The gospel is good news for everyone, and this includes all those who have already heard and believed it. The gospel is food, not just information, and so when the gospel is declared rightly it creates and reinforces true faith. The gospel does not unsettle true faith. You are a congregation of God’s people, a congregation of saints. So if I address you this morning with a charge to believe the gospel, it is not because your faith in Christ is doubted, but rather because we must all believe the gospel, and we must do so always. At the same time, to encourage you—not unsettle you—I want to declare the gospel to you. Established saints will be strengthened by it, professing Christians (but unconverted) may be quickened by it, and unbelievers who are visiting us may be called to Jesus Christ.
“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22).
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7).
Summary of the Texts
When a young man runs up (whom I believe to have been Mark himself), he asks Jesus the way to eternal life. Jesus points him to the law of God, giving him a list of the commandments from the second table of the law, all but one—the prohibition of covetousness in the Tenth Commandment. The young man answered that he had done well on all that. All that obedience and he still did not have eternal life! So Jesus tells him that one thing was still missing. He gives him an assignment that touches the nerve center of his ongoing disobedience to the Tenth Commandment. He went away sad, it says, because he had great possessions, which he wanted to keep.
Saul of Tarsus was another young Jewish man who was prepared for the gospel by that same Tenth Commandment. He would not have known sin except for the law. He would not have known lust if the law had not said “Thou shalt not covet.” The second table of the law can be summarized. The law leads us to Christ by posing the fundamental question, which is, “what do you want?”
Wanting and Thanking
We are told in Scripture not to let anyone beguile us with enticing words (Col. 2:4). We are told to overflow with thanksgiving (Col. 2:7). Thanksgiving and covetousness are therefore mutually exclusive. Being seduced or enticed by covetousness (by what you are wanting) is therefore not possible in a thankful heart.
The Arc of the Story
One of the reasons the doctrine of regeneration is so important is because the doctrine of generation is so important. God fashioned man out of the dust of the ground in the first place, but it was the breath of God that established us after His image. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). First God formed, and then God breathed. When God breathed the breath of life into our first father, it was then that he became a living soul, created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). This scriptural language of “image” is closely connected to the reality of generation. When Adam had a son, it was a son in his own image, in his own likeness (Gen. 5:3). This is language that plainly echoes what God had done initially with Adam. Adam had a son after his own image just as God had a son after His own image. In some sense, Adam was son of God by generation.
The way it was with Adam downstream was also the way it was with Adam one generation upstream (Luke 3:38). And keep in mind that Adam means man, or mankind. We may therefore read it as “mankind, the son of God.” Now when Adam sinned, what he was sinned. He was a son of God who sinned. This meant that a new form of generation was established. In some sense, the sons of God became sons of the devil. The mechanism that accomplished this was the mechanism of separating us, as a race, from the life of God. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). First there was generation, then degeneration, and then, for the elect, regeneration.
Here is the fundamental question behind each of these categories. Who’s your daddy? Never seek to define your identity apart from your relationships. When did we become sons of God? We were generated in His image when He breathed the breath of life into our first father. When did we become objects of wrath, children of the devil? When our first father took the fruit that had been forbidden to him, but which he coveted anyway (Gen. 3:6; 1 Jn. 2:16). When were we born again, when were we regenerated? When we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ in truth, moved by the Spirit to do so, and God the Father became our Father once again. In short, it happened when the central covetousness died, and the central thanksgiving was born. What is it to be born again? It is the death of covetous wanting, and the birth of thankful wanting.
The Grace of God’s Law
Theologians refer to the three uses of God’s law. But the first use refers to a revelation of God’s character, the righteousness of God that condemns the unrighteousness of man. With regard to the rich young ruler, we are talking about the first use. In order to come to Christ, the old man must die (in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, which is the glorious gospel). But do not grab the old man, and cut his fingernails, or give him a haircut. Do not arm wrestle with him. He must be crucified—his beating heart, which is wanting, always wanting, must die. When that man is raised in Christ, his grasping covetousness has been replaced.