Sorry Tully, God Wants us to Be Good Samaritans

Sorry Tully, God Wants us to Be Good Samaritans January 28, 2014

Over at TGC, Tullian Tchividjian offers an interesting spin on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

He writes:

If Jesus had been asked, “How should we treat our neighbors?” and had responded with this story, perhaps “Be like the Good Samaritan” would be an acceptable interpretation. Instead, Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asked a vertical question (a question about a person’s relationship to God) rather than a horizontal one. The lawyer was, after all, seeking to “justify” himself. This parable must, therefore, be interpreted vertically. It’s about justification, not sanctification.

Far from telling the story to help us become like The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells this story to show us how far from being like The Good Samaritan we actually are! Jesus’ parable destroys our efforts to justify ourselves; to find a class of people we can call “neighbors” that we actually do love. In destroying our self-salvation projects, the story of The Good Samaritan destroys us. Jesus brings the hammer of the Law (“Be perfect…”) down on our self-justifying work.

In a rich irony, we move from being identified with the priest and the Levite who never perfectly love our best friends “as ourselves,” much less our enemies, to being identified with the traveler in desperate need of salvation. Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. We are the breathless bruised. We are the needy, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We are the broken people, beaten up by life, robbed of hope.

But then Jesus comes.

Unlike the Priest and Levite, He doesn’t avoid us. He crosses the street—from heaven to earth—comes into our mess, gets his hands dirty. At great cost to himself on the cross, he heals our wounds, covers our nakedness, and loves us with a no-strings-attached love. He brings us to the Father and promises that his “help” is not simply a one time gift—rather, it’s a gift that will forever cover “the charges” we incur.

Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.

Oh boy, this is just so counter-intuitive that I am struggling to know what to say in response.

Okay, first, yes, I like a good christocentric reading of any passage, Jesus is the Good Samaritan par excellence, I get it. And, second, yes, good deeds should not be a mean of self-justifying ourselves.

But to put this in context, Pastor Tullian has such an allergy to moral exhortation that he appeals to irony in order to imply that the text means the opposite of what it actually says. The point is not, “Don’t think of yourself as a Good Samartian less you try to justify yourself!” The point of the story is that Jesus wants us to be Good Samaritans, for that is what it means to fulfill the law. By golly, when Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” he didn’t mean, “Consider the depth of your sin and how much you need the imputation of my active obedience,” no, he meant “Go and do likewise” or “Go and be Good Samaritans.”

It is not healthy to preach moral imperatives without gospel indicatives, but it is not healthy either to preach gospel indicatives without gospel imperatives.

The Lord makes ethical demands of his people and they should not be explained away under the mistaken guise of christocentricity or even grace.

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  • John Walker

    This is the same way I’ve heard the sermon on the mount taught: The whole point is to show us that we can’t reach that standard!

    • James E May Jr

      Good point John. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount we hear, Matthew 5:48: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

      Um, if I am honest, I cannot do that. Also when people preach moral imperatives and the Sermon on the Mount, notice they skip over Mt. 5:3. They also completely flip salvation by grace by using Mt 5:8 as our work.

      If the scriptures are ever to be understood rightly, it is Christocentricly. This is not a “Lutheran” method but Jesus’ method, see Luke 24:27. WOW! He says it is all about Him! Thanks and praise be to God!

      I am broken and hurting and legalists and pietists leave me in a ditch because I cannot live up to the standard. Jesus picks me up, heals me, and even gives extra to sustain me. When I daily put the sinner in me to death, Christ lives in me and does the good works because HE gives me a new heart.

      • pduggie

        But matthew 7, the END of the sermon, doesn’t seem to leave us with an impossible standard, but a necessary standard. Jesus puts it out there with the expectation it will happen, and mere lip service is insufficient

        21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

        “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and DOES THEM will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

        • James E May Jr

          pduggie, are you reading the text? Jesus says those people who claimed to do those works are rejected. Why? Because they are HYPOCRITES! Jesus says this on many occasions. But you are getting close to what we are to do. What is God’s will? Jesus tells us BEFORE he gives the sermon, Matthew 4:17: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

          This is consistent with the apostolic understanding, II Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

          You are clearly teaching salvation by works. The apostles and Jesus condemned this thinking.

