The Good News - Home
True Spiritual Riches
By David A. DePra
And, behold, one came and said unto him, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" And he said unto him, "Why do you call me good?" There is none good but one, that is, God. But if you will enter into life, keep the commandments." He said unto Him, "Which?" Jesus said, "You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, You shall love thy neighbour as thyself." The young man said unto him, "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" Jesus said unto him, "If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, "Verily I say unto you that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:16-26)
The way in which Jesus handled the people who approached Him was always unique to their particular need. And of course, Jesus had such great discernment that He was always able to know that need. Here, in this exchange with the rich young ruler, we see a prime example of Jesusí dealings. But we also have an event which holds many lessons applicable to us today.
Wanting Eternal Life
This rich young ruler had obviously heard Jesus teach. The fact that he came to Jesus for advice indicates that. Clearly, he wanted to enter into life. Otherwise, there is no reason for his questions. The way in which he approaches Jesus is significant. Markís gospel says that "there came one running, and kneeled to Him."
Now, right away we begin to see something we must establish Ė and are able to establish because we know the sad ending of the story. This young ruler WANTED eternal life. There is no question about that. But when presented with the terms, he walked away from it. What this tells us is this: WANTING eternal life isnít enough. You must enter in on Godís terms.
Anyone in their right mind is going to WANT eternal life. Who would turn away from life? But God has made only ONE WAY to life Ė by "grace through faith" in His Son. Those are His terms.
We need to understand that Godís terms are not what they are simply because "He says so." God did not one day decide to arbitrarily make it that way Ė sort of like He invented a religion or something. No. "Godís terms" are what they are because IT IS SO. In Christ alone, there is LIFE. Christ alone is God become man, and Christ alone died for the sin of the world.
Thus, for you and I to decide that we should be able to enter into life on terms other than faith in Christ is ridiculous. That is like saying that we should be able to get light from an electric lamp without plugging it in. You canít. There is life ONLY in the Source of life, Jesus Christ, and all the arguing in the world isnít going to change that.
But just as this young man wanted life, but rejected the means, so do many others. Jesus spoke of this elsewhere:
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. (Luke 13:24-27)
These people wanted to enter Ė Jesus said they SOUGHT to enter -- but were not able. They rehearsed their works and association with Jesus. But it was not enough. They had not come on Godís terms. Instead, they came on their own terms Ė and doing that, Jesus said, were "works of iniquity."
The reality is, trying to enter into life by our own righteousness IS the work of iniquity which keeps us out Ė more than any other. Get that. If I am trying to enter into life through my own works and righteousness I am SINNING against God. I am in unbelief.
Most of us never think of that. We think our greatest sins are those which directly violate Godís law. Things we DO. But according to God, the greatest sin of all is unbelief. It is when we try to make ourselves righteous through our own efforts.
Back to the young man. We must assume, at this point, that the manner in which this young man approached Jesus was sincere. If someone ran and kneeled in front of a teacher today, we would think they were being over dramatic. But not back then. The posture of this young man indicates a degree of desperation, and a measure of humility. Having heard Jesus teach, his heart had been moved and stirred with a question: What good thing shall I do to have eternal life?
God Alone is Good
Before proceeding in this story, we do need to step aside for a moment and address something important. This young man addresses Jesus as, "Good Master." Jesusí answer to him has, to some, been the source of confusion. Jesus said, "Why to you call me Ďgood?" There is no one good but One, that is, God?"
Some people, in a vain attempt to prove that Jesus never claimed to be God, park on this answer by Jesus, claiming that He was actually denying that He was God. This, despite many other passages which clearly state that Jesus was God Incarnate. But how do we explain Jesusí answer? It does sound as if He is saying that He isnít good, and therefore, isnít God, doesnít it?
