Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Dilemma of the Rich Young Ruler pt.1

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:21-22)

I have read many scriptures that trouble me, that "mow me down" to paraphrase my pastors words. But out of all of them, this one ranks near the top. The account of the rich young ruler is my thorn in the flesh. It is one that shakes all of my experiential and doctrinal assurances and causes me to question everything I know to be true about salvation. Why this passage? Because it documents one of the very few cases of a sincere fellow who came to the source of eternal life and was not qualified to enter. Shouldn't that trouble me? Shouldn't that trouble anyone? Indeed, those who were first to witness the event cried out (and you can sense their stammering despair)," Who then can be saved?". Long have I wrestled with Christ on this count, and to date I have gleaned more questions than answers. What follows are a few of my questions and reflections.

Christ told the rich young ruler bluntly: "One thing you lack." Is it thus true that we must meet specific requirements in order to be accepted of Christ? How then do we understand that "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5)" ?Since this is so, how was it that the rich young ruler was required to undergo the righteous act of selling everything he had and giving to the poor to be acceptable to Christ? If someone tells me that it was rather a test of where the rulers heart was, might I ask how godly our hearts must be in order to be accepted? Since when did our hearts have to be in the right place in order to find salvation (Mt. 9:12-13)? If someone tells me that these requirements were to be met by him after he was saved by grace, I might point out that the ruler was given this requirement in response to his question: "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?". I might also point out that rather than being given grace and then directed to the requirements, he walked away without eternal life.


Mark said...

This is indeed earthshaking. Yet that the young ruler idolized money over God cannot be overlooked. He had the clearest calling, and yet was not willing to give up everything to follow Christ. If we consider that what we cannot relinquish is the very entity that we worship, then this young man relinquished Christ and eternal life for the sake of money, therefore making money the object of his worship. It was not that his works were insufficient - in fact his works were perfect, demonstrating the fallacy of a works-based faith. For it what was his ultimate faith and devotion was placed in that mattered, not the strength of his deeds.

This passage reveals God's jealousy of all other gods, and this young man could not relinquish that which he truly worshiped. This is a threat to our salvation only if we ourselves grasp so tightly to anything that we would not give it up for Christ.

"No servant 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" Luke 16:13

Emerson said...


I agree with you that the rich young ruler's object of worship was his wealth; or at the very least he was blinded by the sin of greed. But I must raise the question as I read the sacred scriptures: Is our idolatry an impediment to saving grace or the very reason for its appearance? Is it the healthy who need a doctor or the sick?

Recall that Paul's conversion experience occured just as he was on his way to round up Christians for incarceration. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst (1 Tim. 1:15)."

If Paul was far worse than the rich young ruler and yet was shown grace in the very midst of his sin, why was the rich young ruler not?

Mark said...

You raise strong objections, Emerson. For how can we, all of us shackled by the sinful nature, expect to receive grace on the basis of our works? We cannot.

It is most fortunate that Christ, knowing our weakness, has not made works a condition of grace. It is not the case that Paul was shown grace and the rich young ruler was not. Instead, both were shown grace, both were granted entrance to the kingdom of heaven provided they cease their current (sinful/idolatrous) style of life and pursue God, acknowledging him as the highest object of worship and devotion.

Paul heeded this call, the rich young ruler did not. This parable does not state our need to be sinless, far from it; it actually emphasizes the futility of works! The young man was "healthier" than many of us who lay claim to salvation (in that he has kept the commandments since he was a boy - how many of us can claim that?), yet even this earthly "goodness" was not enough to save him from damnation. He was not willing to place God as ruler and master of his own life, he was unwilling to repent, and as such he was shown no mercy.