|The Rich Young Ruler
by Patti Folkerts
We are all familiar with the story of the rich young ruler:
Luke 18:18-27 (NIV)
It becomes evident that Jesus answers no question directly in this passage. Rather, He asks leading questions. "Why do you call me good?" Jesus doesn't deny that He is either "good" or "God" in this passage, yet He does not come right out and say that He is either.
One extremely significant point that we should notice: No one
is good except God alone. Immediately, the young man should
have known that there is nothing he could do to inherit eternal
life, since he, not being God, was included among those who
are not "good."
Again Jesus sidesteps the issue here to make His point. He
said, "... You know the commandments ..." Notice that Jesus
did not say, "You inherit eternal life by keeping the commandments."
Jesus was setting the stage to show this young man that he wasn't
as righteous and he thought he was and just how impossible it
is to earn salvation by works, just as Jesus showed to those
who listened to His sermon on the mount.
This young man thought he was in pretty good shape spiritually.
He thought he had kept all the commandments from his childhood
to the present. Jesus does not contradict him. Instead, He gives
him a task to prove his loyalty that He knows the young man
is incapable of performing.
He could not do it. He could not give up everything and follow Christ. And who of us present could? Oh, certainly it is easy to say that we would; but think about it. Think about living as a street person for the sake of Jesus. Do you really think that Jesus did not know what was in the man's heart? Jesus was showing this young man, and us through the story, that we cannot save ourselves. He gave him a very large dose of law so that the young man would be driven to Him for mercy. He was showing the young man that all our righteousness are as filthy rags in the eyes of God. Jesus revealed to this man that he was far from righteous, that his sinful nature was very much alive and well, that he needed more than just commandment keeping to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
When this young ruler came to Jesus, he did not come in repentance
and contrition. He thought he was doing pretty well. He just
wanted some confirmation of his good character. Then Jesus revealed
to the man what lay in his own heart. It is easy for us who
feel that we are not wealthy to say that this story was all
about greed, but it is not. It is about putting self first,
it is about thinking that we are doing pretty good in the eyes
of God, it is about commandment keeping being totally ineffectual
toward our salvation. It is about not loving God supremely and
one's neighbor as oneself.
Jesus was being a very harsh schoolmaster here, indeed, trying to drive this man to grace. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Or someone who is poor ... or someone who is struggling with debt ... or someone who is "comfortable" ... OR ANYONE.
We ask with the disciples:
There you have it. We are either saved by God's grace or not at all. We stand either in Christ's robe of perfect righteousness or in filthy rags.
I really wish I knew "the rest of the story." Perhaps this young man became so discouraged trying to earn his way to heaven that he was ultimately driven to Christ. Perhaps he became totally discouraged and turned back to his own righteousness, becoming defiant and indignant toward anyone who dared to question him. We do not know. But one thing is extremely significant: the story never says he went away lost for eternity. It merely says he went away sorrowful.
Would he have been saved by the act of giving all his possessions to the poor? Of course not. If he had believed in the saving power of Jesus, perhaps that would not have been a difficult decision for him to make, perhaps not. We do not know. We can know, however, the most important point of this story: salvation is God's work, not man's. For with God -- only with God -- all things are possible.