You’ve probably heard the expression to “never meet your
heroes” because you’ll find that they are just as flawed as everyone else.
This is never more clearly seen than in the wake of a
prominent Christian leader or pastor who chooses to walk away from believing in
Jesus, has a hidden sin come to light, or something similar.
In light of the popular Christian writer Josh Harris recently announcing his change of beliefs, many were unsure how to respond as he had left a big impact on their lives and their faith in Jesus.
This situation is unfortunately common, and it is important
that we are ready to have a godly response.
Mercy, grace and kindness towards others
We live in a world where people are quick to judge and be
critical of people and situations we know almost nothing about, and it’s no
different for Christian leaders.
Even when the situation is fairly clear, we’re quick to say things and be more judgmental online than we would ever be in person (which is usually more than we should say or think anyway).
So, regarding Joshua Harris and any other well-known
Christian person or pastor, we need to have even more grace towards them and
One of my favorite quotes from Chuck Smith is “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy… and I need a lot of mercy.”
He is clearly referring to Jesus’ sermon on the mount and then reminding ourselves where we fall into the equation:
We need mercy and God wants us to also extend mercy to others.
And so, we need to keep the posture described by John
Bradford in his famous quote:
“But for the grace of God, there go I.”John Bradford
Too many of us are quick to bring the torches and pitchforks, when that is the furthest thing from what Jesus would have us do.
Instead, let’s pray for the Christians in the public eye,
the pastors and other leaders, who are going through extremely difficult times
and know that if not for the grace of God, we would be in the same difficult
position as them.
We are saved by, and follow, Jesus. Not other people
I think one of the reasons people can sometimes have such a
massive knee-jerk reaction to a pastor or popularized Christian leader falling
from the faith or into sin is because we have begun to put our beliefs, faith
and trust in them and not Jesus.
This is especially common regarding pastors since they are teaching God’s Word week after week. But in cases like Joshua Harris, it’s easy to do the same since he rooted his messages on godly purity and lifestyle in the Bible.
And, although it’s very good to learn from others, after a while it’s tempting to put some of our faith and belief in the person teaching, rather than in Jesus, Who they are teaching about.
This problem is common, but also disastrous.
Although we are told to be thankful for our leaders, and
even encouraged to imitate them so far as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians
11:1), Jesus makes it clear that you need to have a personal connection to Him
and His Spirit, and not merely one through another person.
We see this problem played out in the Bible through the life
of King Joash.
He became king at a young age of 7, but it says that He held
“did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the
priest.” (2 Chronicles 24:1-2).
But do you know what happened after Jehoiada the priest
He turned away from God and set up idols (2 Chronicles
Joash’s faith in God wasn’t personally his, just one he
adopted as long as the priest he grew up with was still around.
And I’ve seen the same thing happen to people I know, and
maybe it’s happened to you.
Maybe it was a grandparent or parent.
Or maybe a famous preacher or pastor.
Possibly a Christian author or actor.
Or maybe even a close friend or person you have trusted to guide you spiritually.
When these types of people turn away from Jesus, renounce their faith, or even fall into sin, it can be easy to doubt or write off everything they’ve told us.
But your faith in Jesus and your relationship with Him cannot be reliant on someone else.
Those people may have led you to Jesus, but they are not your Savior.
As important of a role as people can play in our lives, we must not let our relationship to Jesus stay channeled through them. We must embrace Jesus separately and wholly as our own.
Jesus the same. Yesterday. Today. And Forever.
People make mistakes.
People will let us down.
But Jesus never will.
In light of any prominent Christian leader or pastor, it’s
important to remember how Jesus is not like us flawed people.
He does not recant on His words.
He does not back down from Him promises.
He does not change His mind.
He is the same.
We can put our hope and trust fully upon Jesus and He will
not let us down.
So, whenever a public or personal Christian leader lets you
Pray for them.
Encourage them. (especially if they are close to you)
Give grace to them.
And, in everything you do,
Everything you say,
And everywhere you go:
And stay close to Jesus.
Yesterday, I got to teach the kids class at church, and the section we were in was Mark 11:25–26 where Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiving others. Below are some of the main points and ideas from this passage.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.Mark 11:25–26
It’s no surprise that this passage on forgiveness ends the story of Jesus calling people in the temple out on having the appearance of godliness, but having no fruit or substance of a relationship with God.
