The rich young ruler and his shortcomings
By Robert C. Oliver Contributing columnist
The first three gospel accounts include the account of the man that came to Jesus desiring to know what he needed to do to have eternal life. Matthew tells us that this man was young (Matt. 19:22), Luke tells us that he was a ruler (Luke 18:18) and all three avow to his being rich (Matt. 19:22; Mk. 10:22; Lk. 18:23). Thus, we have a rich young ruler. But, let us consider the steps, both good and bad that this man takes.
First, he had a desire to know what to do to have eternal life. Oh, but if there were many today who truly wanted to know what God requires of them in order for them to have eternal life. When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, the scriptures say that “when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), and after being told to repent and be baptized “they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Cornelius told Peter, Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). Far too many today are interested in that which tickles their ears (II Tim. 4:3) rather than to know what God has said concerning obtaining eternal life.
Second, He recognized Jesus to be the one who could tell him. He came to Jesus and said “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16) Jesus first responds with the statement that only God is good. Jesus was not saying that He was not good, He was saying that He was indeed “Good Master” because He was God in the flesh (John 1:1-3, 14). This young man had indeed gone to the right source. Back in Second Kings, chapter five, Naaman was told that there was a prophet in Samaria that could cleanse him of his leprosy. He loaded up with a letter from the king of Syria, gold, silver and other riches and went to the king of Israel desiring him to heal him of his leprosy. He had gone to the wrong source! When the prophet Elisha heard of it, he called for him to come down to him and he would know that there was a prophet in Israel. When Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up on the mount of Transfiguration, they saw Jesus transfigured before them, but they also saw Moses and Elias. With Moses representing the law, Elias representing the prophets and Jesus as the Son of God, God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:1-5). With our soul at stake, it is all important that we go to the right source for the answer to the question, what must I do to have eternal life. It is certainly not the words of mere men. It is not some feeling that one has within them. It is not that which one has traditionally done, it is the simple gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16-17; I Cor. 15:1-2; James 1:21; II Thess. 1:7-9).
Third, there was something that the man had to do. He asked the question, “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matt. 19:16). He certainly was not of the mindset of many that say that there is nothing that one can do that has any effect upon their eternal salvation. Neither did Jesus hold to this view either, for He set about telling the man what he had to do. There is no doubt that salvation comes through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 5:1). However, salvation by faith does not mean that one can be saved without meeting the qualifications that the Lord has placed upon said salvation. After hearing the words of Peter that day on Pentecost, those people asked what they needed to do (Acts 2:37). “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). In fact, when one goes through the book of Acts and consults all the examples of conversions found therein, they will find that in every case the word was taught, the hearer then had to believe that message, repent of their past sins, confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. Certainly, man cannot save himself based on his own merits, but neither can he be saved with a dead faith. James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26).
Fourth, and closely related to the last point is that one must do all that is required, not just part of it. The rich young ruler asked, “what lack I yet?” (Matt. 19:20). Mark’s account shows that this young man had too much confidence in his riches, trusting in them; Thus, Jesus told him he needed to get rid of them. The riches themselves were not wrong, it was the trusting in them that was wrong. However, the point we wish to make here is that just doing part of what God has commanded will not suffice. One may live a very moral life, be a pillow in their community; They may attend worship services at the church they like on a regular basis. But, if they have not obeyed the gospel of Christ and then remained faithful in service to Him, they will be as those Jesus speaks of in Matt. 7:22-23. When they stand before the judgment seat, He will say to them, “depart from me, ye that work iniquity”.
Editor’s note: Send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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