If we take the exchange between Jesus and this young man as a whole, we find that Jesusí answer is part of His way of dealing with him. Jesus wanted him to see that only God is good Ė so that he could set him free from the notion that anyone else (especially himself) could be good by WORKS. It was the hope of Jesus that this young man would come to see that none of us can earn eternal life through anything we DO.
Thus, Jesus was not saying to this young man, "I am not God, so donít call me good." Rather, He was saying, "There is only One who is good, and that is God. So unless you have recognized that I am God, donít call Me good. For no one is good but God."
Do we see that? There is no denial here by Jesus that He is God. He is simply stating to this young man, "You are operating on the basis of works. You think by DOING you are good. But I say to you, that no one is good but God. Therefore, do not call Me good unless you have also seen this greater Truth: That I, Jesus, am God."
Now we return to the question. This rich young man had come to Jesus, and with a measure of need and humility, and asked, "What shall I do that I may have eternal life?" It is a question that all of us OUGHT to ask. Why could be a more important question to ask of God?
Jesus answered, "If you will enter into life, keep the commandments." And then Jesus rehearses what amounts to the last six commandments -- those which center on manís relationship to man.
There is, however, a huge dilemma created by Jesusí answer, if we simply take it out of context. Keep the commandments? THAT is how we can enter into life? What answer could be more foreign to the gospel of grace?
Paul would later write:
By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight. (Romans 3:20)
How do we reconcile the answer Jesus gives to Paulís teachings? In fact, how do we reconcile it to Jesusí OWN teaching? Can we really enter into life by "keeping the commandments?"
Purpose of the Law
Jesusí answer is actually the absolute Truth: If you can keep all of the commandments, and never once sin in your entire life, then you can enter into eternal life. Your obedience would prove that you were, in fact, GOOD Ė as God is good. But of course Jesus really wanted this young man to see that no one could possibly keep the commandments. Therefore, no one could enter into life. Jesus wanted this young man to see that his only hope was something more Ė the grace of God.
Notice how Jesus evolves the conversation. The young man approaches Jesus with the assumption that it is DOING that will earn him eternal life. THAT assumption was the basis of his question: "What shall I do to enter into eternal life?" Jesus, knowing the blindness which prompted the question, first assures him that there are NONE that are good Ė except God. Then, Jesus pushes His point further by reminding the young man of Godís holy commandments Ė with the hope that this would show him that works cannot earn him eternal life Ė for who can keep these commandments perfectly?
Paul the apostle states this same Truth all through his epistles. One of the best passages is found in Romans 3. There Paul writes:
Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says them to those who are under the law -- that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
Paul tells us exactly the purpose for which God gave His law. Do you see it? He says, "God gave His law so that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world would be exposed as guilty before God."
The law of God is holy, just, and good. It is a written revelation of the righteousness of God. But that creates a BIG problem. It means that the moment I look into the perfect law of God, I see how imperfect I am. If I look into the holy, just, and good law of God, I immediately see how unholy, unjust, and BAD I am.
Now, we might think this is terrible. It paints us into a corner and leaves us with NOTHING upon which we can stand. But that is the whole point! When we look into the law of God, and see that there is nothing we can DO to earn eternal life, and see that, in fact, we have NOTHING about us which is righteous, we are seeing exactly what God wants us to see. We are seeing exactly what the law was given to show us: That there is no hope except the GRACE of God in Jesus Christ.
Notice what Paul says ought to be the effect of the law upon us: Our mouth should be stopped. In other words, we should have nothing about ourselves to brag about. We should have no spiritual credentials to present to God. The law BURIES us Ė and shows us to be completely guilty before God.
Donít misunderstand. The law doesnít MAKE our guilt. The law SHOWS our guilt. We are guilty with, or without, the law Ė because we are born in Adam. But God, in His mercy, wanted to show us our condition, so that we might turn to Him. So He gave His law to expose us as sinners, and to lead us to Christ for Godís grace.