Jesus finishes this section with a reminder of what the fruit of godliness looks like. It’s not just outward actions, but inward heart change.
Specifically, Jesus tells us that a true disciple of His will forgive others.
Simply put, people who are forgiven by God will, in turn, forgive others.
The Importance (And Necessity Of) Forgiving Others
Jesus pulls no punches in this verse. He starts out by saying that forgiving others is so important that you should even pause your prayer to do so.
And then He goes as far to say that “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.“
But what does He mean by that?
We see throughout scripture that God was the first to act on our need for forgiveness and salvation, and that He did so in spite of all we did and who we once were…
God saved us when we were still enemies of God (Romans 5:10)
We only love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)
None of us were even seeking God to begin with (Romans 3:11)
So, what does it mean that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others?
To answer that, it’s best to look at another parable from Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35.
Here’s the general story…
A man owed a VERY great debt and his lender forgave him of that debt.Read the full story in Matthew 18:21-35
Shortly after, this man refuses to forgive someone else’s much smaller debt and threatens him with his life.
The previous lender finds out how cruelly this man treated the other and renounces his forgiven debt as a consequence for treating the other man so poorly.
What we learn from this parable is that God takes our life change very seriously. We are not saved by our works, but God’s grace and forgiveness is purposed to bring about a heart change.
God’s plan is to save us from the punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23), to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), to fill us with new motives (1 Corinthians 10:31), and new empowerment (2 Timothy 1:7) to live a new life that He has called us to (Titus 2:11–14).
And, this new life is not an option. It flows supernaturally from our forgiveness.
Which leads us back to the question:
Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Does God forgive us because we forgive others? Or do we forgive others because God forgives us?
What we can learn from Jesus’ parable and the rest of scripture, is that God forgives us and empowers us to forgive others.
But, if we are not actively trying and asking God to help us to forgive others… then, how can we possibly say we’ve been forgiven by God and love Him? (1 John 4:20)
Or, to put it another way:
Forgiving others is a sign that we’ve been forgiven by God.
And a lack of forgiveness towards others is a sign that we have not experienced God’s forgiveness.
(Also, check out Luke 7:36–50 for a real life version of the parable described above).
Forgiveness vs Reconciliation
Forgiveness is always possible,
But reconciliation is not.
It’s important to note that Jesus calls us to forgive others, but that doesn’t mean things will always work out.
Simply looking at Jesus’ life will tell us that we won’t be on good terms with everyone, but we can still forgive everyone.
Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18 that we are to “live peaceably with all” but only “so far as it depends on you” recognizing that sometimes the issues we have with others are simply on their end and there is nothing we can do about it.
This doesn’t give us freedom to ever write someone off as a lost cause, as we are called to love generously and especially those who hate us, but we also shouldn’t bear the weight of a two-way relationship all on ourselves.
We can forgive others and still not receive reconciliation between ourselves and the other person, if they refuse.
Empowered To Forgive
Although we talk about our empowerment coming from God, we often constrain ourselves to only self-help methods and motivational talks which is the exact opposite of “empowered by God”.
And, as a side note, not only does self-help and self motivation only last temporarily, but God also tells us that nothing we do can be pleasing to Him without our actions coming out of our of faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6). If our motivation is one of self attainment and simply doing better, we’ve completely missed the point.
In regards to forgiveness, I’ve heard people encouraged to think about how much God loves the person you ought to forgive and that if God can forgive them, then so should you.
But this is nothing more than hype and motivational talk (and also not found in scripture).
Of course God loves them, He’s perfect!
But how does that help me to love them?
Here’s what the Bible tells us to do:
Instead of focusing on the people you ought to forgive,
You need to focus on the God who has forgiven you.
Scripture tells us that our forgiveness doesn’t come from seeing God forgive others, but as an overflow of God forgiving us, as we talked about above.
But there’s one more piece.
And that’s God’s Spirit.
When God forgives us, He doesn’t simply wipe our slate clean and then tell us to try harder.
God gives us His Spirit to teach us (John 14:26), help us (John 14:26), encourage us (Acts9.31) and empower us to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7).
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all believers, when we are saved. And it is through Him that we become more like Jesus – including our growth in forgiving others (Acts 2:38).
There’s no better application than this:
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Do it now.
Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from?
Because Jesus said pretty much the same thing about that (Matthew 5:23–24)
Go ask for forgiveness.
Do your best to bring reconciliation, as much as it depends on you.
Love others like Jesus.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, below are links to my series on the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
We Need God’s Spirit to Bear the Fruit of the Spirit
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Love
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Joy
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Peace
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Patience
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Kindness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Goodness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Faithfulness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Gentleness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Self-Control
I recently (and finally) took the time to read a book that I’ve had on my shelf for years, and I’m so glad I did.
It’s called "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a biography style book telling the story of how God used David Wilkerson to start a movement reaching homeless and drug addicted youth in the New York area (and beyond).
It’s an incredible story and I encourage you to read it too. In case you don’t, here’s a brief overview, some of my favorite lessons and highlights from the book, and some of the best quotes.
Story Overview: The Cross And The Switchblade
The book starts with the story of how David Wilkerson became the pastor of a rural church. Even at this point, it’s cool to see how he truly believed God to answer prayers and guide him and his family in the big and small things.
One of the most important moments in the book, and his life, was when he decided to sell his TV and devote his evenings to prayer. In a funny and god-filled story of him essentially trying to find any excuse to keep it, he sells his TV and begins devoting extra time to prayer.
And that changed everything.
Shortly after, he came across an article of some boys in New York being put on trial for murdering a disabled child in the park. And he felt God wanted him to go there and help the boys.
Up until this point, his life had been a simple one. He obeyed God, but he had never had such an impression of God telling him to do something so crazy. After wrestling with the desire to go, he goes and is completely humiliated. No good is done and he comes back home with his tail between his legs.
From here, he gets some encouragement from his mother and wife and ends up continuing to pursue seeing what he can do to help them.
He quickly finds out that there’s nothing he can do for them, but there is much to be done for all the other kids in their situation: homeless, abusive families, drug addicted, and more.
David’s vision switches and the rest of the book is filled with "God story" after “God story”, with him doing his best to obey God and get “out of the way” so God can reach and help the at-risk youth in New York.
The book ends with an incredible big picture view of what God had done through this ministry and then giving some post-book information on what happened to some of the specific and first youth that David poured so much into.
Favorite Lessons, Highlights And Quotes
This book is packed full of encouraging lessons and reminders, but here’s just a few of my favorites…
Don’t Dismiss “Failure” So Quickly
When David first obeyed God to go to New York, it seemed like he completely failed. He didn’t help the kids, in fact, it seemed like his actions would now make it impossible to ever help them.
He had embarrassed his church, his family and even put a bad name on preachers in general.
But it was part of God’s plan.
When he stopped by his parents house on his way back home, his mother encouraged him to not so quickly say he was wrong. He felt like God told him to do it and he did. Now it was up to God to finish whatever God had started.
Pray Expectantly And Don’t Doubt It When It Starts Happening
Shortly after David started seeing results in New York, he started getting worried that this wasn’t what he should be doing. This led his wife to tell him:
"You asked the Holy Spirit for a miracle, and now that you’ve got one you’re trying to argue it away. People who don’t believe in miracles shouldn’t pray for them."
If you don’t believe in miracles,
Then you shouldn’t pray for them.
But if you believe God can do anything He wants to further His Kingdom and work on this earth,
The Lamb Chop School Of Evangelism
At one point, David reflects on some wisdom his grandfather had passed onto him regarding reaching people. It is what his grandfather called “The lamb chop school of evangelism.”
"You win over people just like you win over a dog. You see a dog passing down the street with an old bone in his mouth. You don’t grab the bone from him and tell him it’s not good for him. He’ll growl at you. It’s the only thing he has. But you throw a big fat lamb chop in front of him, and he’s going to drop that bone and pick up the lamb chop, his tail wagging to beat the band. And you’ve got a friend. Instead of going around grabbing bones from people… I’m going to throw them some lamb chops. Something with real meat and life in it. I’m going to tell them about New Beginnings."
The Story Of The Snake
When David reaches out to his grandfather for more wisdom and encouragement, he is told a story of a snake becoming new. It’s such an incredible reminder of the necessity of new birth as well as being patient while waiting, as David had to.
