Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, and Luke 18:18-30 all give us the story of Jesus’ conversation with a rich young ruler. The ruler begins the conversation by asking Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” By studying the story in total, however, we learn that the young man probably wasn’t so much worried about receiving forgiveness of his sins as he was about setting himself up in the afterlife to the level of abundance he enjoyed in earthly life.
How do we know that his intention wasn’t merely to receive forgiveness for his sins? We know it because he claimed to have no sins for which he needed forgiveness. When Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ Honor your father and your mother'” (Mark 10:19), the young man confidently stated, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” That was clear proof that him being under acute conviction of his sins wasn’t what had brought him to Jesus.
At worst, the young man was a boldfaced liar who claimed to be sinless. At best, he was delusional about not only his own sin nature but also what constitutes sin. (Perhaps he hadn’t heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the sermon in which the Savior had explained that sins are committed inwardly as well as outwardly.) I’ll be charitable and go with the latter interpretation to explain the young man’s statement about his lack of sin. Either way, though, he had no real understanding of just how spiritually lost he was.
It is noteworthy that Jesus included on His partial listing of the commandments, “Do not defraud.” Unlike the others on His list, that one isn’t one of the Old Testament law’s famous ten commandments that are named in Exodus 20:1-17. While it’s possible that “Do not defraud” was simply a loose paraphrase of the law’s tenth commandment (“You shall not covet”), it’s probably more likely that Jesus purposely worded the commandment that way because He wanted to address the outward sinful conduct (defrauding others) that can arise from the inward sinful desire (coveting). If this was the case, it isn’t hard to theorize that the rich young ruler had acquired some of his wealth by means of defrauding others, even if he didn’t admit to it.
Whatever the young fellow had going on in his life, Jesus harpooned him when He told him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Following that, we read that the young man was sad and went away in sorrow because he had great possessions. Translation? He wasn’t about to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, even if that actually would have gotten him into heaven.
Obviously, Jesus knew that even such a radical act wouldn’t get him into heaven anyway, and so why did He bother to float out the suggestion? He did it to expose the young man’s true God: wealth. Jesus knew that by asking for such an extreme commitment, that young ruler would have to quit playing games with religion (adhering to a works-based salvation) and be forced to come to terms with his own sinful worldliness. To sum up, Jesus’ suggestion brought that seeker to a “Get Real” or “Get Out” fork in the road, and that seeker chose the “Get Out” fork. Jesus’ 12 apostles, men such as Matthew, James, John, Peter, and Andrew, had been brought to that same fork in the road by Jesus and had chosen to forsake all and follow Him. They stood in stark contrast to that rich young ruler. That fact wasn’t lost on Peter when he said to Jesus later in the story, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
But now let’s turn our attention to us. What things in our lives are preventing us from following Jesus the way He wants us to follow Him? The rich young ruler’s wealth was his impediment, but there are other possible impediments. For example, a job can be an impediment, as can a relationship, a hobby, or an addiction. You see, your impediment is that one thing you won’t give up even if it keeps you from fully accepting Christ’s call to follow Him. Think of it this way: If your arms are so filled with anything or anyone that you can’t use those arms to take up the cross and follow Jesus, you have something in common with the rich young ruler. As we’ve seen, he refused to empty his arms of his impediment and take up Christ’s cross. The question now is: Will you make that same mistake?