A rich man once asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
There are many that think this event is recorded here to illustrate the difficulty involved in saving the wealthy. That may be part of why it's in our Bibles, but I believe there is a deeper reason. There are many that think they can earn their way into God's good graces and the rich man in Matthew 19:16-30 is one such person. He has been obedient. His only real question is, "what do I lack?"
7 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Is it just me that notices this or is this man arrogant to the extreme? Who among us has kept the law perfectly? Who among us is that righteous and that consistent in our righteousness? I may need to re-access my approach to righteousness, but I do not believe anyone is this good. Am I a cynic or an astute observer? You decide.
So when Jesus was rattling off commandments in verse 18, which ones did He leave out? I will tell you. He left out the ones dealing with devotion to God and also covetousness. Interesting no?
There are many of us that appear to be good. We do all the right things. We do not purposely harm others and we look good in our communities. Everyone likes us. That's important. You can't network and use your community for your goals in life without that kind of reputation. In our world, to look good is to be good. This rich man looks really good. He knows it. Jesus is about to wipe off the rich man's mirror so he can see what he really looks like.
21 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.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
There was something that the rich man loved more than God. Some would say it was his wealth. My assessment is that it was himself. His God was his ego. His sense of self righteousness and entitlement is just overpowering. One does not need to be rich to be like this, only deluded.
You cannot earn God's favor and He owes you no favors. We are His creations. He made us to love and serve Him alone. If we bend the knee to Him in faith, He will teach us what it means to love Him and love our neighbors. Those relationships are what determine our eternal status. These are not works that save. They are acts of love in response the love of our eternal parent. Our salvation is not dependent on good works. It is dependent on our relationship with Him.
Wrap your mind around the beauty of that. Incredible.