How different is THIS purpose of the law from the purpose for which many Christians think God gave the law. Many Christians think God gave His law because He thought we could actually keep it. They consider it to be a list of demands God has placed upon us, under threat of punishment. But this is precisely what Paul is telling us is WRONG. God gave His law to expose us as sinners Ė to show us we can never be perfect enough for God.
Now, does this mean the law is bad? Of course not. Paul answers this exact question:
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. (Romans 7:12-13)
Paul is saying, "The law is not bad. The law is holy, just, and good." "But the trouble is," Paul says, "that which is holy, just, and good condemns me to death." Sure. The law leaves us with no hope. We do not have what we need before God, and have no way of getting it.
When Jesus reminded the rich young ruler of the commandments, He hoped that he would see this great Truth. Jesus undoubtedly hoped that once He recited those six commandments, that the young man would say, "But no one can keep these perfectly. How then have I any chance to enter into life?"
But no. This young man answered, "These things have I kept from my youth." But before we are too hard on him, we need to realize that some of US feel the same way about ourselves. We are wallowing in our own righteousness. And we donít even realize it.
Two Kinds of People
Paul the apostle clearly states you cannot make yourself righteous by law-keeping. In fact, the more you try to make yourself righteous by keeping the law, the more unrighteous you are shown to be Ė through your failure to keep the law. There is only ONE means of righteousness given by God: That which is through the faith of Jesus Christ:
But now the righteousness of God independent from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:19-24)
If Christians could clearly see and LIVE this one Truth, and preach it, what a change there would be in our churches! The righteousness which God gives us "by grace through faith" is a righteousness which is given completely INDEPENDENT of our works. It has nothing to do with US Ė with our merit, our works, or our righteousness. It is given solely because we rest our faith in Jesus Christ.
So many Christians know this as a doctrine. They know the doctrine which says our righteousness is solely by faith in Christ. But many have not actually put their faith in Christ. Their faith continues to rest in THEMSELVES Ė in their law-keeping.
Actually, we might divide those who continue to try to live under the law into TWO camps: First, there are those who think they are TOO GOOD for Godís grace. Second, there are those who think that are NOT GOOD enough. Of course, neither group would describe themselves that way. Both groups think they are walking in the Truth.
Those who think they are TOO GOOD for Godís grace arrive at this conclusion because they think they HAVE kept Godís law. They are like the rich young ruler. They feel they have kept the commandments pretty well. They realize they arenít perfect, mind you, and do give lip service to Godís forgiveness through Christ for their sins, but somehow what comes out in the wash is a self-congratulatory Christian life. In other words, SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.
What is keeping these folks from seeing the Truth of Godís grace is their faith in their supposed good works. From that they derive their confidence. It is righteousness by the law.
Then there is the other group: Those who think they arenít GOOD ENOUGH for Godís grace. These people might, at first, seem to be closer to the Truth. After all, they arrive at this conclusion by failing to keep Godís law. But instead of taking the next step, and turning to Christ for His free grace, they just keep trying harder to make themselves righteous by works.
These folks Ė who donít think they are good enough for Godís grace -- are actually making the same mistake as those who think they are too good for Godís grace. They too are basing their standing before God on their works and their own righteousness. Itís just that for them, it is a frustrated self-righteousness. They are trying to make themselves righteous through their works, but failing. But instead of turning to the grace of God, they just keep trying to be righteous.
What is keeping these folks from seeing the Truth of Godís grace is exactly the same thing as those who think they are too good for Godís grace: Their faith is in their supposed good works! Really? Sure. But despite trying to establish their righteousness by the law, they know they are failing.
A person I once knew said that the reason they did not believe God that had forgiven them was that their sins were too bad. They harped on this, to the point where it seemed as if they were proud that they were too hard for God! But the Truth is, anyone who thinks that their sin is too bad for God to forgive has it backwards: They donít know HOW BAD their sin really is! If they had the slightest notion of how bad their sin was, they would know that the only hope they have is the unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ. And they would run to Him for that forgiveness.
