Jesus’ Instructive Conversation with the Young Ruler

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In this week’s Weekly Witnessing Tip, I talked about a technique I call “reflecting back.”  It is one way of responding when someone states something you don’t agree with. The example I used during the video was when Mormons say they are Christians like us. Instead of reacting negatively, you could respond by accepting their statement at face value. “I’m glad to hear this. But I’m a little confused. Just so we are clear: what this tells me is that you believe you don’t have to do anything, including receiving the temple ordinances, to live eternally with Heavenly Father. That’s what I believe. Are you saying you believe like this?” You could point to other differences. I like this one because it keeps the focus on the most important thing of all – the way to eternal life.

Usually, when I have done this, it clarifies that we don’t believe the same thing without raising their ire. Then, hopefully, we can have a productive conversation.

Jesus did something similar when the rich young ruler came to him (Matthew 19:16-22). As you might remember, the young man asked Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life. Instead of Jesus responding by saying there is nothing he could do, he took the question at face value and answered it. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In other words, paraphrasing Jesus, if the conversation is about what people have to do, the only answer is “everything!” Anything less than total obedience and complete self-denial is not good enough.

Jesus figuratively shook the young man by the shoulders. He used the law in an attempt to show him his utter incapability to do what was needed. He wanted the young man to despair of his works so he would look to Jesus and his works.

The young man went away sad. We don’t know the rest of the story. Because God’s Word is powerful, I have to believe Jesus’ answer gnawed at him. I can see him tossing and turning in bed for weeks to come. Maybe, just maybe, it drove him to see that he couldn’t do it. Maybe, just maybe, he turned to Jesus and we will see him in heaven.

We don’t know. But I’m pretty sure he mulled over Jesus’ answer more than if Jesus would have answered differently.

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I think this is what reflecting back can do. By showing them what their statement really means, it often makes them stop and think. My prayer is that we cause Mormons to mull over the differences in belief when we reflect back to them the message they send when they claim to be Christians like us. And not just mull them over. But study the differences. And then have their eyes opened to the wonderful message that Jesus has done it all for them.