I've often wondered what would happen if professing Christians would believe the plain and simple truths that are revealed in Jesus' conversation with the rich young ruler. So in this eTeaching, I'd like to take an honest look at a story that God felt was significant enough to include in three of the four Gospels. Doing so exposes at least five widely-held (and spiritually-deadly) modern myths about the story. If you believe any one of those five myths, reading this short teaching could well be, without exaggeration, the most important thing you ever do. You be the judge of the truthfulness of my bold claim!
A Profound Question by a Sincere Inquirer
The story begins with a young man who had a burning question that he believed Jesus could answer. Mark tells us that he ran to Jesus and knelt before Him (Mark 10:17), which would seem to be an indication of his sincerity. His was not a question like those asked by the Pharisees, a question to trick or catch Jesus.
From his knees, the sincere young man asked the most important, intelligent question anyone could ask. He wanted to know what he needed to do to obtain eternal life:
"Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16).
"Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18).
Don't you wish that everyone was asking that question? What question could be more important?
It goes without saying that the sincere young man chose the right person to ask his important question. There was no one in all of human history who was better qualified to give him the correct answer---God in the flesh and the future "Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). All who desire eternal life would do well to listen closely to Jesus' answer.
Before answering the young man's question, Jesus first asked a question of His own and then made a comment:
"Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good" (Matt. 19:17a).
"Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19).
If only God is good, that means everyone else is not good. That is, they're sinners. So if sinners are going to obtain eternal life, it isn't going to be because of their goodness. Sinners are going to need some mercy from a good God. Because God is good, thankfully, mercy and eternal life are in the realm of possibilities.
But does God's goodness eliminate some requirement of holiness from those who would seek eternal life? Apparently not, because Jesus went on to say:
But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." Then he said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 19:17b-19).
You know the commandments, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother" (Mark 10:19).
You know the commandments, "Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother" (Luke 18:20).
According to Jesus, the Son of God, keeping the five or six commandments that He mentioned is required in order to "obtain eternal life" or "enter into life" (Matt. 19:16-17). Tragically, however, many professing Christians consider such a statement to be heresy. In how many classes on personal evangelism are students instructed to tell people to keep certain commandments if they want eternal life, as Jesus plainly told the rich ruler? Evangelism students are much more likely to be told the exact opposite, that salvation has nothing to do with keeping commandments, and that anyone who says so is mixed up (or worse, "trusting in his works" and therefore heading for hell). So did Jesus have it wrong? This leads us to our first myth:
Myth #1: When Jesus told the rich young ruler that he had to keep five or six commandments to obtain eternal life, He was expounding only on a theoretical means of obtaining eternal life that was actually a practical impossibility.
In order to explain away Jesus' plain words that contradict their doctrine, some claim that Jesus was telling the young man that he could obtain eternal life if he perfectly kept all the commandments all his life---even though that would be impossible for him since he had certainly already sinned and would likely sin in the future. And why would Jesus tell him that? Allegedly because He wanted the young man to realize the impossibility of obtaining eternal life by his own obedience so that He would then realize that it can only be obtained by grace, having actually nothing at all to do with keeping commandments.
One major problem with that interpretation is that it makes Jesus a miserable failure at communicating what He allegedly intended to communicate. At no time during their conversation did Jesus tell the young man that keeping the five or six commandments He had listed had no bearing on him obtaining eternal life. Rather, Jesus let the man walk away believing that he not only had to keep those five or six commandments, but that he also had to sell his possessions and give to the poor if he wanted to obtain eternal life. This fact is undeniable. The rich man walked away sadly because that is what he believed, and rightfully so, because that is what Jesus plainly communicated to him.
If anyone afterwards would have asked the young ruler what Jesus said he needed to do to obtain eternal life, he would have affirmed that he needed to keep five or six commandments as well as sell his possessions and give to the poor. This is also undeniable. Thus, if Jesus wanted the rich ruler to think that obtaining eternal life had nothing to do with keeping commandments, He accomplished the exact opposite of what He intended.
Does what Jesus told the rich ruler contradict what the Bible teaches us about salvation by grace? The only possible answer is, How could it? What Jesus told the rich ruler about the means to salvation must somehow harmonize with what Scripture also says about salvation being offered by grace. Keep that in mind as we continue, as I will address it later.