Both of the groups mentioned are living under the law, using their works to make themselves righteous. One group thinks they are succeeding. The only thinks they are failing. The problem, of course, is NOT whether they are succeeding or failing. The problem is that they are trying to make themselves righteous to begin with. THAT is unbelief. It is keeping them blind to the grace of God.
The gospel presents a righteousness which is OUTSIDE OF, or given completely independent of, our works: The righteousness which is by faith in Christ. Through the new birth in Christ, God is able to make us righteous as a completely independent act from any good works we might do, or any sins we might commit. It is the righteousness OF Jesus Christ Ė and is found only through faith in Him.
The rich young ruler did not see what Jesus was trying to show him. Jesus had told him that only God was good. He had rehearsed to him the commandments necessary to keep perfectly if he wanted to enter into life. But instead of saying, "Jesus, no one can keep those commandments. There must be another way!," this young man answered, "All these things I have kept from my youth up."
Yet, that was not the end of his answer to Jesus. We must read the rest of it. He added, "What then, do I lack?"
What we see here is that this young man had placed a great deal of confidence and faith in his own works. He surely did, for he was brazen enough to declare his own righteousness to Jesus Ė a Person he clearly respected as an authority on the things of God. But we also see what we might call, "a loose end." Somehow, deep down inside of this young man, he sensed that there was something missing. He realized, but not in a way which could be stated with words, that he did, in fact, LACK SOMETHING.
Do you see that? We donít see this young man saying to Jesus, "Keep the commandments? Well, Iíve done that. So Iíve earned eternal life. Thanks Jesus. Iíll see you in heaven." No. The words, "What do I lack?," while they do betray a certain self-sufficiency, nevertheless reveal a realization by this young man that there was MORE. The question which first prompted him to run to Jesus was STILL in his heart Ė and not resolved. It was eating at him. So he added, "Iíve kept all of those commandments. But what do I continue to lack?"
There is a spiritual principle here. If we have questions on our heart, we are accountable to God. For what? For seeking Him. At that point, we know enough to SEEK Ė for the question is motivating us to seek. And we can be sure that if God has put a question on our heart, that when God answers, we will be able to submit to His answer. That capability is there, or God would not prompt the question to begin with.
This tells us that when we have questions it is cause for rejoicing. It means that God is in the process of getting ready to reveal to us some Truth. Of course, simply having a question, and seeking God for the answer, doesnít automatically mean we will embrace the answer. This young man rejected the answer. But it does mean that we are able to choose. We are accountable for embracing the answer when God gives it to us.
We see this with this young man. The law of God, at this point, was doing itís job on this young man Ė exposing his need. He wasnít ready to admit it, mind you, but he was beginning to see that he had a need. He did ask the question, "What do I lack?"
Jesus, out of His love and concern for the young ruler, began to dig deeper. In response to his question, "What do I lack?," Jesus said, "If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
Here we see Jesus pointing, not to the letter of the law, but to the spirit of the law. You see, it is one thing to keep Godís law in an outward fashion. But it is quite another to keep it in itís fullness as to spirit and intent. THAT requires more than just DOING righteous works. It requires BEING righteous. And none of us are that by natural birth.
Jesus, at this point, in the conversation, was doing what He said He came to do with regard to Godís law. Rather than abolish it, Jesus came to magnify it. In effect, Jesus came to show that Godís law was so righteous and so holy, that no one could possibly keep it. This was how Jesus FULFILLED the law of God Ė He brought it out to such an extent that it buried us all.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-20)
Jesus fulfilled the law of God by personally keeping it, and by teaching it. In doing so, He completely fulfilled Godís purpose in giving the law: That every mouth would be stopped, and the whole world would be shown to be guilty before God.