“Some time ago I was taking a walk through the hills when I came across an enormous snake. He was a big one, Davie, three inches thick and four feet long, and he just lay there in the sun looking scary. I was afraid of this thing and I didn’t move for a long time, and lo and behold, while I was watching, I saw a miracle. I saw a new birth. I saw that old snake shed its skin and leave it lying there in the sun and go off a new and really beautiful creature.
When you start your new work in the city, boy, don’t you be like I was, petrified by the outward appearance of your boys. God isn’t. He’s just waiting for each one of them to crawl right out of that old sin-shell and leave it behind. He’s waiting and yearning for the new man to come out.
Never forget that, David, when you see your snakes, as you surely you will, on the sidewalks of New York."
Do What We Can Do And Ask God To Do What Only He Can Do
The final quote I want to leave you with is a reminder that God has purposed us for good works, but only He can bring healing and new life.
"We humans can work hard for each other, and we should, and we must work. But it is God, and only God, who heals.”
This is a reoccurring theme throughout the book.
Many times, David would begin to experience some forward motion in the ministry God put before him, and he would start feeling the pressure to keep it going. Quickly, God would remind him that he was “trying too hard”. That he was trying to lift a weight that only God could do.
Yes, David had to do his best and work hard, but only God could bring the results that would make any of it worthwhile.
And this is true for all of our lives, as we are reminded in Zechariah 4:6 and Galatians 3:3:
"Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’" – Zechariah 4:6
"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" – Galatians 3:3
It’s easy to want to step in and “help God” in what only He can do, but we must resist that urge. God has given us plenty to do, so let us focus on that and ask Him to do what only He can do.
My life, and your life, will look very different from David’s. God has different plans for each of us, but can you imagine how our lives would be different if we approached God and His plan for our lives more like David did?
Willing to put aside everything for whatever He had…
Willing to be put outside of our comfort zone…
Willing to step out in faith and sacrifice money, pleasures, status, our plans and more for His plan and work…
I pray mine will continue to become more like David’s, and I pray yours will too.
Again, I encourage you to read the book. It’s an incredible and encouraging story of what God can do when someone gives their life to God for whatever He would have.
You may have heard the saying: “If a person is breathing, he needs encouragement,” and that can’t be more true.
If you Google “words of encouragement”, you’ll find dozens of websites that offer encouraging words and shareable quotes… but the reality is that most of the encouraging words you’ll find (and what most of what we say to encourage others) are simply skin-deep phrases that give empty hope.
They can be encouraging for a moment, but they don’t last, because they are built on emotions and ideas that easily come and go.
Even the ones that promise more are nothing more than hopeful thoughts because they come from someone who cannot give you more than simply wishing the best for you; they can’t actually do anything about it.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to encourage people by saying “it’s ok, things will turn around” but think about what we’re saying: what if it doesn’t “turn around”?
We live in the present, and none of us can foresee the future.
So, what can bring us a permanent and solid foundation for encouragement?
Or better asked: Who can do this?
The simple answer is: God.
The One Who created everything (Genesis 1:1),
Who breathed stars into existence (Psalm 33:6),
Who holds our very breath in our hands (Job 12:10),
And Who loves us more than we can imagine.
God has the ability to give true encouragement.
So, if you are looking for something to keep your head up,
To get you through a difficult time
To have something in your back pocket (because difficult times will come)
Or you simply want to have encouraging words ready for others…
The Bible is full of truths that we are called to rest in and so there are many more, but here’s just a few of my favorites for you to reflect on.
I’ve broken them into a couple sections based on topic.
God Has A Plan
Sometimes, it’s simply comforting enough to know that none of this is random, but that God (Who loves you very much) sees the pain you’re going through, can relate to it, and has a plan in mind.
This first verse is one of my favorites because it spells out the two most important things:
- Our plans, thoughts, and ideas are different from God’s
- God’s plan is better (just in case we thought our, different plan was better)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55:8–9
Your Suffering Isn’t Wasted, God Will Use It
Difficult times and suffering are hard enough, but suffering without a worthwhile purpose or result is even worse.
Think about it this way: If you saved a child from being run over by a car, but you broke your arm in the process, most of us would say it’s worth it. But if you suddenly woke up one day with a broken arm, that would be much harder to deal with. It’s the same pain and inconvenience, but one of them felt worth it.
