THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF SALVATION BY HUMAN MEANS REQUIRES GOD’S SOVEREIGN GRACE THROUGH REPENTANCE AND FAITH IN THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST
We are still dealing with the topic of how men should approach God. Here the question is framed in the context of “What shall I DO to inherit eternal life?” The dialogue with Jesus illustrates the impossibility of men working for or earning their own salvation by obedience to God’s commands or by their own good works. Despite this rich young ruler testifying to his religious upbringing and moral behavior, he is still blind to his own sinfulness and desperate need for salvation. It is not that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom on his own – it is impossible – for a rich man or for any man. Jesus presents His Lordship and His requirements for righteousness in such a way that the ruler is forced to retreat and admit defeat. He lacks the “Goodness” that only God possesses.
MacArthur: If you condense the story and look for its central meaning, it is simply this. No matter what one may believe, no one enters the kingdom unless he humbly confesses his sinfulness and submits completely to the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. This is really an illustration of what Jesus taught in Luke 9:23 to 25 when He said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.” That is to deny that there’s anything good in himself. “Let him take up his cross,” which means he’s willing to die which is the ultimate disdain for all earthly possessions and relationships, including even your own life. “And let him” in those terms, “follow Me.” This is what Jesus was talking about in Luke 14 when He said, “You need to hate your father, your mother, your sister, your brother and even your own life.” Before you come to Me you have to be willing to give up all your possessions. You have to count the cost like a man who builds a tower or a man who goes to war. . .
Salvation comes to those who have a recognition of sin and a recognition of sovereignty. That’s the message here with a lot of other very important elements added to it. Our Lord gave this young man the right answer. It might not appear on the surface to be the right answer but it is the right answer because the issue with the young man was that which must precede a true and saving faith, and that is an accurate assessment of one’s own condition and standing before God. The bottom line, he had to choose himself or Christ. He had to choose between self-righteous pride and possessions and total abandonment to God.
I. (:18-21) WRONG THINKING
A. (:18) The Wrong Question Regarding How to Inherit Eternal Life
“And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying,
‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’”
It is never about what we can DO to earn salvation; every other religion is a religion of works; Christianity alone proclaims salvation by the sovereign grace of God based on what Jesus has done to earn our salvation
B. (:19) The Wrong Assessment of Jesus Christ
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’”
“Good Teacher” is not the proper assessment of the person and identity of Jesus Christ.
The starting point on the pathway to salvation is clarity regarding the identity of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Morris: No one is good but God alone is not to be understood as a repudiation of the epithet good as applied to Himself. If that was His meaning, Jesus would surely have said plainly that He was a sinner. Rather He was inviting the ruler to reflect on the meaning of his own words. What he had just said had implications for the Person of Jesus. If He was good and if only God was good, as all rabbinic teaching agreed, then the ruler was saying something important about Him. So far from repudiating the deity of Jesus, as some hold, the questions seems to invite the young man to reflect on it.
Geldenhuys: Thus he who know Him as the Son of God may address Him as “Good Master”, but from one who regards Him merely as human (as the rich young man does) He has no desire for such a superficial and flattering form of address.
C. (:20-21) The Wrong Answer to the Requirements of the Law
1. (:20) Self Awareness
“You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder,
Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”
God’s standard of righteousness has been clearly revealed. The Law is a summary of those requirements. But as Jesus has taught in the Sermon on the Mount, those commands have an internal heart focus as well as a focus on external behavior. The purpose of the law is to bring man to a confession of his sinfulness. This rich ruler had not absorbed that lesson.
Lenski: he starts with the law in order to lead him to the gospel. The process is very simple: the man is first to understand that he cannot obtain the life by the law; second, that all the law can do for him is to show him his sin. After this is clear, his only hope will be in the gospel.
2. (:21) Self Deception
“And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”
Geldenhuys: It is a great disappointment to him that the Master refers him only to the Ten Commandments which he himself knows so well and has observed so faithfully . . . he had come to Jesus to learn whether there was not perhaps something special, something great and heroic, which he must do that it may give him this inward rest and assurance of redemption.
Lenski: He says this to Jesus without blinking an eye. And he is perfectly sincere in what he says. This divine law has no terrors for him – he has kept it all. This is a sample of Pharisaic training which nullifies the very effect God intends his law to produce, namely contrite knowledge of sin and the terrors conscientiae. This young ruler is altogether self-righteous in the face of the law.
Deffinbaugh: The man first had to be lost, dependent and helpless like a child, before he could be saved. This was the role which the law played—to show men to be sinners, deserving only of divine wrath. Jesus thus chose to dwell on the law, as a means to pointing the man to his sin, and then to grace.
II. (:22-23) WORLDLINESS EXPOSED
A. (:22) Pressure Point
“And when Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’”
You cannot serve God and Mammon
Morris: The ruler had not reflected on what God’s goodness meant, nor had he measured himself against God’s commandments closely enough to see his failure to reach God’s standards. Now Jesus issued a challenge which showed that he came short of what was required. But the call to give everything away was more than simply a dramatic challenge; it showed that the man had not understood the commandments he professed to have kept. The first of them enjoins the worship of one God. But when he was faced with the choice he found that he could not serve God by parting with his money. It was not really God that had first place in his heart.
Anyabwile: he doesn’t notice that Jesus temporarily omits the first table of the law that records those duties we ow to God. We must have no god by God. So the Lord calls the man to practically demonstrate he has no other gods but God by selling his possessions and giving to the poor. . . He looks at Jesus and then his things, and he chooses his things over Jesus.
B. (:23) Fatal Flaw
“But when he had heard these things, he became very sad; for he was extremely rich.”
MacArthur: Jesus was not setting forth terms for salvation, but rather exposing the young man’s true heart. His refusal to obey here revealed two things:
1) he was not blameless as far as the law was concerned, because he was guilty of loving himself and his possessions more than his neighbors (cf. Mt 19:19); and
2) he lacked true faith, which involves a willingness to surrender all at Christ’s bidding (Mt 16:24). Jesus was not teaching salvation by philanthropy; but He was demanding that this young man give Him first place. The young man failed the test.
III. (:24-27) WAY TO GOD ONLY POSSIBLE VIA SOVEREIGN GRACE
A. (:24-25) Impossibility of the Wealthy Achieving Salvation
1. (:24) Statement
“And Jesus looked at him and said,
‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’”
Donald Miller: The strong hold that the goods of this life have on us is to be seen in Jesus’ sad recognition of how difficult it is for one who is wealthy to put God first. In fact, apart from the grace of God, it is impossible.
2. (:25) Illustration
“For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
B. (:26-27) Only Possibility is Sovereign Grace of God
1. (:26) Despairing Question
“And they who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’”
2. (:27) Hopeful Response
“But He said, ‘The things impossible with men are possible with God.’”
Morris: All this represents a reversal of accepted ideas. It was commonly held that riches were a sign of God’s blessing, so that the rich man had the best opportunity of the good things of the next world as of this. So Jesus’ hearers ask, Then who can be saved? They do not ask, “What rich man?” but, “Who (of any kind)?” If the rich with all their advantages can scarcely be saved, what hope is there for others? Jesus makes it clear that there is none. But what man cannot do God can. Salvation, for rich or poor, is always a miracle of divine grace. It is always God’s gift.