Matthew 19:20-22 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Here’s a classic example of Jesus teaching on what authentic discipleship ought to look like in a person’s life. All through the gospels Jesus taught that to be his disciple, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow him.
In today’s text we have a young man who wanted eternal life. Therefore, he asked Jesus how he might obtain this desire. Jesus answered him by telling him to obey the commandments, for that would show his love for God. Jesus then listed several of the commandments. The young man’s response? “All these I have kept.”
His answer reveals at least three things.
Three Wrong Answers
First, the young man was ignorant about what “obeying the commandments” meant. His understanding was superficial at best. His claim was that he had obeyed all the commandments since his youth. And so Jesus simply pointed out that this man’s great wealth was a stumbling block to his pursuit of God and eternal life. In so doing, Jesus reveals the man was guilty of coveting, at the very least. He broke that commandment.
Second, the very first commandment instructs us not to have any other gods before the one true God. This man seemed to have placed his great wealth before God, so much so, that when he was asked to give it away, he could not do so, not even for eternal life. There’s another commandment broken.
Third, to truly love and serve God looks like faith and obedience in a person’s life, not mere external conformity to a few of your favorite commandments. Jesus exposed the real motivations of this man’s heart by telling him to deny himself (give away his possessions) and follow Christ (give his life to Christ completely).
The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.
What’s Tripping You Up?
Money and possessions were this man’s impediment to faithful discipleship. It is for many of us. We may hastily protest it isn’t. “But,” we quickly add, “Jesus’ words in this text are not a universal command for every person who would follow Jesus.” And that’s true. Material wealth was indeed this particular man’s barrier to faithful discipleship. But how many of us could downsize everything we own and give away the saved money to the church, missionaries, mercy ministries, etc.? How many of us could take lesser paying jobs that would enable us to spend more time with our families? How do you immediately and viscerally react to those suggestions? These examples show us we may be far closer to the rich young man than we care to admit.
What is your obstacle to being a whole-hearted follower of Christ? Maybe your obstacle isn’t wealth. Maybe it’s your desire to please others more than God. Perhaps it’s the fact that you worry more about what others think about you than what God thinks about you. It may be that you don’t want to give up the particular sin you’re enjoying for a season. Or maybe there are a variety of struggles tripping you up in multiple areas of your life.
Dying is Hard
When it comes down to it, denying ourselves (dying to ourselves) is hard. And we don’t like “hard.” We like easy, convenient, and quick. Thus, we’ve created a culture of remote controls, drive-through windows, and microwave ovens. This mentality makes for poor sacrificial servants of the Kingdom. And of those who hold such an attitude, our Lord says, it is hard to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we would follow Jesus, we must rid ourselves of all encumbrances that inhibit the “following” to which we are called (Hebrews 12:1). We must “give it away” so our focus will be fixed keenly upon our King.
We must take the long and eternal view instead of the alternative short and temporal ones. Because those who deny themselves and do the hard work of leaving their houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mothers or children or fields (work) for Christ’s sake, will receive “a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29). And put that way, the decision seems like a no-brainer.
What do you need to “give away?” What is that obstacle in your life that is making it difficult for you to wholly and truly follow Jesus? What is about that obstacle (or those obstacles) that seems to have a grip on you? What are three things you can do, beginning today, to loosen the grip of those strongholds and find the freedom of joyful obedience God desires for you?
Grace and Truth,
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