We see Jesus doing this in the "Sermon on the Mount." He says, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law. I have not come to abolish it, but to fulfill it." Then He goes on to show us what He means. He says, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shall not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matt. 5:27-28)
The teachings of Jesus fulfill the law of God because when we stand and face His teachings we see how utterly hopeless we are. We cannot keep Godís law. It will condemn us for every imperfect outward action. And if we are deluded into thinking we have kept the law outwardly, Jesus tells us that even our heart must be in obedience to the law of God. We must not only DO what is right. We must BE what is right.
The problem is that we are all born with the sin nature. This means we are going to sin. It is only a matter of how. Jesus therefore answered this young man in the same way in which He preached His great Sermon on the Mount. He said, "Ok. If you think you have kept all of Godís laws outwardly, I must dig deeper. Here is your problem: You love money. You are living for money. Your heart is not right with God."
Again Ė the more we try to obey Godís law, the deeper Godís law will dig. And in the end, we will be shown to be helpless sinners. But this is not bad news, it is good news. For we ARE sinners. That is the Truth. And if we will just see this, and confess it, we will be able to enter into the fullness of Godís grace in Jesus Christ.
People who are blind to the grace of God, and who are walking in legalism, always misunderstand grace. Always. When you explain the Truth to them, and tell them that no one can keep Godís law, they think that you are suggesting that because grace abounds when we sin, that we should sin because grace abounds. To them, grace means license. It is a misunderstanding that goes back to the days of the apostle Paul.
Paul asked this very question, rhetorically, in the epistle to the Romans. He asked, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" He asked his question for one reason: He had just told them that grace DOES abound when we sin. Therefore, the logical question becomes, "Ok. But then shall we continue in sin because grace DOES abound?"
Can we please see that Paul would never ask this question unless GRACE DOES ABOUND WHEN WE SIN? If we donít see that, we will miss the whole point. Paulís rhetorical question is only possible because grace does abound when we sin. He is anticipating those who would object to this Truth on the grounds that such a grace would lead to license.
Paulís answer is, "God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
Now ask: What is the reason Paul says that we shall NOT continue in sin, even though grace abounds? Does he say, "You shall not continue in sin because the law tells you not to."? Nope Ė although the law does tell us not to. Does he say, "You shall not continue in sin because God will punish you if you do."? Nope. Although there are always consequences for sin. Paul gives one reason why we will not continue in sin, even though grace does abound. He says, "Because you are DEAD to sin."
Get that: Because we are DEAD to sin. What Paul is saying, he explains in the subsequent verses. He is saying, "The way you became converted to Christ was by repenting of sin. You handed yourself over to the death of Christ. Therefore it is impossible for you, if your conversion was real, to WANT to continue in sin."
In other words, I become a Christian by repenting of sin. It is therefore not possible to emerge from conversion wanting to sin Ė wanting to use the grace of God as a license.
So we see that true conversion to Christ leaves no room for license. If you want to use the grace of God as a license to sin, your problem is simple: You were never converted. You canít be Ė for it is sin that you forsook when you became a Christian.
True conversion will result in wanting to obey God. But it will not result in being able to obey God perfectly Ė due to the flesh. However, because I have embraced the finality of Godís forgiveness through the Cross, I will know that my failures are already forgiven. This will motivate me all the more, through the love of God, to want to obey Him.
So we see that freedom from the law is not freedom to sin. Freedom from the law is freedom to obey. Yet not for the purpose of making ourselves righteous, or for the purpose of earning anything from God. I obey God because I have been endowed with a righteousness not my own, and have seen that I am unconditionally loved. No law can accomplish this. It is the product of a new birth.
Treasure in Heaven
Jesus wanted to help this young ruler get free. This young man had come to him with a question in his heart. Take note of the questions you have for God Ė it is quite possible that the Holy Spirit has put those questions there. He wants you to come to God and find the answer. As mentioned earlier, the question prompts a SEEKING in you, which, if followed, usually results in God revealing to you some point of Truth which He knows that you need to see to get free.
