    Thanks Paul for agreeing, I'm glad to see I'm not entirely bonkers. I see within The parable of the good Samaritan Jesus as both Saviour and Lord. Jesus as the GS saves the helpless man without his aid, and Jesus the king demands repentance from the lawyer. We really mess up when we set these ideas against each other. We cannot have Jesus as saviour unless we acknowledge him as Lord and we cannot have Jesus as Lord if don't receive him as Saviour. Like faith and works these go hand in glove. Jesus as saviour is by faith but Jesus as lord demands our action.

  9. the Old Adam

    "you seem to deny that we are saints in Christ"


    How'd you come up with that?

    We are fully justified. Declared holy and righteous for Jesus' sake. Totally apart from anything that we do, say, think, or feel.

    God does it all. Not because of anything that we do, or don't do…but in spite of it.

  10. Brian Midmore

    Old Adam,
    Answer me this:
    If Zacchaeus had not restored the money he had embezzled and continued to fleece his countrymen but nonetheless believed that Jesus was the Messiah, would he have received salvation?

  11. Paul

    It's a great question Brian.

    Glen, you have put your finger on one of the deep problems with that false faith that literally doesn't care about living out Christ's freely given righteousness. It is so frighteningly selfish.

    When I first read the Reformers what struck me about them was Luther's declaration that justification by faith alone sets us free to forget about ourselves and serve others out of genuine love for them.

    The real Biblical gospel sets us free from that obsession with either works-righteousness or avoiding works-righteousness! When we receive the righteousness of Jesus and He brings us into that new humanity of His body, then we find that wonderful freedom of beginning to walk in His ways. Yes, we make a mess of it every day and everyday He teaches us to ask for forgiveness... and yet He graciously gives us new opportunities to walk in His ways, to forget ourselves and serve others to His glory.

    That constant obsession with where I individually stand with Christ - as if that was the whole end of the gospel - is not the justification by faith that Luther preached. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the basis of the doctrine of the church, the manifesto of freedom for service, freedom from selfishness, freedom from the tyranny of religion and the tyranny of the worthless ways we were lost in.

    We all know that justification by faith alone in Christ alone is entirely grounded on the finished work of Christ and not on anything at all in ourselves. Nobody has in any way even questioned that on this thread. However, it really does sound as if the OldAdam has disconnected that doctrine from any other doctrine... in a way that the Reformers never did.

    Obedience to the commands of Jesus is the greatest desire and joy of the justified sinner. We try to throw aside the sin that entangles us - not because we try to earn any righteousness, but simply because we are raised with Christ and have been given a new life, filled with the Spirit, members of His body. We cannot enjoy sin any more... and its pleasures soon become bitter in our mouths. We cannot rest in selfishness any longer, but genuinely really do help the poor - in all kinds of ways. That is what local churches do all the time, week by week. We share what we have, we give money, time and resources to each other; we share our homes and we try to share our very lives. Yes, we know that we fall short of the mark... and the remembrance of that is grievious unto us... but precisely because we are justified by trusting Jesus alone so we don't fall into a self-obsession with our failure but daily ask for forgiveness and daily push on towards the perfect example of Jesus.

    We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.
    Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  12. the Old Adam

    "If Zacchaeus had not restored the money he had embezzled and continued to fleece his countrymen but nonetheless believed that Jesus was the Messiah, would he have received salvation?"

    Of course! If he had faith.

    Do you always make right every wrong that you do? Or have ever done?

    That would make salvation dependent upon 'what we do' or 'don't do'. That's Roman Catholic.

  13. the Old Adam

    I don't know about you, but on Judgement Day I will not be counting upon my repentance (Lord help us all)…but solely on the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus.

    This is Christianity 101.

  14. Howard Nowlan

    The problem, I would say, begins with the interpretation itself.

    Is the Samaritan, or Jesus for that matter, given to us as an example of some broader, saving truth regarding the potentiality we have to do good to others - is that really the intent of this parable? Where is the unique, saving mystery of our faith in that? We so easily look for the redemptive essence of the story in the actions of the Samaritan, making him the Christ figure, but is that correct?