          Galatians 3:1: O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

          Galatians 3:2: Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

          Galatians 3:3: Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

          Galatians 3:4: Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

          Galatians 3:5: Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

          Galatians 3:6: just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

          Galatians 3:7: Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

          Galatians 3:8: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

          Galatians 3:9: So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

          Galatians 3:10: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

          Galatians 3:11: Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

          Galatians 3:12: But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

          Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

          Galatians 3:14: so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

          • pduggie

            You’re making things up if you think I’m teaching salvation by works. I agree that repentance is the first thing Jesus says needs to be done. But there are other things to DO as well after repentance. Jesus says so. Its’ the wise thing to do.

            On Tullian and your model, it actually doesn’t make sense to preach repentance BEFORE the list of things to do. On that model, you preach the law to lead to repentance. But that’s not what Jesus does, by your own admission!

            Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

            Galatians 5:24-25 ” And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

            Galatians 6:9 ” And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up””

      • John Walker

        Sorry, I was be facetious. I do not actually think that the whole point is to teach us that the ethic described is unattainable. Sarcasm is not easily picked up over text. Surely we cannot live up to this ethic without the Spirit, but with the Spirit it is our obligation. This is the ethic of the people of the Kingdom.

    • Michael Snow

      That is what Spurgeon warned against, “… it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept,” (His text was Mat. 5)

  • Allen Browne

    A great example of how our assumptions filter the way we read.

    • Paula Coyle

      Case in point, the author of the article.

  • pduggie

    I agree with your criticism, but wonder about the “What must I do to inherit eternal life” aspect that is the ‘crusher’ for Tchividjian. “this can’t possibly be about a call to obedience for christians because eternal life is on the line and that is not secured by obedience or the reformation is wrong” is the view behind the view.

    But is the question about inheriting (note, inheriting, as a son, not ‘earning’) eternal life really that kind of a stakes question? Is it perhaps one of the places where reformed theologians of a less antinomian bent are happy to affirm that the *path* to eternal life lined out for the saved is the path of obedience?

    But maybe I’m wrong and the lawyer’s question is a question about how to be accepted/justified and Jesus answer, since it isn’t “trust me as savior” must be an ironic law-hammer smashing his pride.

    How would you characterize the significance of the lawyers first question. That’s where the discussion needs to focus, IMHO.

    • Paula Coyle

      “But is the question about inheriting (note, inheriting, as a son, not ‘earning’) ”

      Now how do you “do” something to ‘inherit’ something? Isn’t an inheritance yours by birthright? The question is a loaded question, which is why Jesus answered it with the law. The man thought he had to earn eternal life even though he used the word klēronomeō instead of ergazomai. Jesus obviously upped the standard to one that is not obtainable in this life (one which God has for us), to show him his idolatry and need for a savior.

      • pduggie

        Its interesting to compare this part of Luke to Mark 12:28ff

        “28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.””

        A man praises the law vs sacrifices, and Jesus hardly “brings down the hammer” on his self righteousness. he praises him instead as being on the right track.

        The comparison here is not law vs faith but torah vs burnt offerings and sacrifices. Likewise in the parable, the one that helps the man is one who truly understands the import of the torah and who the neighbor is, not the two men who are connected to the sacrificial system

        I don’t think the parable is as simple as is commonly assumed.

        • David Lindsay

          The question in Luke 10:25 of “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” was answered in 10:28 when Jesus said “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE”.
          The next question was in 10:29 of “who is my neighbor? ” and that is what led to Jesus sharing the story of the good Samaritan.


      • Kenton Slaughter

        Obviously, there is some parallel between inheriting eternal life and living (“do this and you will live”). But, the missing element here, assumed as it were, is that the lawyer wants to know what he must do in order to be considered as part of the people who will inherit eternal life. But this isn’t a matter of “what one time act must I do”, but “how must I live.” What lifestyle pertains to those who are God’s people?
        We must remember that it was a people (Israel) who were to inherit the promise, not separated individuals. So he wants to know how to be considered one of these people. But Jesus, having already identified the way to become part of these people (receiving a revelation of God the Father, and His son, 10:21-22), now identifies the way in which these people (constituted around himself as God’s son and heir) are to live. And the way in which they are to live isn’t impossible, for they will receive the Spirit.
        The thing is, though, the lawyer has already missed the first part (faith in Jesus as God’s son). But Jesus doesn’t restate it for him, because it hasn’t been revealed to him.