This young ruler needed to see that there was NOTHING he could do to earn his way into eternal life. The question on his heart led him to seek the Truth of Jesus, and opened up the opportunity for his freedom. The Truth was right to the point. And it applies to each and every one of us. Jesus said, "If you really want to be perfect, then go and sell everything you possess, and give to the poor. And then you will have treasure in heaven. And then come and follow Me."
What we see here is that if you want treasure in heaven, you have to become poor in yourself. For this young man, there was a physical and literal application, for it was his material riches which had come to possess him, keeping him from true riches. But for the rest of us, it may be something else. Yet the admonition of Jesus is the same: "Sell everything about yourself which makes you feel rich. Then you will be poor enough to come and follow Me."
This echoes Jesusí words from His Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) Being "poor in spirit" means to declare spiritual bankruptcy Ė to confess that I do not have what I need and have no way of getting it. It means to come to the place where the law seeks to bring me: At the foot of the Cross with nothing to offer God but my sin and spiritual poverty. Then, Jesus says, you are blessed. You are able to enter into true riches Ė eternal life.
None of us are going to come to this place simply because we read about it. God has to bring us there. He will use all kinds of vehicles and methods in our lives, supplemented by Godís law, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. God will again and again put the question on our heart, "What shall I do to enter into life?" And again and again we will see that there is NOTHING we can do. And then we will come to the defining moment Ė the moment that will send us on one path or another. It is the moment when Jesus says, "Go and sell. And then come and follow Me."
Never think that there are not going to be clear and definite choices in our lives which, depending upon how we choose, will determine the direction of our spiritual walk. There will be. Many of the choices we make in life are not of such a magnitude, although they are part of the whole, and important. But there are going be times when we are going to be asked to "sell everything about ourselves" and follow Jesus Christ.
Most of us eagerly obey God if it PAYS us to obey. That is human nature. But what if we discover that it will COST us everything to surrender to Christ? The fact is, it will cost us everything about ourselves. But God wants us to see that there is nothing about ourselves worth clinging to. It is all ruined through sin. And if we will sell everything about ourselves, and come and follow Jesus, we will not only find JESUS, but we will find our true selves in Him.
It cost God everything to make grace free. But it is precisely because grace is free that we must sell everything about ourselves Ė and completely give it away and forsake it -- to embrace grace. What we end up with are true riches.
The way to "have treasure in heaven" is to become spiritually poor in ourselves. It starts by seeing that our righteousness cannot be based on US, but only in HIM. Of course, the true treasure in heaven is a Person. Colossians says, "Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col. 2:2-3)
This young man was rich materially. But some of us are rich spiritually Ė or so we think. Perhaps the best way to say it is that we are "full of ourselves spiritually." But God, in His faithfulness, brings us to the place where He says, "Empty yourself of yourself. Empty yourself, not of doing good works, but of all the self-righteousness you have accumulated through your works. Sell it all. And come, and follow Me." If you do, we will find true riches. If we donít, well, weíll have what we chose: Ourselves.
The Sad Ending
Matthew records the reaction of the rich young ruler to the words of Jesus Christ. He writes, "But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."
If anyone thinks that Godís grace is irresistible, they need to read this account. This young man was dealt with by the Son of God Himself, and was faced with a clear, precise choice. There was no confusion. But he walked away. And God let him. He was unwilling to make the choice Jesus laid before him.
The choices we have in life are never simply whether to embrace Christ or reject Him Ė although it boils down to that. The choices are whether to embrace Christ or embrace something else Ė usually the thing which is keeping us from embracing Christ! For this young man, it was money. For us, it may be something else. But we still have to make the choice.
Notice the underlying Truth of this story: Whatever it is that makes us feel rich Ė which makes us self-sufficient Ė it is that which must be given away. Then and only then will we be truly rich in Christ Ė because we will be reliant and dependent upon Him. Because we will have nothing of ourselves.