    Surely, the one who has travelled into the depths and placed Himself amongst the thieves is Christ - the one who, stripped and despised, is made of no reputation - so the question, as He approaches the cross, is what do we have to do with Him? Are we His neighbor? The religious travelers may appeal to the interpreters of the law (like the lawyer who asked the question), but Christ shows they cannot do more than despise the one broken - they garb themselves with means which they believe validates their righteousness (separation from what they deem as outcast) - what is required is one who, recognizing his own estate as an outcast. fully identifies with the 'leastness' of the one found as if dead upon the road, making that life, that poverty, His own.

    The parable is told in the crucible of the passion, and our interpretation must be made beneath the pinnacle of that same event - we dare not leave grounds for it remaining the "morality story", so woefully the case for much of Christian history.

    Lutheran theology begins by telling us that virtue is not the goal of life - it is our problem. True Christianity is not given to bring about morality, but to end it. The image of upward progress in this world, so enticing to our religious nature to ladder-climb, is toppled and replaced by the apocalyptic end of any righteousness in this world so only Christ remains, and because He alone remains, He owns a people who are truly free, who do not work, but trust solely in what He has done.

    "One of the most iniquitous ways of expounding the faith is to say that while we, no doubt, will all know physical or practical pressures for Christ's sake, we are never the less entitled to expect moral and spiritual success - that is a snare and a skandalon. It's seeking to give credence to the notion that somewhere in this old cocoon is a spiritual butterfly of a soul, capable of such success - what's needed to actualize all that is not a redeemer who dies, but 'mentor' who dispenses some 'truth' that enables us to realize our true potential each day as 'spiritual' beings... all of these recipes amount to nothing more than a salvation by works" Robert Farrar Capon.

    What makes me anything more than the wretch I am is when, through His mercy, I see the Lamb of God who who was so despised and rejected by us, has taken my sin, and faith is given to me to trust in that alone. I can do all manner of things apart from that, but it is only when what is said and done truly proclaims 'behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world' that there is before us a means to life.

  15. Glen

    Hi Howard, that sounds great until you carry through the interpretation and have us saving Jesus. That can't be what you're saying, so what have I missed?

  16. Howard Nowlan

    Hi Glen. My point is that the Samaritan is the only one who passes by who is seen as being a sinner - he has no merit or value in the eyes of those who justify themselves by law or religion. It is this one, totally outside, who is changed when He looks upon the one who is broken. His own journey is suspended - He now acts in the service of the one He has been so moved to give all to aid -everything he has - is given to the one who has been so moved to care for the one left for dead. Yes, it's a pretty unusual way of looking at the story, I'll admit, but every time I've heard the story the conventional way, it is commonly presented as a pretext for all manner of 'good' - social virtue. Now, I'm not seeking to decry folks helping each other, but spend very long talking to ardent unbelievers along these lines, and they'll be quick to tell you that this is what really counts... the golden rule and such, not all that theology.
    I'm not saying my interpretation is 'it', but if you read through Jesus' parables of grace, you find that they all hold common themes (lostness often being a focus), and this leads me to believe there's more to unpack about God's identity in these stories and how they relate to Christ's identity with us. What I am sure about is how easy we can use such stories to jump tracks and find ourselves majoring, even unintentionally, in issues other than Him and His work for us.

  17. Brian Midmore

    Old Adam,
    If Zacchaeus had not restored the money he had embezzled and continued to fleece his countrymen but nonetheless believed that Jesus was the Messiah, would he have received salvation?”

    Of course! If he had faith.

    But not according to James 2.14.

  18. Brian Midmore

    another strong theme in the gospels is the kingdom of God. Are we not justified therefore in saying that the parable of the GS shows what the kingdom of God is like: merciful, loving , sacrificial, free from racial prejudice. Therefore the GS is Jesus in as much as Jesus is the supreme enactor of these virtues. Saving the man is what Jesus is about with all of humanity. True this maybe a useful homiletic rather than a cast iron exegesis. We may never be able to say what the parable means absolutely so the best we can do is avoid saying something wrong when we interpret it. Glen's approach is not wrong because he says that the foundation of our 'doing likewise' is Jesus saving us without our aid. We enter into his kingdom where he is Lord by faith to experience a resurrected life of action. Faith and works go together and are not set against each other. A wrong approach is to use the fact that Jesus is the GS to set faith against works: because Jesus has fulfilled the role of the GS in the new dispensation of grace I don't need to go and do likewise. I am justified by faith without any works, not what James 2.14 permits.