  • Paula Coyle

    This is not a new interpretation. Luther and the Reformers understood it this way also. But if you want to go back to Rome that is your choice.

    None of them (Luther, the Reformers, or Tullian) are saying we should not serve the downtrodden in the same way or have compassion on them. Indeed, we should freely give as we have freely received (that includes compassion on the downtrodden).

    The man wanting to justify himself asked “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with a parable that points out a good samaritan as the answer to the question. Not the man on the road left for dead.

    • Michael Snow

      Calvin did not understand it this way. Quotes above you.

  • Glen Scrivener

    Key interpretive point: v36 *first* puts us in the shoes of the beat-up guy. *First* he must be saved by the Good Samaritan par excellence, *then* he must go do likewise.

    Jesus as the Good Samaritan was just bread and butter early church exegesis right?

  • Michael Snow

    Calvin did not struggle in knowing what to say:

    Calvin on allegorical interpretation: “…And a
    third cunning story has been made up…the Church, that is the
    inn-keeper…None of this strikes me as plausible: we should have more
    reverence for Scripture than to allow ourselves to transfigure so
    freely. Anyone may see that these speculations have been cooked up by
    meddlers, quite divorced from the mind of Christ.”

    Calvin on the point of the parable: “As in a mirror we can see the
    brotherhood of man which the scribes with their sophistry had tried to

    With today’s biblical illiteracy, most Christians miss the scandal. A pastors time is better spent educating than ‘transfiguring.’

  • Michael Snow

    Excellent closing line, And I forgot to say, “Amen!”

  • Dave K

    I think that TT would say that he has not “explained away” the “ethical demands” of Jesus, but that it is precisely because he has taken them as seriously as they should be.

    TT’s interpretation (which I happen to think is correct) relies on the fact that you *first* put yourself in the place of the Good Samaritan and have to ‘go and do likewise’ so that you can through taking that position see that it cannot be you after all… it must be Jesus.

    Interpreting the parable in its context, Luke explains that the parable is a response to the lawyer that desired to justify himself (v.29). The parable then best makes sense as a way to tear down that desire.

    PS Luther saw the Samaritan as being Jesus.

    • Kenton Slaughter

      The questions that Jesus answers, in order: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and “who is my neighbor?”

      Jesus doesn’t criticize the first question. In fact, Jesus identifies the answer to the question as written in the Law, and affirms the lawyer’s answer: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

      It is only at this point that the man attempts to justify himself. How so? Well, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Considering the parable, it would seem that the lawyer wanted a narrow definition of ‘neighbor’, restricted, perhaps, to his friends. His attempt to justify himself reveals his motivation behind the question, and is reflected in the parable. The man considered himself to be righteous, based on his perceived obedience to the Law, to the exclusion of others. Jesus reveals that he hasn’t kept that second command. But what’s more, Jesus reveals that he hasn’t kept the first either.

      Now we know, and Luke knows, that eternal life comes through faith in the Messiah. But, Paul also knew this, and yet was able to state, “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Romans 2:7)

      We should keep in mind that if this was all that Jesus had said, we’d have to rethink our entire theology. But, the lawyer was present to hear Jesus’ earlier words in 10:20-22. And the message of these verses is that to have your name written in heaven, the Son must reveal himself and the Father to you. And it’s clear that the lawyer didn’t understand this. But that doesn’t negate the injunction.

  • The various machinations of evangelicals to weasel out of Jesus moral teachings are comical.

    “Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals … except the weasel.” ~Homer Simpson

  • Nash
  • Do we think THAT much of our human ability (even after regeneration) that EVERY verse is about what we should be doing? If the Bible is about the Gospel throughout, then logically, the Gospel must be the point of this passage. We have a tendency to think every passage is an imperative. Even the point of “doing the Gospel”, “living the Gospel”, etc. We are fixated on getting better.