A certain ruler … began asking Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He said to Him, “Which ones?”  And Jesus said … “Do not commit murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Do not defraud; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And the young man said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth up; what am I still lacking?”  And when Jesus heard this, He … said to him, “One thing you still lack; if you wish to be complete, go and sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  (Luke 18:18-30)  (See also Matthew 19:16-20:16 & Mark 10:17-31)

When I was in seminary, I took an evangelism class.  One day we considered this conversation between Jesus and a man we have come to call “the rich, young ruler.”  We read that when he asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “Keep the commandments.”

Does that answer startle you?  I remember the professor saying to us (with a smile), “If I had asked you this question on a test and you had given me that answer, you would have failed the course.”

What’s going on here?  Haven’t we been taught to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” with “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved”?  But that’s not what Jesus said.  In fact, the words “mercy” and “grace” and “faith” and “believe” and “not of works” were not even mentioned.  Instead, Jesus gave a legalistic answer, a “righteousness-is-earned-by-good-works” reply.  Why did He do that?  Surely, He knew that this young man could not live up to God’s standard of perfection.

Yes, Jesus knew that … but this young man did not.  To him eternal life was something worked for, a wage that was earned by doing “good things.”  Believing he could save himself, he had no need for Jesus to do so, and the Savior knew it.  He knew this man’s soul was not ready to plead for God’s mercy.  Only the “poor in spirit” are ready to do that.  This man, however, was too rich for that.  (Not rich in stocks and bonds.  Wealthy people can be saved.  The tax collector Zaccheus was saved; and “he was rich.”)  No, this man was “rich in spirit” … wealthy in the righteousness of his religion.  “All these (commandments) I have kept from my youth up.”

It is ironic.  This man’s high view of his own morality was preventing his salvation.  And so, as an act of love, Jesus seeks to lower that estimation of himself by knocking out from under him the props of his self-righteousness.  He wants this young man to know that he cannot reach his goal of eternal life through moral perfection.  So, He unveils his moral failures.

“One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And then we read one of the saddest statements in all of Scripture:  “But when the young man heard this statement, his face fell, and he became very sad and went away grieved; for he was one who was extremely rich and owned much property.”  In telling him to do this, Jesus meant to expose his idolatrous heart, a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments:  “You shall have no gods before Me.”

Jesus did not handle this situation the way most of us are taught.  He did not rush into “the Good News” of His death and resurrection.  No, Jesus confronts him with some bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face “Bad News”:  “You are not as righteous as you think you are.”

Undoubtedly, the tone of the Lord’s voice and the countenance on His face reflected His love for this young man.  Yet, even the Savior’s love does not lower the demands of Yahweh’s Law.  We should not miss that.  Though God loves the world, the sins of the world must still be dealt with.

Every time Jesus addressed the self-righteous (usually they were religious leaders), His words were never intended to relieve a soul distressed over sin.  Why should they?  A self-righteous soul is not distressed over sin … but it should be.  His words to those “rich in spirit” were never meant to comfort a soul riddled with guilt.  Why should they?   There is no sense of guilt within a soul that is rich in righteousness.  No, these words of Jesus were intended to

lovingly break a soul satisfied with itself

This young man is not alone.  Many today are just like him.  On Sunday morning some of them are sitting in church pews while others are sitting in coffee shops.  Nevertheless, whether religious or not, they all share the same belief of this rich young ruler:  “My decency satisfies God.  It is my ticket to heaven.”  Noticeably absent from their souls is a felt-need for the mercy of God.

In our evangelistic efforts perhaps the Church is rushing too quickly to give this kind of person the solution to his sin problem before he senses he even has a problem.  But until he is convinced that he is a moral criminal on God’s death row, he will have no need for God’s pardon.  Clinging to his works, he has no need to cling to “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”

We should take note of that.  God’s mercy means nothing to a person who is not first convinced of God’s justice.  Believing in himself, he has no need to believe in the Savior.  To offer the grace of God to the self-righteous is like handing a parachute to one who thinks he is standing on the ground.

Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.

Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace.

Vile, I to the fountain fly.  Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.

Click here to view our websiteSTEWARD OF TRUTH PUBLICATIONS

4 thoughts on “

  1. So true Martin. One of our biggest problems is we want to look good to everyone all the time and we easily believe that we are good as we are working to portray ourselves. Even as believers we can easily walk this way. It is a fight to see ourselves as hopelessly lost and totally deserving of extermination apart from Jesus and walk in a way the allows Him to be the One who looks good for He alone is good. Thanks for the words in this blog relative to our focus in evangelism. It reminded me that in this flesh the war is still on!

    1. Thank you Mike for these insightful comments. And yes, “He alone is good”! May the Lord Jesus Christ be exalted for taking upon Himself our punishment. And may the Father be thanked for His pardon and deliverance of all who trust in His Son, the One Who died for our sins so that we would not have to!

  2. Thank you Martin. This is an excellent reminder from Jesus and wonderful insight from you. It is true that we sometimes “put the cart before the horse” when we try to share the Gospel. No one cannot appreciate God’s mercy until they first understand his justice (i.e what he is offering to save us from). And the selfish desire to place “good works” ahead of God as the object of worship, makes people blind to their complete inability to save themselves. Lord Jesus be merciful to us all.

    1. Amen. The justice of God is why we need the grace of God. That we face capital punishment is why we need the Father’s execution of His Son. That mankind is on death row is why we need God’s pardon. Thank God, His Son was sent to die in our place … as our Substitute … so we wouldn’t have to. And thank God He was raised from death to life so we could be too. But it all starts with the problem (sin), not the solution to the problem (grace), which is where our message typically starts. As you said Kurtis, “Lord Jesus, be merciful to us all.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *