Read Matthew 19:16-30.
His was an honest, but misdirected question. “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
After all, many people ask that question today. They are trying to do that one good thing that will tip their scale of good works to insure a happy ending for their life to come. If it were only that easy, but it’s not. Even those who rely on their works to find favor with God are never sure if they’ve done enough. For some, one bad word or deed will mess up their future. Others are trying to remember that they’ve confessed all their sins to the priest and performed the week’s rituals. That feeling of uncertainty weighs heavy.
This man may have felt like that, though he seemed to have things in his favor. When Jesus took the time to list a few things that would keep him on the side of righteousness, he replied: “All these I have kept.” God should have been pleased with him. What was he missing?
To put it simply — the point.
Jesus tried to give him a hint right after he asked the first question. He asked the man, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good.”
These are the two key words: what and who. You see, the man was looking for eternal life through the what. He thought his works would save him. Jesus was telling him that it is really when you’re in relationship with the Who where goodness is found. When we are one with God through Christ, we naturally live by his standards (doing good) as we reflect his character (being good).
I love how the Apostle Paul says it in his letter to the church in Rome. It describes this young man talking to Jesus so perfectly:
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4).
The rich, young man didn’t know God’s righteousness. He saw Jesus just as a teacher, nothing more. He was still looking for answers in the law of Moses. That’s why, as Paul said, he was trying to establish a righteousness of his own. That’s when Jesus gave him some upsetting news in answer to his final question: “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered by telling the man to get rid of everything that stood in the way of his total submission to God and to follow him. Jesus wanted his soul, not his works or riches. The problem was that the man had already sold his soul to his wealth. The only solution was to leave, unfulfilled and miserable.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the young man who missed the point that day. The disciples had doubts that anyone could be saved, if money would keep them from the Kingdom. Their doubt was not in man but in God; they forgot that it was their willingness to leave all and follow Christ that made the difference.
Jesus confirmed this with two statements: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” and “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
If I want to be perfect, I have to be willing to give up whatever it is that holds me back from God. Read that list that Jesus shares. It’s a hard one, and yet, I’m sure it’s not comprehensive. Sometimes the smallest thing can keep us from giving our soul to God. Don’t go away disappointed and miserable after reading this. The value of your soul is so much more precious than anything this world has to offer.
Be perfect, even as God is perfect.