By Bethany Riehl
The all-sufficient work of Jesus. Either we believe in it completely or not at all.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’
And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter eternal life, keep the commandments.’
He said to him, ‘Which ones?’
And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’
Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22)
What is actually going on here?
A lot, really. And I am ill-equipped to do it justice, but let’s zoom out for a moment and take a look.
When Jesus lists the commandments that the man can follow to earn eternal life, did you notice that He doesn’t list them all? In fact, He doesn’t mention the first four (the commandments that speak of how we are to view/treat God). He doesn’t even tell him the actual gospel, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” (Acts 15:11; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:24; Romans 10:9)
The man claims to have kept the Law as Jesus lays it out, but knows he’s lacking something. Let’s zoom in again on Jesus’ response. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Surely this is the easy part. It’s a tangible checklist. Something easily, physically done. This isn’t as hard as fighting off envy that can sneak in unnoticed, nor is it as vexing as honoring your parents, even when they’re difficult to honor. If this man has kept each commandment mentioned by Jesus, I can only imagine that he was never a toddler that yanked a toy from another’s grip, he never looked at a woman with lust in his heart, he never told a little white lie (even to spare someone’s feelings), and never lost his temper and cursed another human or wished ill on them.
And yet, he knows something is missing. I used to think he was justifying himself, but lately I wonder…is that desperation I hear in his voice? “Jesus, I’ve done all of the right things and been a super nice guy. I am kind. But something is missing. What is it? What can I do?”
Jesus’ answer, however, isn’t what he wants to hear. His answer? Empty of yourself for the betterment of your neighbor and follow Me. In other words? Lay down your cross, die to yourself, and follow Me.
But it’s too much for him. He walks away, dejected and hopeless. Why?
It would be easy to think this is a lesson about greed, and how we need to be careful of our love of money. Many have said this proves that wealth is a sin.
However, I believe the problem here when you drill down to the core of it is an unwillingness to surrender to the idea that Jesus is sufficient. For all we can tell from this small glimpse of him, the man has everything. Worldly comfort and security. He’s probably as kind as he’s able to be. He would have to be to believe that he’s kept every commandment listed under the category of “Love Thy Neighbor” without fail.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any interest in “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) His wealth is keeping him comfortable enough to dull the sharpness of his need of the Living God. He doesn’t believe in the all-sufficiency of Jesus.
He may be keeping these laws in a way that satisfies his own desire to be seen as good, but it’s not enough. It’s not love for neighbor he’s after. Not really. He’s looking for more security for himself. He says he’s after eternal life but I have to wonder what that means to him. The very thing that makes eternal life so wonderful is the presence of Jesus. This man doesn’t want to follow Him, so I have to wonder, what exactly is he looking for?
I see this over and over in our world today. We’re inundated on a daily basis with bright, loopy messages of “Kindness Matters,” in all shapes and forms. And of course there is truth in that. But friends, do you see that this message is simply masking a works-based gospel? One that is always shifting with the opinions of the culture? God made it clear that we can’t live up to His standard – and His Law stays fixed and constant. How could we possibly keep up with the ever-changing demands of fallible man?
Yet, I’ve seen people point to Christ as the answer to a barrage of problems only to be quickly and thoroughly reprimanded by fellow believers. I hear more and more these days, “Yes, we need Jesus but we also need…”
Dear readers, let me say this, either Jesus is all-sufficient or He isn’t. There is no middle ground. We can offer kindness, but if it’s Christ-less kindness, it is worthless. We.Need.Jesus. Full stop.
We learn much from Scripture when we read it over and over and just sit in it without the influence of the world around us. He is worthy. He is sovereign and good. If we are immersed in Him – completely surrendered – kindness that matters follows. Goodness follows. Selflessness follows.
Oh, Father, let us allow the sharpness of sin to press into us enough to recognize our need for Jesus.
I pray for the Lord to love us enough to show us where we are failing to surrender to Him. And by His grace, I know He will.
One more thing: Jesus the Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords, lived a life in full surrender to the purpose for which He came. He lived a sinless life, perfectly keeping all ten commandments, died a brutal death to pay the penalty for our sin, then was buried and rose the third day. His surrender made everything better. He is ALL-sufficient.
“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150:6)
Bethany Riehl loves to write stories and articles that explore the complexities of relationships and encourage readers in their relationship with Jesus. She joyfully serves in the children’s ministry at her church, teaches at a homeschool co-op, and drinks more coffee than necessary to keep up with her only-slightly-crazy life. She is the author of four Christian fiction novels and now lives in Meridian with her spunky kids and very handsome hubby.