Luke 18:18-23 (NIV) A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him,
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.
This rich young ruler came to Jesus because he hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and knew in his heart that he wasn’t there yet. True righteousness always begins with both that hunger and that realization, both of which stir in them a search for the real Truth. The man began on exactly the right track.
The ruler had been obedient to the law, especially the commandments dealing with relations with others, his whole life. He would never consider stealing, or bearing false witness, or taking another man’s wife. It wasn’t in his character. From a moral standpoint, this was what most would call a “good man,” and he knew it. And he knew that Jesus was also a righteous man, a good teacher, and addressed Him as such.
Jesus’ pushback against that identification didn’t mean that He was rejecting the idea of Himself being good, or rejecting the sure knowledge that He Himself was God in the flesh. Instead, He was addressing the ruler at his own level. The man was good, Jesus was good, and the man saw that Jesus could help him to become better. But God was left out of the ruler’s equation. He was looking for more legalistic righteousness, more man-based rules he could incorporate into his lifestyle.
But Jesus knew that heart of all people (John 2:24-25), and he knew where this man was falling short. He was a genuinely nice guy, but his relationship with God was non-existent. He believed that if he was nice to people and did good things, that God would be good to him and bless him. But the real love of his life was his stuff. It was what he was focused on, what he really lived for. And so his money, his possessions, became his god, his idol, and the thing that stood between him and eternal life.
Jesus’ command was actually a diagnostic tool for this man. It shone the clear light of God’s truth into the hidden recesses of his heart, so that he himself could see the blockage that existed in his quest for eternal life. His money and possessions were the blockage, his money and possessions had to go. And it had to be his own choice. God would not take them from him. He had to give them up of his own free will.
The man suddenly saw it all very clearly. Jesus had laid his heart open, and he could see the truth. But his money, his possessions, the things that he had spent his whole life amassing, the things that he had always seen as signs of God’s favor and blessing, had too strong a hold on his heart for him to let go of them. He knew the truth, and he suddenly saw his own weakness. So away he went, sad to his very core about what he now knew about himself.
Father, this points out a simple truth: we can have 99% of our lives in line with Your standards, but the 1% that we don’t give over entirely to You can quickly become a snare that will drag us down and block our progress. Lord, help me to hold all things loosely, so that if You ever show me things in my life that are blocking my path to eternal life, I can instantly release them into Your hands. Amen.