Following and Being Led – Luke 18:18-30
For an American aspiring to enter into eternal life, whose nation’s bottom 5% lives better than 70% of the rest of the world, the most troubling word he might ever hear was the answer Jesus gave to a rich man’s question; “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ bombshell response…..
One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.
For myself, as an American living in the upper part of an unprecedented historical bubble of prosperity, who aspires to eternal life, it might be tempting to became very sad (like the rich young ruler) for I am extremely rich (along with a huge percentile of my fellow citizens).
If what Jesus spoke was intended for all men, I and every American citizen, who look to Jesus for their salvation is condemned on the grounds of having not given everything to the poor. This is a troubling thought, apparently so troubling to some, they become monks to alleviate their trouble. By giving their belongings away they are at least clear on that count. However, once settled in their hermitage they must learn to pray at all times. So they attend various services throughout the day to remain clear on that count. And we know how their vows of celibacy clear them of lust. You probably see my point.
Even the most devout legalist is doomed. Religion will always set the bar such that righteousness, lofty as it is, still appears achievable. Religion then motivates men out of guilt to take fresh runs at various standards of righteousness hoping that they will clear the bar and live lives pleasing to God.
With the rich young ruler I do not believe Jesus was trying to establish a standard of righteousness where heaven could be purchased by selling all one’s possessions and distributing the proceeds to the poor. No. This would make a sham of the grace by which we are saved. At the same time, I do believe Jesus’ words were a laser guided bomb which had to be dropped into the rich young ruler’s heart. I believe with His piercing words Jesus was endeavoring to take out the stronghold of religion which had imprisoned this man in the idea that eternal kingdom life is attainable through meritorious deeds.
I don’t mean to isolate legalistic monks as the sole prisoners of religion. No man is exempt from this struggle. Monks are just the more obvious, thus convenient, examples. Born again believers are not exempt from legalism. More than once I have been liberated from religious mindsets. On one occasion, I was taking a run at a bar with the anticipation I might actually clear it, when, on a dead run, the whole runway exploded beneath me. To say my face-plant was painful would be an understatement. Like the rich young ruler, I was profoundly shaken.
In retrospect I am persuaded, out of His love for me, God dropped that bomb so that I could fully receive the gift. Eternal life is a gift. It cannot be purchased. If we are in anyway thinking our labors are earning his favor, his loving cross hairs are painted on our hearts. If we are fortunate the missile will find its mark and our religious delusions will be mercifully exploded.
Jesus, not being one to waste the fragments of a good bomb, allowed others he came to liberate to overhear and be disturbed along with the rich man. Stunned, they asked…..
Then who can be saved?
As much as any words Jesus ever spoke I am grateful for those he spoke in response to his befuddled friend’s question…….
The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.
Whether we live in the top 5% or the bottom 5% of the economic demographic, without Christ we live in profound spiritual poverty. And try as we may, in our fallen guilt, to appease a holy God through religious observances we remain impossibly estranged from Him. Our salvation is made possible exclusively though a gift. That gift is purely and simply Jesus. There is no other way to receive what the rich young ruler hungered for other than receiving Jesus, who cleared the highest bar of righteousness. Through a simple yet miraculous embrace of this reality we are made sons and daughters of God. He has breathed upon us and His life, His DNA is once again ours.
The one thing the rich young ruler lacked was not that he was unwilling to sell all that he had. He also lacked the understanding of grace and he lacked the understanding that Jesus Himself was the eternal Bread of Life. My suspicion is that the rich young ruler’s hunger eventually drew him to Jesus where he grasped the bigger picture, one where Christ was the fulfillment of the Law, and one who could dismantle every religious stronghold which opposes the grace gift of God in Christ. I believe after the resurrection, with God’s bigger picture alive in his heart, he reevaluated the meaning of “the poor” and of “wealth.”
I believe in light of the great love with which this rich man discovered he was being loved, he readily surrendered the title (or right of self determination) of his possessions over to God. One day in eternity we will discover whether Jesus asked him to release him of this stewardship or not. I am betting God did not demand it of him. It would be a potent testimony to be in the world and not of it by stewarding this wealth while living free from its intoxicating and binding influence.
Father, continually lead the captives out of captivity, especially those hearts which have fallen back into laboring for your approval and blessing.