Myth #2: When Jesus told the rich young ruler that he had to keep five or six commandments to obtain eternal life, He was expounding on a means to eternal life that was only valid under the Old Covenant. Now that we are under the New Covenant, keeping the commandments that Jesus mentioned is no longer part of the salvation equation.
Is this true? Let's consider what Scripture says. Jesus told the rich ruler that he must not commit murder or bear false witness---the sixth and ninth of the Ten Commandments---in order to obtain eternal life. Decades later, during the New Covenant, the apostle John wrote, "But for the...murderers...and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone" (Rev. 21:8). The apostle John obviously believed that transgressors of the sixth and ninth commandments will not inherit eternal life---just like Jesus.
Jesus also told the rich ruler that he must not commit adultery or steal---the seventh and eighth of the Ten Commandments---in order to obtain eternal life. Long after Jesus established the New Covenant, Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived; neither fornicators...nor adulterers...nor thieves...nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10, emphasis added). Notice the perfect harmony between Jesus and Paul. Both believed that one cannot be an adulterer or thief and inherit eternal life. (It could also be argued that the commandment to honor one's parents, also in Jesus' list to the rich ruler, has relevance to salvation under the New Covenant, in light of Romans 1:28-30, Ephesians 6:2 and 2 Timothy 3:2.)
So we see that under the new covenant, in order to inherit eternal life, one must not commit adultery, murder, steal or bear false witness, four of the commandments Jesus told the young ruler that he had to keep in order to inherit eternal life. John and Paul certainly did not believe that what Jesus said to a man who desired eternal life under the Old Covenant was irrelevant to those who desire to obtain eternal life under the New Covenant. Like the rich young ruler, if we "wish to enter into life," we too must "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17), at least those that Jesus listed.
Of course, most all of us have broken at least a few of the commandments Jesus enumerated (and if we consider what Jesus said about lust and hatred in His Sermon on the Mount, we more likely should consider ourselves guilty of breaking them all). Does that, then, rule us out as candidates for eternal life? No, thankfully God is good, and so He extends grace to sinners, giving them time to repent before He justly repays them. And if they truly repent, he showers them with mercy and forgives them on the basis of Jesus' sacrificial death. So they are saved by grace. He does not, however, extend a grace that offers eternal life to those who continue in sin. His message of grace is, "Now go and sin no more" (John 8:11). And through this understanding we can easily harmonize what Jesus told the rich young man with what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace. The salvation grace offered by God is not a license to sin (see Titus 2:11-12, Jude 20).
If the biblical gospel of the New Covenant begins with repentance (and it does), then of course "entering into life" has something to do with keeping the most fundamental commandments! What is repentance but turning from sin? Obviously, those who turn from sin are those who start keeping God's commandments.
According to Matthew's account, Jesus actually listed one more commandment beyond the five listed in Mark and Luke's accounts. Jesus added, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19), a commandment that summarizes the other five, as one does not steal from, lie to, or murder someone he loves (see Rom. 13:19, Gal. 5:14).
Myth #3: As Jesus continued His conversation with the rich young ruler, He changed the subject from salvation to sanctification.
The story continues:
The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:20-21).
And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:20-21).
And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." 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" (Luke 18:21-22).
I've heard it taught that the rich young man was completely deceived in his estimation of himself, as he surely had not, as he claimed, kept from his youth all the commandments Jesus enumerated, but rather had repeatedly transgressed all of them.
Such a teaching, however, makes a liar out of Jesus, who said, "One thing you lack," and then identified the one thing that the young man lacked. If the young man had lacked many things, such as failing to obey the commandments forbidding murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty and so on, Jesus would not have said, "One thing you lack." For that reason, we can be assured that the man was indeed keeping the commandments Jesus had listed, perhaps with the exception of failing to fully love his neighbor as himself---by not caring for the desperately poor---something that is certainly prescribed throughout the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and which is the exact thing Jesus pointed out to him that he lacked.
Some take Matthew's account, while ignoring Mark and Luke's accounts, and twist this story to change the conversation from salvation to sanctification. Because Matthew recorded Jesus as saying, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions," some claim that Jesus was affirming that the man did in fact have eternal life, and Jesus then gave him an option to be "complete" (or "perfect" as some translations say), that is, be even more pleasing to God, something he could accomplish by self-dispossession.
