This is another passage of scripture that I knew deep down contained a lot of truth, but couldn’t quite figure out what the message was. Like many, I always felt I would have to do more and more to get into Heaven while also giving up everything instantaneously. After I put the entire story together and saw the nuances, it made much more sense to me. I had been looking at the story backwards all my life.
Referencing Mark 10:17-27, we first see the rich young man run up to Jesus and state in v17, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ first response is quite interesting and also sets the tone of the rest of the dialogue. He states in v18, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God.” Jesus was already trying to get the man to stop thinking in terms of how to earn goodness. He most likely judged Jesus as good because of the things he had heard about him. Jesus was hinting that it is only by God that we are made “good.”
After prefacing that only God is good, Jesus goes on to list some of the commandments in v19. The man’s immediate response is to state that he was upholding them (v20). This is an area I was stuck at also. I didn’t take into account Jesus’ “good” statement. Instead, I assumed, like the rich young man, that observing the commandments made me good.
Again, v21 states something that can easily be overlooked. Jesus looked at him with love. He didn’t look at him with disappointment, condemnation, or anything negative. Jesus then stated for the man to sell everything he had, give away the proceeds, and follow him. Here’s the second context that I was stuck on all my life. I always thought that I would have to give up everything in order to follow Jesus. In a way this is true, however, giving up everything still doesn’t earn salvation (1 Corinthians 13:3). We are only saved through Jesus. Once we are following the Holy Spirit from within, we learn how to give up things at God’s timing. When we try to lay them down by our own human willpower, we inevitably pick them back up again. Only Jesus can truly free us from these burdens.
The man’s face fell as he went away when he realized what following Jesus would cost him. Was Jesus intentionally trying to drive him away? I don’t think this was the case. Jesus was trying to show him, and us, that it is not by law following and our physical possessions that we are saved. It is by God’s plan of salvation through Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
The disciples also didn’t seem to get what Jesus was trying to say when he stated in v23, “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom!” Again, Jesus was trying to show that we can’t enter the kingdom by our merits and wealth. On a side note, he wasn’t just talking about Heaven, he was talking about the spiritual kingdom which we are reborn into once we accept him.
The disciples were amazed and became even more astonished when in v25 Jesus states, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.” Again, Jesus was showing the impossibility of our efforts to grant us access to the kingdom. Likewise, the disciples, who were still dumbfounded, ask in v26, “Then who can be saved?” In v27, Jesus states simply a summary of what he was trying to teach all through this passage, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.”
This is the whole point of the passage. It is only through Jesus that we can be saved. With man’s efforts, it is impossible. However, most of my life, only the passages about rule following and giving up money were lifted out as the standards to follow. Ironically, Jesus is actually stating the opposite. No matter what we do, we cannot earn our righteousness by our efforts.