Monday, August 25, 2008

The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19; Luke 18) – Part I

Does the story of the rich young ruler teach that one must surrender all to God in order to be saved? Is the teaching about what we must do in order to be forgiven? What does Jesus mean when he says that we will have riches in the kingdom if we follow him? A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Often times we hear that eternal life is only about going to heaven, being forgiven, or the like. Eternal life, according to Jesus, is about knowing God and experiencing his fullness in our lives (Jn. 17:3; 14:6). Life for the Jews was about experiencing the fullness of life in God as described in the Old Testament. The rich young ruler wanted to experience abundance of life in the Kingdom, or eternal life. In his dialogue with the ruler Jesus tells him three things. First, eternal life is possible to achieve. Second, you can’t obtain it on your own. And third, you must sell all your possessions and follow me if you want to experience the fullness of heaven.

Keeping the commandments or the ways of God according to the O.T. brings true life. This echoes the teachings from Deuteronomy 28-30 where choosing life or the ways of God would bring earthly blessings and true prosperity. That is why Jesus tells the young man, “. . . if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (19:17). That is, if the young ruler wanted to inherit eternal life (=experience the richness of God’s promises), he had to keep the commandments. But, there was a problem. The young man valued his riches above all else. He was enslaved to his love for wealth. Although he said that he had kept all the commandments, Jesus tells him that in fact he was still lacking: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (19:21). In other words, Jesus tells the young man, "Fulfill both sides of the Ten Commandments, those that touch on your relationship with me, and those that deal with your relationship with others."

Jesus here confronted the ruler on two issues. First, the young man was unwilling to let go of his riches because he found his comfort and security in his possessions. His possessions had enslaved him. In order for him to experience or inherit eternal life (=fullness of God; abundant life) he would first need to respond to the conviction of God’s Spirit about his need for a Savior. No one keeps God’s commandments perfectly; we all fall short (See Rom. 3:23). His love for riches, however, had blinded him to his real need.

Second, to experience the fullness of life in the kingdom we must be willing to forsake all. Faith in Christ demanded that the rich young ruler recognize his lack of righteousness and need for a savior. Entry into the kingdom demands that we first come to faith in Christ. But, just entering the kingdom without the full experience of the kingdom is to be short changed. It is like the illustration shared with me by my good friend, René A. López, Ph.D. Who comes to this country (U.S.A.) expecting only to sit down satisfied to live in a free society and not enjoy the abundance of living here? In order for us to enjoy all that God has prepared for us in the coming kingdom (not just entering it) we must be willing to sacrifice and follow Jesus now.

Both the entry into the kingdom and the full experience of the kingdom are received by grace (the point of the parable in Matt 20:1-16), but whereas the first is received by faith alone in Christ, the second is dependent on our decision to give up whatever stands in the way of following the Lord Jesus. (To be continued tomorrow)

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