But that interpretation is certainly not supported by the accounts found in Mark and Luke, which both render Jesus' words, "One thing you still lack," which clearly implies, "One thing you still lack if you want to obtain eternal life."
Beyond that, such an interpretation is not supported by the context found in any of the three Gospel accounts, because the man initially came to ask Jesus how to obtain eternal life, and that is what the conversation was about before and after Jesus said the words, "If you wish to be complete" as rendered by Matthew. Anyone can read the story for themselves and see that. As Jesus watched the rich young man walk sadly away, He didn't say, "How difficult it is for those who are wealthy to experience deeper sanctification by making optional sacrifices." No, quite the contrary:
But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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" (Matt. 19:22-24, emphasis added).
But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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" (Mark 10:22-25, emphasis added).
But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 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" (Luke 18:23-25).
The subject was eternal life from beginning to end. Jesus watched a man walk away who lacked one thing to "enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23) and "enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24). The Twelve certainly understood that, because they immediately asked Jesus with astonishment, "Then who can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25; Mark 10:26; Luke 18:26, emphasis added).
Incidentally, it is crystal clear that the phrases, "obtain eternal life" (Matt. 19:16), "enter into life" (Matt. 19:17), "enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:23), "enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24) and "be saved" (Matt. 19:25), all found in Matthew's account of this story, are all synonymous. I say this because I once heard one of the most respected Bible expositors in the nation focus solely on one of those phrases, namely Jesus' words, "If you wish to enter into life." He then attempted to persuade his audience that Jesus' conversation with the rich young man had nothing to do with him ultimately gaining heaven or escaping hell, but about him gaining a better quality of earthly life through a diminished focus on possessions. That, he said, is what Jesus meant by His promise to the rich young ruler that he could "enter into life." That is a very distorted interpretation indeed.
All this being so, Matthew's rendition of Jesus' words to the rich ruler, "If you wish to be complete," should obviously be interpreted to mean, "If you wish to be complete, not lacking the one thing that you currently lack to obtain internal life..."
Myth #4: We know that Jesus only ever required one rich man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.
As we have already seen, there can be no debate that Jesus led the rich young ruler to believe that, if he was to obtain eternal life, he had to keep at least five fundamental commandments. And as we have already seen, there can be no debate that, according to the New Testament, we too must keep at least four of those same fundamental commandments if we are to obtain eternal life. But what about Jesus' commandment to the rich ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor? Is that commandment, like the others, also binding upon us if we are to obtain eternal life? Or is it only relevant, as is so often said, to one person in history because Jesus only ever made such a requirement of one man? Here are five compelling facts that answer that question for us:
1.) Take note that, on another occasion, Jesus told all His disciples to do what He told the rich ruler to do:
He began saying to His disciples.... Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys (Luke 12:1, 32-33, emphasis added).
Although Jesus did not say in the above-quoted passage that His commandment to self-dispossess and give to the poor was required to obtain eternal life, He later warned of a future judgment of the sheep and the goats, which together represent people from "all the nations" (Matt. 25:32). The only difference between the sheep and goats in that passage is that the sheep are said to have made sacrifices to feed, clothe, shelter and visit the "least of these" among Jesus' followers, and the goats did not. Their care or neglect of the "least of these" was the determining factor of whether they inherited eternal life or suffered eternal punishment (see Matt. 25:31-46). The goats essentially lacked the same thing that the rich young ruler lacked. And lacking that one thing prevented them from inheriting eternal life.
You may recall that, on another occasion, Jesus was approached by a lawyer who asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus threw the question back at him, saying, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" When the lawyer answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself," Jesus replied, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live" (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus then elaborated on what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about a man who spent some of his time and money to care for a crime victim until he could care for himself.
So was Jesus wrong again about obedience being in the equation of eternal life, and even specifying caring for the needy as being a component? Did Jesus mislead another person? I do not believe He did.
Incidentally, when John the Baptist's convicted audience asked him what they should do to authenticate the repentance that was required if their sins were to be forgiven, the very first thing he told them was to self-dispossess and care for those without food or clothing (see Luke 3:11). It seems John knew that on judgment day Jesus will say to everyone one of two things, either, "I was naked and hungry, and you clothed and fed Me" or, "I was naked and hungry, and you didn't clothe and feed Me." John the Baptist did not believe that anyone could escape hell who lacks the one thing that the rich ruler lacked.
