Scripture tells us that a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him by telling him to keep the commandments. The rich young man replied that he had kept the commandments since his childhood. Then Jesus made this surprising statement: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow Me.” ( Luke 18:22)
When Jesus told him to give all of his money to the poor, the rich young ruler went away disappointed and sad. He wasn’t willing to give up his fortune for Jesus because “he was a man of great wealth.” ( Luke 18:23)
What was Jesus saying to this rich ruler and what lesson can we learn from this story? Jesus was not saying that salvation is gained through good works. Scripture never tells us that. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be gained by our good works or bought with our money. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus spent time with other wealthy people during His earthly ministry and He never told any of the others who had property and earthly goods that they had to give away all of their money to inherit the kingdom.
Jesus could see into this rich young man’s heart and He must have seen that this young ruler wanted to remain in control of his life. He had it all and he loved being wealthy and important. He received comfort and security from his fortune. His reputation and status were built on his wealth. Of course he couldn’t give all of that up to follow the Lord! He couldn’t put Jesus first when his wealth came first. What was Jesus thinking?
But Jesus wasn’t giving this rich man an unusual command. God wanted the young ruler to surrender his life to Him and God wants us to surrender our lives to Him also. We read this same message over and over again in Scripture. God wants us to give up control of our lives to Him. God wanted to be the rich young ruler’s first love and He wants to be our first love too. He won’t take second place.
The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). You see, God wants it all. He wants all of your heart, not just a little bit. Scripture tells us that: “No one can serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) God wanted to be first in the rich young ruler’s life and He wants to be first in ours too. God wants us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and He doesn’t want anything else to get in the way. (Matthew 22:27)
You may be thinking that you don’t have a problem because you aren’t wealthy. You may not have a lot of money that can stand between you and God like the rich young ruler had. But money isn’t the only thing that can keep us from completely surrendering our lives to God. Our jobs or our ambitions can become more important to us than God. Our reputations or the control we have over other people can so easily take over our lives and push God out.
As we grow older we can sometimes add more baggage on the journey and it’s harder to follow the Lord as we struggle on under the added weight. God loves us and He knows that we aren’t strong enough to carry these burdens. He asks us to give them all to Him to carry. There are narrow spaces on the way and we can’t fit through them if we are full of ourselves with all of our extra baggage. We can only follow Him when we travel light. We need to learn to lose it. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 11:38)
Perhaps our life hasn’t turned out the way we think it should have. We didn’t get the job promotion we should have gotten. Our friends and family don’t give us the recognition that we know they should. Our children have messed up their lives even though we trained them to do better. It’s hard to forgive when all of these people have let us down.
And then the Lord speaks to us and tells us the same thing He told the rich young ruler. He tells us to give it all up and come and follow Him. Maybe it’s not money that He is asking us to surrender. But perhaps it’s our reputation, or our need to be right, or our pride and our status. We need to give all of these things to Him. They are too heavy for us to carry. We can’t forgive the folks who have hurt us and we can’t surrender completely to Him when we keep holding onto to these things. They get in the way and drag us down. He’s is calling to us to lay these things at His feet and travel light.