The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful Painting
Featured, Theology & Worldview

Bible Spotlight: The Rich Young Man

This past summer changed my life — and I haven’t said that about anything or anyone since my former youth pastor led me to Christ. Before this summer, I experienced a breakthrough in nearly all aspects of my life, except spiritually. Faith-wise, I was stuck in the muck of a ditch on the side of a road, because I had it all wrong. 

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And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey [to Jerusalem] a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
(Mark 10:17, ESV)

At first glance, the man shows a sincere desire to be saved. The actions seem innocent. What could him running up mean but  urgency? What could him kneeling mean but humility and surrender?

However, sometimes words actually speak louder than actions: “Good Teacher” reveals the man’s unreadiness to acknowledge that Jesus is God, “what must I do” reveals his self-righteousness, and “to inherit eternal life” reveals his selfishness and idolatry. He had it all wrong. 

Jesus knows all this and more, because in the end the heart speaks the loudest. 

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.”
(Mark 10:18-19, ESV)

First, Jesus addresses the man’s refusal to recognize the deity of Christ and his self-righteousness. He says, “Why do you call me good?” Note Jesus doesn’t deny His goodness, rather, he questions the man’s attribution of goodness to Him when the man doesn’t even believe that He is God! Jesus asserts, “No one is good except God alone,” removing any room for self-righteousness. He establishes this as a fact, and proceeds to list several commandments in answer to the young man’s question. 

Now there’s something curious about the commandments Jesus lists—all of them focus on honoring, loving, and respecting other people. The first four commandments, which focus on honoring, loving, and respecting God, are not mentioned. Rather, Jesus chooses to first test the young man’s treatment of those around him. 

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
(Mark 10:20, ESV)

Surprise, surprise, the man doesn’t get it at all. Apart from the removal of the word “good” from his address to Jesus, the man doesn’t change. He remains in denial of Jesus’ deity and reinforces false confidence in his own righteousness. Dr. Bryan Chapell puts it this way: “Jesus just said, ‘Only God is good.’ And two seconds later what does the young man say? ‘Me too!’”1

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
(Mark 10:21, ESV)

The man doesn’t understand, so Jesus gets straight to the point and addresses the one most significant issue: idolatry; the lack of honor, love, and respect towards God. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” In other words, He tells the man to put away his treasures on earth and to place his treasures in heaven. Then, Jesus extends the invitation He had given to the twelve disciples: “Come, follow me.”

Everything is on the table, and the man must decide.

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
(Mark 10:22, ESV)

The rich young man assesses the cost and decides that the cost was too great for him. He turns away with the realization of his failures, but he does not repent. 

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And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”
(Mark 10:23-26, ESV)

If you put your trust and treasure in anything of this world, getting to heaven is like shoving a 1000-pound camel through a sliver in a needle—it is flat-out impossible. The disciples rightly inquired, “Then who can be saved?” Indeed, how can a heart predisposed to reject God (“No one seeks for God.” Rom. 3:11, ESV) and to seek after every other thing ever accept Christ’s invitation, “Come, follow me”?

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
(Mark 10:27, ESV)

Man cannot; God can. Man is not; God is. Man did not; God did. That is the essence of the gospel.

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Like the rich young man, I was depending on my own strength to get where I wanted. I tried to grow to be more like Christ without Christ’s help–what could be more absurd? Unlike the rich man, however, I was a Christian and did repent. God made it possible. There’s nothing I could or can do. It’s all what Christ did and does.

Challenge:
What in your life are you refusing to hand over to Christ, whether consciously or unconsciously? Material possessions, academics, friends, or your pride?
Remove yourself from the center and put Christ in the center: Instead of being self-righteous, seek the righteousness that comes through Christ; instead of being self-satisfied, be fully and completely satisfied in Christ alone; and instead of being self-sufficient, rely on Christ, trusting that He is enough. And next time, instead of a shameless self-plug, try a shameless Christ-plug.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galatians 2:20, ESV)

For Worship and Contemplation: “Yet Not I, but through Christ in Me”

 

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Sources:

Featured Image: The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful (Le Jeune Homme Riche S’en Alla Triste) by James Tissot [Public Domain]

1. American Gospel “American Gospel: Christ Alone (1 Hour Version).” Online video clip. Youtube, 11 Mar 2019. Accessed 7 Aug 2019. https://youtu.be/ocHm18wUAGU.

 

10 Comments

  1. Wow!! Awesome article!!! This is such an important point!

  2. Thank you for writing this! It met me where I am.

  3. This is a really good article! So thoughtful and true! Well done, Hannah. 🙂

  4. Wow! This is an amazing article. You made such clear, relatable points. Great job!

  5. Thank you all!

  6. This was BEAUTIFUL!! I really loved reading this!!!

  7. Naomi Hochstedler

    I love how you wrote this Hannah! My favorite part was:
    “Man cannot; God can. Man is not; God is. Man did not; God did.”
    This is so true!

  8. This is awesome and very helpful insight!! I never saw it that way!Thank you for taking the time to share the huge blessing you received from the Lord through this passage! I was blessed and will pass it on, too!

  9. Hannah,this is an amazing article. Not many are willing to admit that they didn’t do anything for their salvation. Also, the way you stated the facts was amazing. I have never seen that verse like that. But isn’t it awesome that, unlike the rich young ruler, God doesn’t requires our righteousness, he is our righteousness!