And are we to really believe that God, the Ultimate Paragon of Fairness and Justice, decided to raise the bar of eternal life for one man in all of human history? All other rich people, except the rich ruler, can gain eternal life without making any sacrifice on behalf of the poor? If that is true, it would seem that the rich young ruler has a case against an unjust God.
2.) Take note that the early Christians universally practiced self-dispossession and sharing with the "least of these":
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (Acts 2:44-45).
Why did the early Christians practice self-dispossession to give to the poor among them? It is such an unusual human behavior, something must have been strongly motivating them. At bare minimum, they must have believed that Jesus expected it of them. That should not surprise us, since Jesus instructed the apostles to teach their disciples all that He had commanded them (see Matt. 28:20), and as we have already seen, Jesus taught all His followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor (see Luke 12:33-34). Beyond that, having heard the teaching of Jesus' apostles, might the early believers also have been motivated by a desire to not lack the one thing that the rich young ruler lacked, or lack what the goats of Matthew 25 lacked, two vital teachings of Christ that the apostles surely didn't hide from them?
3.) Just as John and Paul affirmed Jesus' words to the rich ruler regarding the necessity of him keeping certain commandments in order to obtain eternal life, so they also affirmed to all of their readers Jesus' words regarding caring for the poor. Paul warned that no greedy/covetous person "has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph. 5:3-5; see also 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Doesn't greed/covetousness have something to do with money and possessions and caring for the desperately poor?
It could not be more clear in what Paul wrote. Greedy people will not inherit God's kingdom. And although many professing Christians have fooled themselves into thinking that greed/covetousness is nothing more than an attitude of the heart that has no relationship with how they gain money or what they do with their money, honest people know differently. Actions reveal attitudes. The two cannot be divorced. No mother ever said to her child at the kitchen table, "Johnny, it is OK if you eat all three cookies while your hungry brother and sister watch you. Just make sure you don't allow greed to enter your heart."
The truth is, greed is an attitude of the heart that always manifests itself in actions, either through the selfish means by which money is gained or through selfish hoarding while others lack the most basic necessities. John warned:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.... We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:14, 16-17, emphasis added)
The answer to John's rhetorical question is that God's love does not abide in such a greedy person. Greedy people will not inherit eternal life.
4.) Paul also wrote to Timothy of the necessity of rich people sacrificing for the sake of the poor if they are to inherit eternal life:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Tim. 6:17-19, emphasis added).
Clearly, according to Paul, if those who are rich in this present world are not generous, they will not take hold of that "which is life indeed" in the future. What is "life indeed"? It can only be eternal life, which is probably why the King James Version renders 1 Timothy 6:19, "that they may lay hold on eternal life."
5.) As the rich ruler walked sadly away from Jesus and His disciples, take note that Jesus did not say, "It is hard for that one particular rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, because self-dispossession on behalf of the poor is a unique requirement I've made of him." No, Jesus said, "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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" (Matt. 19:23-24, emphasis added). Clearly the rich man whom they were watching walk away was representative of all who are rich.
In fact, both Mark and Luke rendered Jesus words: "How hard it is [and "will be"] for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24, Mark 10:23, emphasis added).
In conclusion, there can be no sound argument against the plain fact that Jesus' words to and about the rich young ruler have just as much application to all other rich people as they did to him.
Myth #5: Once the rich young ruler walked away, Jesus revealed that he really didn't need to self-dispossess on behalf of the poor, because God's grace would prevail over that requirement.
When Jesus' disciples heard Him compare the relative difficulty of rich people entering God's kingdom with a camel going through a needle's eye, Matthew tells us that they "were very astonished" and asked, "Then who can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25; Mark 10:26; Luke 18:26). (Note that they equated "entering God's kingdom" with being "saved.")
The disciples were shocked to learn how difficult it would be for wealthy people to be saved. Everyone knows that it is impossible for a camel to go through a needle's eye. (It is also impossible for a camel to go through Jerusalem's alleged "Needle Gate"---which is actually an historical fantasy---unless it was first unburdened of any load it was carrying).
Perhaps Jesus' disciples considered wealth to be a sign of God's blessing, and thus thought that wealthy people were much more likely than others to enter God's kingdom.