  19. Paul

    Given that today is St Andrew's day, perhaps the collect for today is relevant:

    ALMIGHTY God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay: Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil the holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  20. Glen

    Funnily enough I just read the modernised version - notice how Common Worship adds an evangelistic thrust: "he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ and brought his brother with him: call us by your holy word, and give us grace to follow you without delay and to tell the good news of your kingdom"

    That has nothing to do with this thread, just thought it was a nice touch.

  21. Howard Nowlan

    What James is telling us is that if we have genuine faith, there will be works, and I don't doubt for instant that any Christian will know moments in their life when they know the joy of doing those things He has predestined for us to do (even if it is our just asking for His mercy), but every time I've spoken to unbelievers of late, they've held up this story as evidence that what really counts is them 'doing good', not what you believe about Jesus, hence my seeking to look at the story differently. I realized a while ago that the entire aim of our time as Christians here is to seek to proclaim the reconciliation of God in Christ, and that it's also very easy to take our attention off of that, especially when comes to spiritual things. If our helping our neighbor does them good, that's great. If it opens a means for holding out the word of life, even better.

  22. Brian Midmore

    Of course this parable has gained a meaning in popular culture and is the most famous with the parable of the prodigal son. But should the meaning it has gained outside the church effect the way it is understood by the church? The popular understanding seems to be 'it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you are decent to your neighbour'. This is surely nothing like Glen's interpretation which seeks to put belief in Jesus at its heart.

  23. Paul

    The point I can't ignore is that Jesus makes the application from the story of the Good Samaritan in verse 37. The Good Samaritan had mercy on the man who was in a terrible mess and Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise.

    Yes, Jesus wants us to see how much we need the Divine Good Samaritan... that we are ruined and helpless. Jesus wants us to see that we need Himself as the Good neighbour... more than we ever can be a good neighbour. BUT, the command to 'go and do likewise' cannot be overlooked.

    When we read Acts 2 and Acts 4 we really do see how the apostolic church gave wonderful expression to that command - genuinely caring for the needy, sharing what they had with one another.

    OldAdam sounds as if he has already decided what Jesus can or can't say before Jesus opens His mouth. This is what disillusioned me with scholastic "Bible study" years ago: the SYSTEM decides what the Bible says before the text is actually studied.

    With OldAdam - and I would love to be put right about this - it sounds as if he holds onto just one idea to the exclusion of almost all others - that Jesus has done all that is needed for justification and faith alone receives that. Even if the Bible is speaking about a different doctrine, then the Bible has to be forced into saying that one idea.

    To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. So to a certain kind of mind the only doctrine is justification by faith alone - I have heard this described as the heresy of "hyper-grace".

    Under this mono-vision the Sermon on the Mount gets very short-shrift and the second half of the Pauline epistles are almost ignored.

    So, when Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians - who have believed in Jesus and are justified - he tells them that they must stop stealing, get a job, share with those in need; say nothing unwholesome, build others up, get rid of rage and bitterness, be kind, live a life of love, avoid even the hint of immorality -- in fact, they were commanded to be very careful how they lived, understanding the will of the Lord. [Ephesians 4:28-5:20].

    Now, does anybody honestly imagine that Paul was expecting the Ephesians to simply respond "yes, Paul, thank you for preaching Law to us.... and we are pleased to say Jesus has done all those things... and therefore we don't really feel challenged or inspired to do anything that you have commanded"?

  24. Cal

    As I think Brian put it, this all has to do with seeing it all through death and resurrection. In this particular parable, it could be told that we are the dead man on the road, and Jesus is the Samaritan. In this dead man's resurrection, he can "go and do likewise".

    It's not sheer obligation, it is learning how to really be alive, how to be truly human. It is only on account of life hidden in Christ can we live. Only in the destruction of sin and death in the cross and resurrection is life vindicated and resurrected life has the last word. Christ Jesus is that life! Good News!

