There are 613 laws in the Old Testament.
During Jesus’ lifetime, the people who lived strictly by those laws were the Pharisees. They were the shining examples of religious piety. Jesus even taught that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven a person’s righteousness must EXCEED that of the Pharisees; you must live out the law better than that of the Pharisees to experience Heaven.
In Luke 18 Jesus is confronted by a man who has “kept all these since (his) youth.” Six-hundred and thirteen laws. Since his youth.
Whether or not he is lying doesn’t matter, because Jesus takes him for his word and answers with what comes next anyway. Jesus says, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
Here is a list of all 613 Old Testament laws. Just skip down to the section on “The Poor and Unfortunate.” You’ll notice that not a single law requires the giving away of ALL possessions. In fact, most of them require that you leave the leftovers or “imperfect” portions for the poor and needy. The last law even flat out states to give charity “according to one’s means.” You aren’t even required to give to the poor if you don’t have the means, and even if you do have the means you certainly aren’t forced to give the good stuff.
However, Jesus has raised the standard. Jesus requires this man to sell ALL his possessions. We will come back to why he does this a little later.
Right now I want to turn our attention back to the man asking Jesus his question.
I have heard some argue that this man was another member of a group of religious leaders trying to trip Jesus up by questioning him (ex. Taxes, Divorce, Greatest Commandment, etc.), but this man was a “rich, young ruler.” He was not an “expert in the law” like others were; this fact paired with his response (he became sad, not angry like the others) at Jesus’ answer to his question, I believe, speaks to his sincerity in asking the question.
If the rich ruler was sincere in asking his question, then he must have been at least a little bit concerned that, despite his perfect law-abiding lifestyle, he still had not earned his way into Heaven. The ruler had some internal feeling or intuition that there is more that is required of him.
While he was correct (more is required), he was not expecting the answer he was given. A feeling I’m sure we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Right when we believe that we can handle more responsibility, more than we’ve bargained for is on our plates.
So why does Jesus require more from this man who has kept all 613 laws God provided through Moses and the Prophets? Why does God require more of us than what is outlined in the book of law?
Because God desires perfection. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfection cannot be explained in one book, nor can it be derived by following 613 laws, or 813, or 1,013, or 1,000,013… you get the point.
Too often we allow the laws to define our view of God’s love rather than seeing how God’s love defines the laws. So let us first learn God’s character in order to properly understand the intention of the law and the prophets. Then let us live out the heart of the law, rather than the law itself.