“And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must 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 commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”” – Luke 18:18-20
The story of the rich young ruler is one that most Christians know, whether they’ve been reading their Bible for twenty years or twenty days. It seems pretty cut and dry, and for the most part it is. The rich young ruler thinks he can earn his way to heaven, asking Jesus what more he should do, and is dejected to find that he must part with his earthly possessions to follow Him. Pretty simple, right? Yeah, but there’s one thing we seem to let go unnoticed. We are the rich young ruler.
When we look at this passage, we must realize that it isn’t just speaking about earthly possessions here. That may be what Jesus commanded this one man in particular to forfeit, but we all have our flaws. He was speaking to this one man’s particular shortcomings to tell him what he must do. Jesus looked into this man’s heart, and saw that he valued his belongings over his God. He spoke to his needs, knowing that what was holding him back was his attachment to these things.
Mind you, he still had many other flaws for certain, but Jesus, being able to look into his soul, chose to focus on this one particular flaw. This flaw wasn’t his only sin. What this teaches us is not that we need to sell everything we own, it’s not as simple as that. Selling our possessions is a good way to cut out distractions and roadblocks, but it is not a cure-all answer. Jesus is telling us here to examine ourselves, look at our own hearts and find what holds us back the most. This may be possessions, or it could be pride, lust, hate, or even self-loathing. Whatever it is, we must first follow him, ridding ourselves of it in order to do so better.
Next, I want you to notice the attitude of the rich young ruler:
“And he said, ‘All these I have kept from my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” – Luke 18:21-23
Immediately we see that he is very prideful. I can imagine him, standing boldly before Jesus, not knowing quite who he is speaking to. Probably some prophet or magician. He stands, hands on his hips, chest puffed out, proclaiming that he has never done any of the things Jesus listed. I’d bet if you asked his parents, they’d have a different story about that last one. We see in Matthew 5 that even those who on a woman lustfully have already committed adultery, and those who are hateful have already committed murder. With these parameters, we know that there is no way this young ruler has kept these commandments. He isn’t perfect.
Regardless, Jesus decides to continue on with the conversation. “One thing you still lack,” he says. What he said next revealed what the rich young ruler truly longed for, and it wasn’t for God’s glory. It was for his own. He wanted to be rich, he wanted to be young, and he wanted to be powerful. Jesus was asking for him to forsake two of those desires. First, he tells him to sell all that he owns. He knows that if this young man does that, he will have let go of his greatest vice, and would be better able to follow Him through the rest. Secondly, he asked him to follow him. In following, the young ruler would have given up all his control and thus, his power.
He wasn’t willing to forsake either of these things and thus, he is never mentioned again. He walks away sad, unwilling to forfeit his small wealth for the treasure that was promised him. If he had only known how great a Gift was standing right in front of him.