If you’ve read through the Gospels, you’re probably familiar with the story of the rich young ruler. In a nutshell, Jesus and his crew were in Judea. A wealthy young man – a man of some status, perhaps – approached them and asked what he needed to do to ensure his own salvation. Now, when I was a schoolboy (nerd that I was), I used to raise my hand in class to ask the teacher a question just to show that I already knew the answer. I’ve often thought this young man approached Jesus for much the same reason: to tell Jesus how deserving he was of eternal life.
Jesus didn’t try to correct him right away. Instead, He listed off some commandments from the Law, to which the questioner replied that he had kept them even since his childhood. Of course, we can’t know this young man’s thinking in this situation, but I have to think he was ready for Jesus to declare Him righteous and worthy of salvation in front of everyone. After all, he was morally good and blessed in material and worldly ways. Probably anyone in the crowd, from the disinterested skeptic to the closest disciples, would have called it the same way.
Jesus didn’t declare him righteous though. In fact, he challenged him in a way that shook him up greatly. Here is Mark 10:21, quoted here from the NASB:
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
The young man left the encounter disappointed.
Many people over the centuries have used this passage to denounce wealth. But I don’t believe the wealth is the point. Similar scenes play out with other people Jesus met, and He challenged each person with the “one thing” that was keeping them from faith. And whether it was power, pride, position, pleasure, or something completely different, He called each person to choose between clinging to that “one thing” in their lives or laying it down to follow Him.
This rich young ruler is a lot like people today. How often have we heard the idea that one only needs to live a morally decent life to be accepted by God? Clearly, this young man was counting on that. The fact that he was materially well-off only solidified his thinking, which is also not inconsistent with today’s world. The places on Earth where economic security is greatest also tend to be the places where large percentages of people have turned away from faith. We can place our confidence in our sense of ethical living and/or our confidence in riches. But without the saving grace of Jesus, without the salvation that comes from placing Him as Lord of our lives – ahead of the “one thing” for each of us – we will be just as disappointed as the rich young ruler.
Is there one thing in your life that comes between you and completely surrendering to Jesus as Lord?
(Kudos to my brother Josh for the conversation that led to this post.)