Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 11, 2018
18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
20 You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”
21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”
27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”
29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
— Luke 18:18-30, ESV
There are many conversations between God and man recorded in the Bible. They begin in Genesis and end in Revelation. They take us on walks and talks with God from the garden to the vision of the new Heaven and Earth. In the Gospels, where so many of these conversations take place, there is one that is crucial, so much so that Mark, Matthew, and Luke all wrote it down.
Mark called the man who approached the Lord Jesus Christ on this day “rich.” Matthew said He was “young” and Luke identified him as a “ruler.” The question and answer session enjoyed by the rich young ruler and Jesus was also enjoined by a small supporting cast of scoffers and followers. The complete conversation provides a wealth of information about man, God, and the only way that a man or woman can be truly right with God and live with Him forever.
A Conversation About Faith
The text begins with two outstanding questions. One of them was offered by a man to God, the other given by God to man. Give both the rich young ruler and the Lord Jesus Christ credit at this point, for correct answers can only be found by asking the right questions.
This man asked Jesus a question that every man should, and most would, ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You would have to be an atheist or agnostic to disagree with the assertion that this is the penultimate question of this life and the life to come.
It is a religious question, asked by a religious man, one that every religious man asks. I suspect the rich young ruler was a Pharisaical Jew, for he presupposed one has to “do” something or expend some kind of energy in order to be saved. But it is not just Pharisees from the past who believed in salvation by works, for this is the premise of every present religion on earth, except for orthodox, biblical, evangelical Christianity.
Before Jesus answers the question, He questions the man in order to prepare him for the answer. The rich young ruler had addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher,” an accurate title indeed that spoke of more than the man knew. So the Lord, as He often did, answered the man’s question with a question: “Why do you call Me Good?”
In our common vernacular, good can be bested by better and best. But in the language of Jesus’ day, good was without par. To be good meant to be flawless, perfect, aligned with the standards of God in every way. No one was surprised to hear the man call Jesus “Teacher,” or Rabbi, for this is what He was most commonly called. But to insert “Good” before it got the attention of everyone, especially Jesus.
Next comes Christ’s answer, though it was not the one the man was initially searching for. “No one is good,” Jesus declared, no one is flawless, perfect, righteous, “Except for God.”
In this brief exchange at the outset of the conversation, our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed an astonishing amount of important doctrine. First of all, one does not have to “do” to be saved, but rather “be” a person changed by belief. And the first thing we believe that makes the change of salvation take place in our lives is that Jesus Christ is Lord. For the Lord Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the eternal God, from whom eternal life flows.
The only alternative interpretation to this part of the conversation, one that has been offered by more liberal versions of Christianity, is that Jesus was horrified at the prospects of being called as “Good” as “God” and thus downplayed any notion of His deity. But I believe, and I pray you do, too, that Jesus is God, “The Word became flesh” (ref. John 1:14), the One in Whom “all the fulness of deity in bodily form” lives (ref. Colossians 2:9), the God who came to us to reveal Himself to man and show us the way of salvation and eternal life.
Two questions tell us so much! They tell us of the futility of salvation by works and the necessity of justification by faith. Sadly, the right young ruler would not believe, neither would he repent.
A Conversation About Repentance
Since Jesus is God, it is impossible for Him to lie (ref. Hebrews 6:18). However, this does not mean He cannot be a little tricky from time to time. His original answer to the rich young ruler’s question was something of a bait and switch.
“You know the commandments,” Jesus said, then quoted half of the top ten. The implication, which is actually accurate, is that if you can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, you can earn your own favor with God and go to Heaven when you die. Can you do this? Could the rich young ruler do this?
He said he did, “All these I have kept from my youth.” What a braggart! What a liar! But Jesus did not embarrass him, but rather revealed he was wrong by issuing him a challenge. Without citing the commandment against covetousness, Jesus told the rich young ruler to “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” and thus prove yourself perfectly obedient to God.
If you don’t want Jesus to get your goat, don’t let Him know where it is tied. This man no doubt dressed for success, and Jesus could tell right away that his first love was money, that he coveted possessions more than people, including the person and work of Christ. Here is where the rich young ruler, and by proxy you and me, flunked out and “became very sad.” This was not the answer he wanted to his question, he remained unrepentant, dead in his sins, and he walked away without the eternal life he so eagerly sought.
Salvation by works promote human pride that can only be slain by repentance. I’ll do this, I’ll decide that, I’ll earn eternal life for myself, says man, But the energy of the mind and the body cannot save the soul, for this is like putting “a camel … through the eye of a needle,” it is “impossible with man.” It must come from the heart, or rather something God does in the heart, which is only “possible with God.”
Again I appeal to the suggestion this man was Pharisee. He had gotten rich from religious gain, but it was not really his riches that were being called into question, but his doctrine of works righteousness. Scoffers in the crowd thought if a Pharisee was not saved, “Then who can be saved?”
One thing is clear from the conversation. It is impossible for a person to “do” anything that gains eternal life from God. God must be the doer, and what God does to save a man is not altogether clear from this conversation, although the outcome is as plain as the nose on Simon Peter’s face.
A Conversation About Salvation
Some suggest the rich young ruler is actually the Apostle Paul. That is a romantic notion, but one with which I cannot concur. Luke tells us all about Paul in his book of Acts, but makes no mention of him here.
I do not know who the rich young ruler was, I only know who he represents. He stands, and walks away, in the place of every lost person who has ever lived and died without Christ on the planet. Every lost man and woman is a rich young ruler. They crave riches, want to be eternally young, and rule over their own and other people’s lives. This is the nature of the human heart apart from grace. Man’s way is not the way to God.
God’s way is different. It is the way, the truth, and the life (ref. John 14:6) discovered and represented by Simon Peter in this conversation. “See, we have left our homes and followed you,” he said. If you want to “do” something to be saved, here you go, follow Jesus. But what happened to Simon Peter that made him want to follow Jesus?
What did Simon Peter get that the rich young ruler lacked? The rich young ruler would not believe, would not repent, and would not be saved. Simon Peter got grace from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10). Simon Peter “obtained a faith … by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (ref. 2 Peter 1:1). Simon Peter was “granted repentance that leads to life” (ref. Acts 11:18) by God. God’s grace gives the faith and repentance necessary to follow Jesus in this life and gain eternal life in Heaven.
God’s grace, not man’s works, is the way of salvation. Recipients of God’s grace follow God’s Son, even at great cost. The outcome of genuine salvation is life abundant and eternal. “He said to them, Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
I hope you have enjoyed listening in on this crucial conversation with God. I hope you have had this conversation with Him yourself. I hope you can say with the great hymn writer Isaac Watts,
No more, my God, I boast no more,
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of Thy Son.
Do not walk away sad. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow Him, not matter what the cost. Life abundant and everlasting awaits.
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