    Howard, I've read Capon's parables book, this was the only one I had disagreements with. I think his exposition on the sheeps and goats is excellent. The whole 'only exclusion after inclusion' really turned my head around!


  25. Brian Midmore

    Yes, this hypergrace stuff is very popular now. I was only telling Glen about the influence of Joseph Prince on a previous post. Hypergrace can best be described as Lutheranism on steroids with dispensationalism thrown in. It appeals to people who have come out of very legalistic churches. Perhaps a dose of hypergrace is beneficial for these people but as a coherent theology hypergrace is grossly lacking.

  26. the Old Adam


    Then you do believe that it is about what 'we do'…as to whether or not we will be saved.

    That's not Christian.

    And you'd better take a good, hard look at yourself. Surely you haven't sold all your belongings as Jesus told His disciples to do (you still have a computer, at the least)…and you still commit the same sins over and over again.

    Maybe you aren't really a believer after all.

    But, if you trust that Christ will save you, in spite of your best efforts, then you are on the right track.

  27. the Old Adam

    This is Christian:

    What we do, or don't do, is of NO value whatsoever with respect to your being declared righteous for Jesus' sake.

    If you don't believe that then you might just be a Protestantized Jew who happens to like Christianism.

    Sorry…but that is the truth of it.

  28. Brian Midmore

    Some people wont accept a teaching unless it is said Paul. What does Paul say about inheriting eternal life? : 'God will render to each according to their deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory honour and immortality' Rom 2.6-7. Here he describes people like Zacchaeus who through an encounter with Jesus the Messiah have repented and turned from self seeking which brings indignation and wrath(Rom 2.8) to doing good which brings eternal life. Remember we don't earn eternal life but inherit it. But doesn't this conflict with the rest of Romans that says we are justified by faith? I believe it only conflicts if we imagine that Paul was setting faith against any kind of work. He was I believe saying that justification was by faith as opposed to the works of the law done in the flesh. This leaves a lot more room for works of faith to be involved in salvation. Clearly he believes that doing good plays some kind of role in inheriting eternal life.

  29. Howard Nowlan

    The Old Adam is right when he speaks of all our righteousness, holiness, redemption, blessing and freedom being found OUTSIDE of us and only in Jesus Christ. It is the Christ who has done everything to furnish this in His life, death and resurrection who dwells with the believer by His spirit, so our assurance is rooted only in the finished, objective work of Christ for us. The believer therefore knows that, being that he is now, at best, ' a bruised reed' or 'smoking flax' (Matthew 12:20) for grace is 'always mingled with our corruption', we must always 'pitch our rest on justification' (Richard Sibbes), for that alone fixes our eyes upon the author and finisher of our faith.

    Sorry, Brian, but Romans 2 isn't a Pauline call for us to seek to be merited to God by our works - quite the opposite (look at 2:8-11). Here is part of the Apostle's argument about the fact that we are all concluded as guilty, thus, those who judge themselves as better (i.e.. because of their presumed adherence to the law - chapter 3) are found to be equally condemned by that law (whether written down or due to conscience), so all their assumed confidence in this is entirely miss-placed (Romans 3:9-18).

  30. Brian Midmore

    I am not arguing that are works are meritorious for our salvation. The idea of merit is a medieval one. I was saying that works play a role not a meritorious role. We do not earn our salvation but inherit it. We become members of that family who is inheriting eternal life, and that family is 'those who are doing good'. If we don't do good we are not members of that family so works do play a role but not a meritorious one. I don't see your point about Rom 2.8-11 how does this negate my rather straightforward interpretation of vv6-7

  31. Howard Nowlan

    What is Paul seeking to examine in this passage, Brian. Is it the repentance of Zacchaeus due to his encounter with Christ, or is it the issue of the law and our relationship to that? His conclusion to his argument, found in chapter 3, is that none are made righteous through the law (we are all condemned, for none are perfect), so gaining eternal life (righteousness) by means of our 'patient continuance in doing good' is not in our ability. Only the righteous truly do what is righteous.

