Over the next few blog posts, I want us to take a deep, honest look into our hearts. I want to consider a young man who came to Jesus but wasn’t willing to give up what was most important to him to follow Jesus. And I hope my readers will meditate prayerfully on this as we look at Mark 10:17-22, asking ourselves, “Am I like this young man?”
When we look at the character and background of this young man, we’ll find that he wasn’t really that different from a lot of us. Yes, we learn when we read the gospels of Matthew and Luke that he was both rich and influential. And our first reaction is, “Hey, I’m neither rich nor influential. After all, he was a rich young ruler!”
Rich and Influential
But think about that for a minute. Compared to most of the world’s populati0n throughout history, and even today, we’re all very rich. Think about it. We have goods and services and technologies that only kings could have dreamed about in a bygone age—and in third-world countries today. And even if we don’t have the money to buy what it seems like all our friends have, chances are, many of us are deeply tempted and motivated by material things.
What about the influential part? We might say, “I’m not a ruler.” But, in our culture, with the weird value it places on celebrity and popularity, many of us are tempted by status or popularity. So the background of this rich, influential young man, whose status and wealth was too important to part with, might not be as far away from our hearts as we might think.
What else do we notice about this young man? Well, he was an honest seeker, unlike the scribes and Pharisees. He came to Jesus, good-hearted and with positive motivations. You can see that in the way he approached Jesus: He really believed that Jesus was a good teacher and could reveal to him how to get eternal life. He seemed genuinely interested in his eternal destiny, and he had initial confidence in Jesus as a teacher and spiritual guide (v. 17). He even had a modicum of humility. Verse 17 says he knelt before Jesus. This young man was what we sometimes call a “good moral person.”
A Divided Mind
But he had a divided mind. Even though part of him respected Christ and believed Christ had the answer to how to get eternal life, another part of him really thought he knew the answer already. Part of him wanted to serve Christ. But another part of him wanted to trust in his own good works. Part of him wanted to follow Christ. But another part of him wanted to cling to the world.
This reminds me of St. Paul in Romans 7: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
This young man had a divided mind. He really wanted what Jesus had to offer, but really he thought he already had it all figured out.
No One Is Good but God
The young man asked Jesus to tell him what good thing he could do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus said something unexpected. Jesus was in the habit of saying unexpected things. And he asked the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God.” Jesus wanted the young man to realize that He’s not just a man. He’s God, and He alone is the way to eternal life (v. 18).
Keep the Commandments
But then he turns around and says something else unexpected: “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Now Jesus here isn’t going against the teaching of the Bible that we’re saved by faith alone. He’s trying to bring the conversation to the point of getting the young man to see that he really has failed to keep the law.
What Jesus said is, of course, true: All those who perfectly keep the law will obtain eternal life. The problem is, no one has perfectly kept the law, except Him. So the only way we can inherit eternal life is to have his perfect law-keeping credited to us, and to have his death on the cross to shield us from the awful wrath of God against our sins.