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Will the rich young ruler be in heaven?

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ 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.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Mark 10:17-22

There are certain passages that make us squirm and this passage is one of them. You can’t read the words of Jesus in these verses without thinking “Have I given up enough?” “Should I sell everything and give it to the poor?” “What does it really take to be saved?” We often leave this passage, like the rich young ruler…saddened, grieving and scratching our heads.

But was Jesus really saying that to get to heaven we have to keep the 10 commandments and give all our stuff to the poor to be saved? Now, I know you may be tempted to qualify this passage by thinking, “Well, no, but you have to be willing to do all of that?” But a mere “willingness” to give it all up robs this passage of it’s power. Jesus is asking the rich young ruler for more than willingness he’s asking him for everything.

If we are honest in the deepest parts of our hearts we know that we fall way short in the same way the rich young ruler did. We, like him, have broken the law (and according to Jesus in Matthew 5:21-30 continue to break it every time we lust or hate.) We all have something we’ve not given up (food, shelter, time, iPad, etc) and we all fall short when it comes to following Jesus. Not only do we fall short we fall grossly short. Maybe that’s why Paul, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, wrote the inspired words, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23.)

I’m convinced that in this passage in Mark 10 Jesus was not painting a clear picture of the gospel to the rich young ruler. No, he was painting a clear picture of the law and the law’s true requirements. In one brilliant stroke Jesus helped this young man (who thought he was a pretty good person when he first approached Jesus) to see the covetousness, greed and narcism that ruled and caked his darkened heart. Maybe for the first time in his life the rich young ruler understood that he was spiritually bankrupt before a holy God. Perhaps for the very first time he experienced a genuine and sobering conviction of sin.

It’s interesting to me that Mark 10 tells us, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him….” Jesus so deeply loved this young man he had to break him of his self-dependency and expose him for the sinner that he was. He had to show him that, if he wanted to earn eternal life by keeping the law, he had to go the whole way. It would take total obedience and full surrender all the time to every command for all of his life. He had to show him the impossibility of trying to earn this brand of righteousness before God. Because it is only once people are convinced that they’re sinners that they know they need a Savior.

In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Jesus used the spotlight of the law to showcase the utter depravity inside this young man’s soul. Jesus used the letter and spirit of the 10 Commandments to help this ruler to come to “the knowledge of sin” in his own life.

It’s only when a person understands that they are lost that they can be found. Jesus showed this young man that he was lost.

I wonder if in the frustrating years that followed this encounter with Jesus, whether or not God dispatched one of his followers to share the message of grace to this man whom Jesus loved. I imagine that person sharing that, this same Jesus who exposed this ruler’s sin so long ago, exposed his own back to the whip, exposed his head to a crown of thorns and his soul to God when he screamed, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”…because he loved him. This same Judge who showed him how sinful he was died in his place on the cross so that through simple faith he could be saved.

Paul tells us that after a person is convinced of their sin through the law they are then open to a different kind of righteousness. This brand of rightness before God is not earned by giving up or committing to or surrendering everything. It is received by simple faith in what Jesus did when he died on the cross. Paul writes, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” (Romans 3:21-24

Those who use this passage to preach a “you better give up everything to be saved” type of sermon are missing the deeper message of Jesus. Because, apart from Christ’s death payment on the cross, we’ll never be able to measure up to his standard of righteousness. We’ll never be able to give up enough, sell enough or surrender enough…and that’s the point.

That’s the point of the law and that’s the point of this passage.

And once a person gets to that point in their lives they’re finally ready to embrace the free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus as their only hope of salvation.

Will we see the rich young ruler in heaven? I don’t know but if I were a betting man I’d say yes. If Jesus loved this young man enough to take the time to expose his sin then it seems like Jesus would love him enough to send someone down the line to share with him the message of grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

What do you think?

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