    Luther notes that any truly 'good work' will require patience and endurance, for it will 'encounter contradiction, hatred, and all manner disagreeable things', so works of value in the kingdom will result in enmity and persecution, for they are works 'crucified', bringing shame and contempt now, hence our need for patience as we continue to walk in them. The new nature aids us to endure such adversity and reproach, and thereby 'walk' in Christ in a fashion where His life is increased in our being so troubled.

    This amounts to working with that alien righteousness, which daily 'drives out the old adam' allowing our faith in Christ to grow, facilitating the manner of works touched upon above (through our daily dying to self Romans 6:19).

  32. the Old Adam

    Thank you, Howard.

    You explain things much better than I.

    God bless you, my friend.


    Brian, of course there will be works, but we cannot know what they are since even a Hindu and Muslim and pagan are capable of "good works".

    The good religious people (the ones doing the works) gave Jesus the most trouble when he walked the earth. And they still are causing the trouble today.

    Relax in Him and His works, my friend, and worry not about what you do, or don't do, and just live….and repent and believe…over and over again. There's real freedom in that.

    God bless you, Brian.

  33. Brian Midmore

    I would like to make an observation about the role of works of faith in salvation. Works of faith do not qualify us for eternal life but their absence does disqualify us. For Zaccheaus if he had not repented he would not have received salvation.

    I think it is significant that the lawyer asked how do I INHERIT eternal life NOT how I MERIT eternal life. Too often discussions are framed within a mediaeval mindset of merit rather than a Jewish mindset of inheritance.

    As for your interpretation of Rom 2, obviously he isn't talking about Zacchaeus I was using Zacchaeus as an example to explain what he was saying(I was referring back to a previous comment I made). John Stott does not understand Rom 2.6-7 like you do and Tom Wright certainly does not. If you are happy with such an interpretation I doubt that I can persuade you otherwise. As for alien righteousness, we will have to agree to disagree. Its Lutheran yes but I doubt its biblical.

  34. Chris w

    The good Samaritan certainly represents Christ, but I worry that we have individualized the story by making the wounded man an individual 'me'. Surely the wounded man is Israel! The parable is redemptive history, Israel's fall into sin and subsequent restoration coming not through the law or the priesthood but through the righteousness of Jesus (the good Samaritan). The pouring out of oil and wine points forward to Pentecost and the hinted at return of the Samaritan is the return of Christ.

  35. Howard Nowlan

    Brian, if you're speaking about the gift and means of Salvation, then I'm certain where Paul (and Luther) stand - "to the one who DOES NOT work, but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (4:5). This is the outworking of Paul's entire argument in the opening of Romans (God's righteousness revealed apart from the law - justification being made ours freely by grace because of the work of another - Christ). If our justification becomes dependent on some other small print (our endeavoring to work for some form of required or additional merit), then that leaves us standing before the judge without aid, so we'd have to find comfort outside of God's work in Christ, and, as Paul has shown, there is none.

    The old Adam and I have not sought to say the Christian life is not without works (faith in Christ is the only means of actually furnishing genuinely good works, as I touched upon earlier), but that these works do not save. Why would we want to establish something other than what Paul has so clearly taught us to be the purpose of Christ's work on the cross?

  36. Chris w

    I agree with Brian. We are justified by faith alone, but the final judgment will be in accordance with works (Romans 2, James 2). But not works in general, rather, works which specifically evidence faith in Christ. So whilst our works can't earn anything, they can prove where we truly stand.

  37. Brian Midmore

    If we consider an earlier verse we get a different picture: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law, or is He the God of the Jews only. 3.28-29. Here he says deeds of the law, which is surely what he means when he says work in 4.5. So he is not setting faith against any work but works of the Torah done in the flesh. This is also confirmed by the phrase 'or is he the God of the Jews only'. This means that if righteousness was by the works of the Torah God would still only be the God of the Jews. Now because entry into Israel (corporate bit for Chris) is by faith he is also God of the Gentiles. Thus Paul is setting faith against Torah observance as the means of identifying who is the true Israel. The true Israel is now constituted by faith.

  38. Paul

    Thanks Brian. Yes, I also struggle with the idea that 'Law' means 'works in general' rather than specifically the Law given at Sinai. I fully understand why Luther transposed first century Judaism onto the medieval church problems but it really is not a one-for-one fit.