Jesus replied to their astonishment by saying,
With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27).
The things that are impossible with people are possible with God (Luke 18:27).
Remember that Jesus was responding to His disciples' questioning, not how rich people can be saved, but how anyone can be saved. And Jesus made it clear that salvation is only possible because God makes possible what otherwise would be impossible. How true! Apart from the sacrifice of His Son, His long suffering with sinners, the conviction of His Holy Spirit, His mercy granted to the repentant, and His transforming power in their hearts, salvation would be impossible for anyone.
In spite of the clarity of Jesus' words, some twist them to make Jesus a liar. Amazingly, we are sometimes told that His words, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," are an assurance that---in spite of all He just told the rich young ruler---God's grace would make it possible for wealthy people to enter God's kingdom as easily as a thread can go through the eye of donut. They really don't need to care for the poor. So while the rich ruler was still in sight, Jesus allegedly admitted to His disciples that He had just misled the man. If the rich ruler had only stayed around for another minute, he would have learned the truth! He really didn't need to concern himself with his possessions or the poor!
That, my dear reader, is an incredible perversion of Jesus' words. Jesus' disciples certainly didn't interpret His words that way. None sighed with relief at such an alleged "revelation." Rather, Peter wondered where he and the other disciples stood:
Then Peter said to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?" (Matt. 19:27).
Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You" (Mark 10:28).
Peter said, "Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You" (Luke 18:28).
Jesus assured them that they, and anyone like them, did not need to worry. They would not only inherit eternal life, but would also receive abundant reward in this life and the next:
And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:28-30, emphasis added).
Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30, emphasis added).
And He said to them, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life" (Luke 18:29-30, emphasis added).
Note that the subject never changed from the time the rich ruler first posed his question until Jesus' final statement. The subject was eternal life and how to get it.
All of this is to say that Jesus' words, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," could not possibly have meant, "Rich people really don't need to concern themselves with the poor, because God's grace will get them into heaven."
The Grace That God Offers...
We don't know if the rich young ruler, perhaps at some point in the future, repented of his greed. But as long as he was still breathing, at any time he could have done so and experienced the mercy, forgiveness, and assurance of eternal life that he desired. And if he did repent, he would have been able to say that he was saved by the grace of God, in spite of what so many modern teachers say when they tell us that any requirement of obedience nullifies salvation by grace.
Remember, grace is not an acronym that stands for Gain Righteousness And Continue Evildoing. God has never offered anyone a license to sin. He offers grace to provoke repentance and produce holiness:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
In conclusion, here is another undeniable fact, if we are honest with the plain meaning of this biblical story: If the rich young ruler never repented---if he died "lacking one thing," that is, lacking essentially the same thing that the Matthew 25 goats lacked---he would not have inherited eternal life, even if he had kept the other five or six commandments that Jesus enumerated as necessary for inheriting eternal life. Being guilty "only of greed" is akin to being guilty "only of murder." As James reminds us:
For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:11).
Do murders inherit eternal life as long as they don't commit adultery?
Jesus told the rich ruler that, if he wanted eternal life, he must keep "the commandments." The word commandments is plural. For the rich ruler to expect to inherit eternal life while practicing greed would be just as foolish as him to expect to inherit eternal life if he was living in adultery or occasionally murdering people.
That is a sobering thought for professing Christians who lack the very same thing that the rich ruler lacked.
How tragic it is that, while the rich ruler believed what Jesus plainly told him and walked sadly away, multitudes of professing Christians who lack exactly what he lacked are rejoicing in the "assurance of their salvation," believing that Jesus' words to the rich ruler have no application to them. They are goats who think they are sheep, but who will one day discover only too late the terrible truth.
May you not be among them! I wrote this article so that you wouldn't, and knowing very well that, because of it, some will (once again) label me a false teacher or even a heretic. If you hear anyone bestow on me such labels, please ask for their scripture-based rebuttal, point by point, through this entire eTeaching. Don't fall for the smiling preachers who brush off everything Jesus said to the rich ruler, as well as everything else the Bible teaches about the necessity of holiness, by quoting one or two out-of-context Bible verses about grace. They are the false teachers whom Jude warned about, "who turn the grace of God into licentiousness" (Jude 4). Today they are legion. I beg you, do not let ear-tickling teachers drag you, by their deception, down into hell with them!
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon