I wonder, what is it that’s keeping me from being fully committed to Jesus?
That’s the question I ponder as I’m reading through the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18.
A ruler comes to Jesus and asks a question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)
On the surface, this seems to be a great question. It’s quite honestly a question I desperately want to know the answer to as well. Just as when I was in school reading through the syllabus wondering what is required of me, I want to know what I need to ensure that I inherit eternal life. Ultimately we all do. We all want eternal life. We all want to insure that we will obtain the inheritance we long for. We all want to know that this life has some sort of meaning and purpose; and that after it’s over we will be in Heaven. Thus we lean in alittle closer to the story when we hear the question from the ruler because we also want to know the answer.
But Jesus doesn’t give an answer to the question. It’s not because he doesn’t want to give an answer, it’s just that the core of the question is fundamentally wrong. The question is based on an understanding that somehow I can do the correct thing to receive the proper outcome. It’s based on a false notion that somehow there are certain boxes that need to be checked off to complete an assignment, and once those boxes are checked the outcome (in this instance eternal life) is automatically obtained. However, there is nothing I can do to inherit eternal life. Because eternal life is not something I do, it’s a gift given by God.
Jesus declares, it’s not about doing, it’s about being. You don’t do something to receive eternal life, you live as a redeemed human in the New Creation and experience eternal life. Eternal life isn’t a place after you die, it’s a way of living even now in the present, and on into the New Creation.
The question therefore is not what do you need to do, but instead what are you willing to give up to be fully committed to the way of Jesus.
As the story unfolds, it’s the contrast between the rich young ruler and the disciples that becomes so glaring. On one side is the rich young ruler, who has kept the law from his youth and is, as it seems, a respected member of the community. On the other side is a ragtag group of disciples full of fishermen and tax collectors, that while not evil, are not necessarily the most respected in the community. Jesus doesn’t make the contrast, but Luke does. The contrast is not about the law. Jesus never argues with the ruler about whether he has kept the law or not. Instead Jesus challenges the ruler to deeper commitment. It’s not just about following the law, it’s about giving up everything to follow at all. The contrast, therefore, is between those who are willing to leave everything to follow Jesus, and those that are not ready. It’s between those who are willing to completely die to self, and those that are still holding on to some other commitment.
Jesus says to the ruler, you still lack one thing. Sell everything you own and give it to the poor, and then come follow. Why, because wealth is automatically evil? No. But because you can’t let anything get in the way of following Jesus. You can’t let anything keep you from full devotion. Wealth has the ability to keep one from full devotion, but so do many other things: beauty, success, occupation, family time, even football. There are things that we want to hold onto because we think they are of the utmost importance and are nonnegotiable. But Jesus says they all have to go if you want to follow and have eternal life.
So again I raise the question for all of us, myself included, what is keeping us back from full surrender? What is holding us back from being like the early disciples and saying, I’ve left everything for you? What is it that I still want to hold onto, control, or keep?
Whatever that thing is, it’s keeping me from being fully committed, and thus taking me away from eternal life (or perhaps better translated, the best life imaginable).
Thus as I read the story of the rich young ruler I wonder, what is keeping me from becoming fully committed to God, and am I willing to get rid of my idol so that I can experience eternal life?