And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
He was rich! Verse 22 says that he had “great possessions,” many possessions, lots and lots of stuff.
We know that he was a Jew, raised to believe in the Law of God. He knew the ten commandments.
We know that he was deeply concerned with eternal life, at least this moment. He ran up to Jesus, so he took this seriously. He knelt before Jesus, so he took Him seriously as well.
says that this was the region of Judea beyond the Jordan, which was the same area where John the Baptist baptized people for repentance. Perhaps this man had heard John teach, but he had not truly repented. How do we know? Because the question of eternal life is still pressing hard on his heart and mind.
We know that this man wasn’t taking anything for granted. He asked, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He knew that he didn’t have eternal life, and he knew that he didn’t know how to get eternal life, but he was sure that if he did know, he could make it happen. What must I do?
and knelt before Him
Jesus wasn’t playing word games when He responded, Why do you call Me good? No one is good except for God alone. He wasn’t denying that He was good, but pointing out that true goodness belongs to God alone. The question What must I do? assumes that the rich man can be good IF he knows how.
There are ten commandments given in , and those ten commandments form the basis of the entire Law of God.
The first four have to do with God and worship – having the right theology and religious practice:
One: there is One True God, and you shall have no other gods.
Two: you shall not make an image of anything to worship.
Three: you shall not pretend to be faithful to God when you are not.
Four, you shall remember to keep the sabbath day holy (this is the only one of the ten that is not repeated in the New Testament; Jesus Himself is our rest from working for salvation)
The final six have to do with human relationships and morality – having the right ethics and moral practice:
Fifth, you shall treat your father and mother with respect and dignity, helping them as you are able.
Sixth, you shall not murder.
Seventh, you shall not commit adultery.
Eighth, you shall not steal.
Ninth, you shall not bear false witness.
Tenth, you shall not covet.
Now, did you notice that Jesus did not mention one of the commandments in ? He says,
Do not murder
Do not commit adultery
Do not steal
Do not bear false witness
Honor your father and mother
He leaves out do not covet. He adds do not defraud. Coveting is to defrauding what hunger is to eating; it is the motivation. Jesus points out the action, defrauding, but leaves out the motivation for defrauding others, which is coveting.
The man claims to have kept all of those commandments. Perhaps he did, especially the big ones: dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, and stealing. Perhaps he took false witness literally, and had never given false testimony against another person while under oath.
And I bet that he was relieved when do not covet wasn’t mentioned. This was, after all, a covetous man who owned a great number of possessions.
And then Jesus aims right at his dead, sinful heart:
You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.
I can’t imagine what it would be like for Jesus to say to me, You lack ONE thing. One thing? That’s ALL? I lack all sorts of things. Lacking just one thing would be amazing.
How does the man respond? He was disheartened by what Jesus said, and went away sorrowful, because he had many, many possessions, loads of stuff.
This man was really disturbed when Jesus told him to sell everything. He loved his stuff. The word disheartened means that he was saddened and discouraged, even shocked or insulted.
So, he didn’t take this well. What Jesus said to him didn't snap his eyes open: "Oh, wow, I see it now - my love of things has been a false god in my life! Lord, I repent of my sin - I'm going to go destroy my false god, and I'll be right back!"
That is, he didn't take it well. What Jesus said to him didn't snap his eyes open: "Oh, wow, I see it now - my love of things has been a false god in my life! Lord, I repent of my sin - I'm going to go destroy my false god, and I'll be right back!"
No, he walked away sad because he can’t have eternal life AND keep his sin. He is discouraged because he had convinced himself that he was really a good person, and just needed a little information to be perfect. He was shocked because Jesus looked right into his little, shriveled heart. He was insulted that Jesus didn’t pat him on the back and tell him how much progress he had made.
He's ready to tell his friends, "You know, I went to see Jesus, and told him how good I am and how sincere I am, and he didn't give me any credit for my good stuff, and just criticized me because I like to have nice things! Who is HE to tell ME that?"
Now, we aren't told what he did after this, whether he obeyed Jesus and sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor, or whether he disobeyed Jesus. But his response seems to say that he decided in favor of his stuff and against Jesus.
I think he probably was interested in eternal life, as verse 17 says. But he thought that he could add eternal life to his pile of stuff. It's clear that his stuff meant more to him than eternal life. He wanted eternal life, as long as he could keep his stuff.
And by knowingly setting an impossibly high standard for him, Jesus makes it clear that he is not the master of his fate or the captain of his soul, that there is nothing that he can do to earn or deserve eternal life.
Maybe you think you just need one more thing to really be right with God, but I’ll tell you something: that One Thing is the Hardest Thing, and it owns you.
It’s easy to give up what you don’t really care about anyway, but it’s impossible to give up your own identity, and that’s the One Thing, the Hard Thing. Jesus must help with that One Thing, or you will never get rid of it.
First, eternal life is a gift. It cannot be earned, and it is never deserved.
Second, eternal life is a gift God gives. No person can give it to himself or herself; the church can't give it to anyone. It doesn't come through natural processes or by following a set of instructions.
Eternal life is a gift God gives on His own terms. He is free to give it to whom He wishes, and He does. You can't look at any Christian and say, "I know why God chose that person."
Eternal life comes through the grace of God. The word grace means undeserved favor. The Word of God is clear – you really don't want what you deserve, because all we can deserve is judgment and hell.
And eternal life comes by means of faith in Jesus Christ. Biblical faith is not believing for the sake of believing, or repeating words someone else said or that you saw in a book or a tract. The Gospel says:
there is one God who is Three Persons, He created all things to be holy and perfect, mankind rebelled and died spiritually as a result, every person, you, me, and everyone else, deserves judgment and hell, God the Son was born as a human being, He lived a sinless life, He died as the perfect satisfaction for God's justifiable anger, He rose from the dead to show that the Father was satisfied with His death, and to make those who believe in Him right with God, He ascended to heaven in glory, and is praying for His people, and will one day come again to rescue them and to judge the world.
Faith in Jesus Christ is not simply agreeing in principle with these things, but believing them and holding them as truth to the very core of your being. This sort of faith is not possible for us sinners to work up on our own, which is why the Bible says that genuine faith is not a human trait, but a gift from God.
But that One Thing is going to be the Hardest Thing there is.