    Can we remember what the thread is about? Jesus actually says 'go and do likewise'. It is not the only time that Jesus talks about doing what He says. Most strikingly is Luke 6:45-49 - "why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?" But consider also Matthew 7:21 and also verses 24-27; John 12:48-49; Matthew 10:32-33 - and also verse 38; Matthew 18:35 is very striking; or perhaps think of the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

    It might well be that Jesus would need to be placed under Lutheran church discipline for His constant insistence on obeying His own words and doing what He commanded. I can well see that although He receives sinners at no cost yet His discipleship teaching opens the door far too much to works-righteousness and medieval merits.

    When I read Luther for myself I was always struck by both his powerful and radical declaration of justification by faith alone, but also by his explanation of the radical holiness and obedience that is enabled by that. I have to say that if Lutheranism is really so nervous of obeying the commands of Jesus, then either it isn't really like Luther himself or else I may have misunderstood Luther.

    Everybody on this thread keeps insisting that justification is entirely by faith and doesn't depend on any works in us at all. Nobody has the high ground on that. However, there does seem to be a genuine difference over sanctification: if sanctification is a necessary fruit of justification, then does this undermine or threaten the free character of justification?

  39. Howard Nowlan

    The 'true israel' has always been constituted by faith (see Hebrews 11). What matters in Romans is that Paul shows that all are guilty of failing to meet the standard of righteousness required under the law, even though all have this (the Jew, in written form, and the Gentile, through conscience). Abraham's Justification was purely upon the basis that he believed God - his actual deeds would be very mixed (as are ours), but what mattered was that he trusted in God's promises. The faith which justifies us comes by hearing the Word - that is how we are we are brought to newness of life, and from then on, it about that righteousness having its work within us (Romans 6). As the Reformers stated, we are justified by God through faith alone, but not a faith that is alone.

  40. Howard Nowlan

    The problem, Paul, is indeed the nature of the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3). Several of Paul's epistles show us that it is so very easy for us to introduce what we believe to be teachings and practices of sanctification which actually do us and other great harm as they essentially undermine the crucial nature of God's saving work in Christ. Jesus commands His followers, as you have noted, to do many things, but the imperative is that we are resting (trusting) upon Him - if He is the source of our trust, then there will be growth and evidence of this, but the flesh readily seeks to focus our attention upon the externals rather than our holding out the word of life amidst our generation. As we were reminded in church last night, what really matters is sharing that fragrance with the world, and all our other conversations and deeds really matter when they lead up to that.

  41. Brian Midmore

    In James 2.5 we gain some insights into the parable of the GS: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him. We inherit eternal life by being poor in spirit through faith and also by love. Love is expressed in works (if you love me keep my commandments). This is what Jesus meant by go and do likewise: Love me, do my commandments and you will inherit eternal life. Against such there is no law so lets not analyse this legalistically. As Glen suggested the starting point is identification with the wounded man (the poor). Jesus salvation of the man leads on through faith to love which leads to inheriting the kingdom. It seems to fit fairly well.

  42. Howard Nowlan

    Yes, Brian, love is indeed expressed when those in need are cared for, but as Christ and Paul show us, we so easily, because of our corrupt nature, become those who 'legalize' this teaching, placing our own conditional 'footnotes' (sometimes due to re-defining the 'why') around the how and where we fulfill the requirements (look at Christ's understanding of fulfillment in the sermon on the mount, or Paul's words to those have the law in Romans 3, or the stupidity he has to address regarding Christian sanctification in Galatians). Are we truly tending to the ones bleeding and dying upon the road? In his final book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. Francis Schaeffer noted:“Yet, without true Christians loving one another, Christ says the world cannot be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers. For years the orthodox, evangelical church has done this very poorly. So it is well to spend time learning to answer the questions of men who are about us. But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”
    Perhaps the place we need to begin caring for our neighbor is by genuinely aiding those in need who sit close to us every Sunday.

