“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
—Luke 18: 18-27
When Jesus sent the rich young ruler away in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 18), He not only told the young man the gospel truth in that brief exchange, He also delivered a life-saving message to him. He actually blessed the young man beyond measure.
In essence, what Jesus was saying to the young man was this:
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to be perfect in God’s sight based on your own strengths and abilities,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to accomplish the perfection needed to stand acceptable and clean before a Holy, Holy, Holy God on the basis of your own accomplishments,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to be justified according to your own testimony of your own good behavior and acts of kindness,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to work your way up the rungs of the ladder of goodness so that you can look your Creator unashamedly in the eye,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to earn your own righteousness by your own good works and achievements,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to advance your way into the Father’s eternal and glorious Presence on the basis of your own good intentions and efforts,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to prove your acceptability before God on the grounds of your own standards of imagined worthiness,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to showcase your own spotless and virtuous character before God on the evidence of your own merits,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to purify yourself so that God’s Holiness (a consuming fire) can and will be obliged to embrace you for the “basically good guy” that you are,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to pick yourself up by your own moral bootstraps to present your “fixed-up” self to Almighty God,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to certify your noble character before the True and Righteous Judge of the universe via the perceived “good deeds” that you’ve done,
If YOU…(rich young ruler)…want to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law on the strength of your own resolve, ability and wisdom,
….here’s all you have to do: sell everything…EVERYTHING…you own, give it all to the poor, and then come follow me up to Jerusalem (and Calvary). And, oh yes, while we’re on The Way,…(rich young ruler)…love God perfectly and love your neighbor1 ….(and that includes your enemy)…as yourself.
Bottom line?…Good luck with that, rich young ruler. Good luck with that, Tom Graffagnino. Good luck with that, self-justifying Pharisee and blind, pompous fool residing in my heart.
What was Jesus doing in these verses of the Gospel of Luke?…One thing and one thing only: He was stripping away the prideful and deceptive cover that characterizes the human sinful condition2. Christ was peeling back the haughty pretensions and exposing the spiritual bankruptcy and twisted inclinations of the young man’s wicked and deceitful heart3. Jesus did not do this to be cruel. On the contrary, it was an act of love. Jesus was not condemning the young man. He was blessing him with vital and crucial spiritual truth.
Did the young man, who walked away in pained rejection, eventually “turn around”? Did he come to recognize the truth of his sinful condition, believe, repent, and cry out for mercy like the blind beggar on the Jericho road4?
We are not told. Scripture is silent on this point. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the despairing young man who left Christ’s good and loving presence broken, meek and mournful5, may be found one day standing in the light of God’s Eternal Presence…redeemed and glorified, a firstborn heir of the King.
And, perhaps, one day I’ll get to meet him there to compare some very similar and sobering notes.
Lord, give us the grace to heed your Word. Help us to know that we are all “rich young rulers”. Help us to know that without a clear understanding and knowledge of our utter sinfulness and unworthiness6…our fallen, corrupt, spiritual condition…we will be lost. Therefore, create in us a contrite spirit7. Help us to truly mourn our true condition8. And, too, along with the rich young ruler, send us reeling and undone with the knowledge of our moral impoverishment and spiritual bankruptcy9.
Lord, have mercy and bless us with a clear understanding of your perfect Justice and of the awful, devastating truth of our sin. Give us an honest willingness to listen to your Word, and give us the grace to take the goodness of this difficult truth to heart. Help us, Father, see your Holiness10. Then help us, Father, see our sin.
May the Spirit of Truth expose and make us truly “poor in spirit”. Help us, Father, recognize who You truly are and why Jesus, your Incarnate Son and spotless, sacrificial Lamb11, came to serve and to die for his enemies.
Would We Recognize the Blessing
(If It Slapped Us in the Face?)
In the midst of devastation,
Where on earth, Lord, may we run12?
How on earth may we be mended
When our world has come undone?
Where on earth is there acceptance
When rejection’s all we know?
How on earth may we move forward
When there’s no place left to go?
Where on earth may joy be hiding,
When there’s only deep despair?
Where on earth is there an answer
When we’re gasping just for air?
Where on earth can we find cleansing
When we’re covered up in sin?
When we’re sinking into darkness,
And there is no light within?
Where on earth might there be healing
When there’s only pain to bear?
Where on earth is freedom dwelling
When we’re caught in Satan’s snare?
Where on earth can we find courage
When we’re barely hanging on?
How on earth, man, can we make it
When our strength is simply gone?
Where on earth is there deliv’rance15
From the evil that I see?
Where on earth, Lord, is salvation
When I see it most in me?
Would we recognize the blessing
If it slapped us in the face?
Would we recognize God’s goodness?
Would we recognize His Grace?
When the rich young ruler in me
Sees the awful state he’s in…
Might the truth then dawn upon me?
Might the “turn around” begin?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”