My religion professor in university brought up this story when talking about Christianity. His point? “If you want eternal life, you have to sell everything you have.”
Which shows the fallacy of not looking at a scripture in its context, because that was not Jesus’ point at all.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
It’s interesting looking at the different accounts of this story, because through them, you get a composite view of this man who came to Jesus. He was young (Matthew 19:22), rich (all the accounts), and a ruler (Luke 18:18).
And he asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? And why do you ask me about what is good? No one is good except God alone.”
Here Jesus dispels one thing that many people say about Jesus. Namely, “Jesus was a good man, but he wasn’t God.”
Jesus told the young man and us, “You can call me God. Or you can call me just a man. But if you call me just a man, you cannot call me good, because only God is good.”
He then told the man, “You know the commandments. Do them, and you will find life.”
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is telling us that we can work our way into heaven. But look at what the young man said next.
All these I have kept…What do I still lack? (Mathew 19:20)
Here we see the problem of many people today. They do their best to follow God’s commands. To do what is right. Maybe, like this young man, they even think they have achieved it. But deep in their soul, they know something is wrong. That something is lacking. Why?
Because though we may fool others and even ourselves, none of us meet God’s standard. The Bible says,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
And if we look deeply into ourselves, we’ll realize that.
Why then, did Jesus point to the commandments as the way to life? I think the apostle Paul gives us the answer.
No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law (because no one can keep it); rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20)
The law cannot make us righteous any more than a mirror can clean our face. What the law can do is show us the sin that is there.
And through the law, we see our need for a Savior.
The problem is, sometimes the mirror can get a little blurred. Not that the law itself is blurry, but we make it blurry by our own conceptions of what it means. And that was the problem with this young man. He was convinced that he had kept the law. And so Jesus cleaned off the mirror so that the young man could see clearly. He said,
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. (Matthew 19:21)
Why did Jesus say that? Because the young man was right. He was lacking something. He had put his money ahead of God. Money was most important to him. And by this attitude, he broke the first commandment against putting anything ahead of God in his life.
The man now saw clearly. And sadly, instead of saying, “Jesus, help me. Have mercy on me a sinner,” he walked away. He walked away sadly. But he did walk away.
And Jesus said,
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:23)
His disciples were stunned to hear this because they always had thought that people were rich because of God’s blessing. But Jesus said again,
Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:24-25)
Why? Because it is impossible to hold on to the things of God when you’re holding on to the things of this world. And the rich have more things of this world to hold than most people. And more to let go of.
The disciples then asked,
Who then can be saved? (Mark 10:26)
And now we come to the key point of this entire passage. Jesus answered,
With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. (Mark 10:27)
Salvation apart from God is impossible. None of us can make it because none of us are perfect. That’s what Jesus wanted to make clear to the young man.
But because of Christ’s work on the cross, because of what God did, salvation is now possible. All we have to do is believe.
As John wrote,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Won’t you accept God’s gift of salvation today?