Like the rich young ruler, we try to drag God down to meet our cheapened understanding of holiness. Today, R.C. Sproul demonstrates why we cannot rely on ourselves to become righteous in the eyes of the Lord.
Jesus is going around gaining quite a reputation for Himself. He’s healing people and performing miracles and teaching. And this young guy, very wealthy, comes running to Jesus. He doesn’t walk, he runs in his enthusiasm, runs up to Jesus, falls down in front of Jesus, and he says, “Hm, good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That’s the ultimate question. What do I have to do to inherit eternal life? What do I have to do to get into the kingdom? And what did Jesus say? “Well, first place, the thing you have to do is you have to go and join the Boy Scouts. And then after that, you have to earn fifty-five merit badges. And when you’re done with that, you have to join the church. You have to become an elder, deacon, trustee, and all these things and make sure you do that.” That’s not what He said. Nor did He say, “You have to believe on Me in my death and come into the kingdom.” On this occasion, Jesus didn’t do that at all. What did He say? Does anybody remember what He said to that guy? What? He said to give away all your money. He said that, but that’s not what He said first.
What’s the first thing that Jesus says to that guy? Over here? Why do you call me good? And that whole conversation with that man hinges on that question. Jesus is trying to penetrate behind that guy’s false understanding of goodness. He had a superficial understanding. You see, what he did is he looked there on himself and he looked how other men live, and he was judging himself and comparing himself by other people. And he said, “Gee, I don’t rob banks. I’m not a heroin addict. I don’t cheat on my examinations.” Oh, I just got 85 percent of you, didn’t I? Yeah. Crooks. He said, “I don’t do those things, so compared to those people, I’m pretty good.”
And it’s Jesus. He doesn’t do all these things. He didn’t understand who Jesus was. He had no idea that he was talking to the Messiah. He had no idea he was talking to God incarnate, he just thought here was a pretty good rabbi walking down the street. He said, “Why do you call me good?” And then, He proceeds to answer the question. He said, “You know the commandments: thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not commit adultery, thou shall not this, and thou shall not that.”
And what’d the rich guy say? Oh yeah. He said, “All of those have I kept from my youth up. I haven’t killed anybody. I haven’t stolen. I haven’t committed adultery.” You know what Jesus said to him? In so many words, using His own pedagogical method, Jesus said to that guy, “You haven’t kept those commandments for the last fifteen minutes, pal. You don’t understand them.”
This was the whole debate Jesus had with the Pharisees. They figured if they refrained from murder, they had kept the law. Jesus said, “Don’t you understand that behind the prohibition of murder is also the broader responsibility of man to love his fellow man? And if you hate another person, you’ve violated the law of God. Don’t you understand that behind the prohibition against adultery, you see, if you lust after a woman in your heart, you’ve broken the law.”And then, Jesus brought the whole law together, and what did He say? He said, “Here’s the essence of the law, that you should love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul, and all of your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the law. That’s the summary of the law, OK, the great commandment. Have you loved the Lord your God with all of your heart? With all of your mind? With all of your soul? And all of your strength? And have you really loved your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Is there anybody in this room who’s done that, both of those things, for the last ten minutes? I know there’s nobody in this room that’s done that for the last ten minutes. Yet, that’s the great responsibility. If I say to people, “What’s the great act of disobedience? What’s the most serious sin?” people say killing, murder, and all the rest. Well, it seems to me that if the great commandment is to love God with all your heart, the great act of disobedience is failing to do so. That’s the root problem of man, that he doesn’t love God with all of his heart, with all of his mind, all of his soul, and all of his body. And he doesn’t love other people the way he loves himself. And we’re responsible for that. That’s sin, and we have to deal with that.
And so, Jesus said to the guy, “OK, let’s see how much you love God. Go and sell all that you have, give to the poor, take up your cross, follow Me.” He was not setting down a principle of poverty and asceticism to give to the whole church of Christ. That’s not the point of that passage at all. He’s confronting that guy with his problem. He said, “If you really keep the law, if you really love Me, I'm going to put you to the test. Sell what you really love, give it up, and come to Me.”
The Bible goes on to tell us how the rich young ruler went down the street, liquidated all his stocks and bonds, had a big party, gave it all away to the poor, you see, and then came carrying a cross behind Jesus, and went right to the death as a committed Christian. That’s not what it says, is it? What does it say? The man walked away sorrowful because he had many possessions. God’s standard of goodness is a high one, not a cheap one. We cannot drag Him down into our own standards.