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?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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. 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.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. —Mark 12:28-34
You’ve heard the saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades.” Close does not count for heaven. “Not far” from the kingdom is not close enough. J.C. Ryle helps us understand this passage:
The Scribe, in the passage now before us, was evidently a man of more knowledge than most of his equals. He saw things which many Scribes and Pharisees never saw at all. His own words are a strong proof of this. “There is one God–and there is none other but He and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” These words are remarkable in themselves, and doubly remarkable when we remember who the speaker was, and the generation among whom he lived. No wonder that we read next, that our Lord said, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”
But we must not shut our eyes to the fact, that we are nowhere told that this man became one of our Lord’s disciples. On this point there is a mournful silence. The parallel passage in Matthew throws not a gleam of light on his case. The other parts of the New Testament tell us nothing about him. We are left to draw the painful conclusion that, like the rich young man, he could not make up his mind to give up all and follow Christ; or that, like the chief rulers, elsewhere mentioned, he “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43.) In short, though “not far from the kingdom of God,” he probably never entered into it, and died outside.
Cases like that of this Scribe, are unhappily far from being uncommon. There are thousands on every side, who, like him, see much and know much of religious truth, and yet live and die undecided. There are few things which are so much overlooked as the length to which people may go in religious attainments, and yet never be converted and never saved. May we all mark well this man’s case, and take heed!
Let us beware of resting our hopes of salvation on mere intellectual knowledge. We live in days when there is great danger of doing so. Education makes children acquainted with many things in religion, of which their parents were once utterly ignorant. But education alone will never make a Christian in the sight of God. We must not only know the leading doctrines of the Gospel with our heads, but receive them into our hearts, and be guided by them in our lives. May we never rest until we are inside the kingdom of God, until we have truly repented, really believed, and have been made new creatures in Christ Jesus. If we rest satisfied with being “not far from the kingdom,” we shall find at last that we are shut out for evermore.