  43. Brian Midmore

    In James 2.5 it is particularly of note that James says that God promised the kingdom to those who love Him. Not to those who believe but to those who love Him. The foundations of this love are nonetheless humility and faith. Now love is the fulfilment of the Law and the Law is summed up as loving God first and neighbour second. Thus to love God is to do the Torah. This is exactly what Paul says in Rom 2.7 'God gives eternal life to those who patient continuance in doing good...' and also in v13 ' the doers of the Torah will be justified'. Paul and James both agree that the final judgement is upon our works, and that God will give the kingdom to those who believe in Jesus and who produce the works of Love that fulfil the Torah. So for the lawyer to inherit eternal life he does need to become a lover of God and a lover of men. The starting point is poverty of spirit and faith in Jesus.

  44. the Old Adam

    If you "love Him", Brian, then why is it that you don't do the things He asks of you?

    Why do you persist in your sin?

    You won't stop sinning because you don't want to stop sinning. Because you place your own wants and desires ahead of the Living God.

    That's exactly how much you love Him.

    We love Him. But imperfectly, and because He loved us first. But we are still ungodly. And that's who He loves and forgives.

  45. Howard Nowlan

    Brian, being 'rich in faith' (2:5) is as fundamental to James as it was to Paul, and both teach that works indeed stem from such a faith (as clearly shown in the use of Abraham). Paul, however, used terms such as 'justify' (in Romans 3& 4) differently to James here. Paul's use is in relation to our acquittal, James' is speaking of vindication (showing of righteousness), thus, James' reference is not in relation to law and saving faith as expounded in Romans. What we discover, then, is that true (living) faith and (meaningful) works are never divorced, but one indeed is born from the other.

  46. Brian Midmore

    Of course only one word is used by both Paul and James how this is translated is going to be open to endless discussion which is outside the scope of this comment. I am impressed that you can be so utterly confident in deciding how to translate this word.

  47. Howard Nowlan

    The confidence comes from spending the afternoon in consultation on the nature and intent of the epistles. My current understanding of the nature of justification by faith alone did not come easily, Brian, but after many years of being at the sharp end of numerous experiences of legalism in churches and encountering first hand what so easily takes precedence in situations focused upon works righteousness. Thankfully, God places such widows and orphans in His family, no matter how many times they are discounted by others - His love overcomes.

  48. kc

    Just a thought...

    John 6:28-29
    (28) Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
    (29) Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.


  49. Pingback: The Good Samaritan, gospel or salvation by works? | Transforming Grace

  50. Horace

    Interesting discussions but I will like to draw our attention to the fact that the parable came as an answer to a question the lawyer asked Jesus as to who he should consider his neighbor (Lk 10 vs 29). He asked this question in vs 29 because Jesus told him that the scripture he read in vs 27 was the answer to his earlier question in vs 25 on how to inherit eternal life. So Jesus was actually answering his question of who his neighbor is with the parable. At the end of the parable Jesus then asked the lawyer who was the neighbor because He was answering his question of who should be his neighbor vs 36. In vs 37, the lawyer answered that the GS was the neighbor and Jesus then asked him to go and do likewise i.e. vs 27 where it all began. Therefore if the common language that Jesus is the GS which I agree is anything to go by then, Jesus was saying to him that he can only inherit eternal life through loving God and Jesus Christ.

  51. Nigel Mohammed

    The Article on which the church stands or falls-Justification. Articulus from the Latin means 'knee joint' so if your knee joint is not working properly you won't be able to stand. That's what Justification by faith alone through Christ alone really is. However, Justification is where we stand before the Judge and He declares us acquitted because of the finished work of our Substitute, the Man Christ Jesus. But then the Judge steps down out of his courtly robes and takes us home to adopt us and becomes our Father. Adoption is the other side of Justification and I have to say has been severely neglected throughout church history. Paul uses Adoption in four separate passages and each passage in turn transports us to four crucial events in the grand story of redemption. Eph 1v4-5 Adoption predates the universe itself. Rom 9v4 but ethnic Israel repeatedly failed in its sonship. Gal 4v4-6 Paul identifies adoption as the grand purpose or objective of that we might receive adoption and Romans 8v15, 22-23 the new heavens and new earth meaning adoption is central to the end of redemptions story. The glorification of our bodies is the final outward manifestation of our adoption. How come the Church has missed how fundamental adoption really is?

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