For some of us, simple self-righteousness is our riches. This may take the form of pride in our good works, service, or suffering. Or maybe we are proud of our "humility." For others, we are kept from full surrender to Christ by material wealth, certain friends, or prestige. But of course, none of these "things" are evil, in and of themselves. Most of them are good things, and things for which there is a place in the life of a believer. But when we USE THEM to make ourselves "rich," then they become a snare.
Legalism is the USE of my works, service, good attitudes, position, or of any thing about ME, to make myself right before God. It is when I offer to God ANYTHING about myself in exchange for His continued favor. Doing so means that I place a value on what Iím offering which is equal to what He gives freely.
The Question Was Answered
The fact is, this rich young ruler was NOT the same person at the end of his conversation with Jesus as he was before that conversation started. How could he be the same person? He had come with a question on his heart. He left with that question answered. He was no longer ignorant. Light had come into his world. He was accountable. And he had made a choice.
The fact that this young man walked away "sad" betrays the fact that he was totally accountable to God for his choice. Why? Because his sadness shows that he KNEW he was walking away from the eternal life he eagerly sought. Why be sad otherwise? And, in turn, that shows that he understood the terms Jesus laid out Ė terms he was unwilling to meet. The sadness we see here is the sadness of not getting oneís own way.
Lots of people WANT eternal life. They WANT what God offers. But they refuse, despite Godís continual attempts to turn them to Himself, to enter into life on Godís terms. The result is often NOT anger or open rebellion. The result is SADNESS. It is the result of seeing something you want, but of being unwilling to pay the price necessary to receive it.
Pay the price? Isnít grace free? Sure. We can pay nothing FOR grace. But there is a cost BECAUSE OF grace. What is that cost? We must declare spiritual bankruptcy. Ironic, isnít it? To receive eternal riches, we need only put aside everything that is worthless and bankrupt about ourselves, and open our hearts. But some wonít. The "cost" is too great.
What we see here is a spiritual principle: The grace and Truth which God gives for the purpose of freeing us, will instead harden us if we refuse. God gives the Truth and grace. But we determine Ė but our choices -- what becomes of us because of it.
We donít know what became of this young ruler. Perhaps at some point later, he repented and turned to Christ. But imagine if he did not. Every time he would ask the SAME question, he would hear the SAME answer. Every fork in the road in his spiritual walk would lead to the SAME place: Sell what you have and come and follow Me. Again Ė God gives more and more grace. He wants to soften us. But if we continue to refuse, that same grace will harden us Ė because we are hardening ourselves against it.
Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
When the rich young ruler walked away, Jesus said to his disciples, "Verily I say unto you that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
When the disciples heard the words of Jesus, they were amazed. They said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus knew about their blindness and their concerns. So He reassured them, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:16-26)
Jesus was telling them that despite the danger of material wealth becoming a stumbling block in our spiritual lives, that God is able to bring us through Ė if we will submit to Him. He is able to show us how to keep our possessions from possessing us.
But there is yet a deeper lesson here. We have been seeing all through this account that the underlying lesson has to do with being rich in oneís own works and self-righteousness. It is THAT kind of "rich man" that cannot enter the kingdom of God.
But with God it IS possible. It is possible for God to take us, in our self-righteousness and religiosity, and to bring us to repentance. We cannot do this for ourselves Ė anymore than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle. But God can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted to do it that day with this rich younger ruler. His intentions have not changed towards us.
So where does that leave us? Well, with an answer to the question that begins the story: What shall we do to enter into eternal life? The answer? We must realize there is NOTHING we can do to enter into life. Then, and only then, we will turn to God for His grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.
True spiritual riches are the result of declaring unconditional spiritual bankruptcy, and falling into the hands of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to become "poor in spirit." Then I can enter into the fullness of what God has for me in Christ. In Christ, not only will my "debts" be fully paid, but I will be given spiritual wealth beyond measure. *
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