In the same way, when we suffer in life, God tells us that everything we go through will be worth it in the end. We don’t see how now, but He tells us to trust Him, and that in the light of eternity we will see Him use everything we suffered as part of a worthwhile plan…
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”James 1:2–4
“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”2 Corinthians 1:6
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”2 Corinthians 4:17
Don’t Give Up, Keep Trusting God
The most important thing is to simply keep going. Emotions and feelings will come and go and discouraging times are temporary. As the saying goes, “Don’t trade what you know about God for what you don’t know about what He’s doing.” Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. I’ve personally been through some extremely discouraging times but have seen the worthwhile result of continuing to do what I know is right even when that’s the last thing I want to do.
This first verse was actually sent to us by 2 different people in the same day during a time when my wife and I were going through a very difficult season in our lives (thankfully, not difficult towards each-other, but outside factors) and so it has remained particularly encouraging to me and I hope it is to you as well.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”Galatians 6:9
These next verses form one of my favorite passages of scripture to look to when I need encouragement. It is such a beautifully sounding verse and so inspiring, but when you look at the situation he’s describing, it’s terrible.
Habakkuk is painting a picture of starvation and hopelessness. There is no food for today (no “fruit on the vines”), there is no harvest on the horizon (fig trees would blossom before producing their fruit), and there’s not any hope of new animals being born for food either (no herds in the stalls and the flocks are gone).
Yet, in this “it’s bad, and there’s no chance it will get better” situation, Habakkuk finds it possible to trust God and even find joy in Him. And so can we.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”Habakkuk 3:17–19
God Wants You To Go To Him With Your Problems
This one is most important. We can believe everything correctly, but we can still miss the most important part: God Himself. He wants a relationship with you and you can know everything I’ve written above without ever going to Him or talking to Him about your situation. He is the “God of all comfort” and wants you to come to Him with all your problems.
He might not fix everything going on, but He wants you to go to Him for comfort, strength and provision in the mist of every difficultly and problem in life. He is the Giver of all life and can sustain you even in difficult times.
But you can’t simply know that to receive His grace,
You have to go to Him to receive it.
And He’s waiting for you to do just that.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”Isaiah 26:3
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”Isaiah 40:31
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6–7
May you rest in God and go to Him in the good times and the bad, so that we might live like the “man who trusts in the Lord” that Jeremiah described:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”Jeremiah 17:7–8
This last Wednesday was the birthday of a friend of mine.
He was one of many recovering drug addicts and homeless who my wife and I invited into our lives when we very first moved down to Florida to help start a church.
For a time, we had a small group of people that met in our apartment. There were a few consistent people and many who would pass through over time. We would also end up spending Christmas mornings and other holidays with them as so few of them had family who live down here.
This friend is one of the first of many who we got to lead to Jesus and help in their recovery and homelessness.
He was the first of those friends to die.
And last Wednesday would have been his birthday.
We’ve thankfully only had one other close friend die from overdose, but for some reason (I don’t know if it’s time of life or something else) I have experienced more family and friend death in the past 7 years than ever before.
He was one of the first.
And when he died, I made a decision to keep his birthday in my calendar, and I’ve chosen to keep this habit with everyone ever since.
Simply Loving People
His birthday held special memories for me, which led to this new habit.
He, like many of the addicts we met down here, rarely got to celebrate his birthday with close friends or family because of his addiction. As we held a small group at our apartment, we held many birthdays and it never ceased to amaze me how much people appreciated it, addicts and non-addicts alike.
In a world where everyone gets well-wishes on Facebook, the simple text or phone call means so much more. And, to actually sit in a room around simple cupcakes and sing ‘happy birthday’, is almost unheard of.
These small birthday celebrations and times together in our home led to many experiencing God’s love and hope in a way I couldn’t have replicated in any other way.
And God used simple moments like these to save multiple people in our very living room, and I’ll never forget them.
The Importance Of Remembering
Part of the reason I keep people’s birthdays in my calendar, even after they have passed, is it helps me remember them, and more importantly, the things I learned from them.
Specifically: many of the people in my calendar remind me that God is not done. So many of them seemed like “lost causes” yet many of them experienced massive life and heart change by the grace of Jesus, and I never want to forget that.
Whether homeless and drug addicted,
“Old” and “Set in their ways,”
Argumentative and seemingly impossible to reason with…
Many of them found Jesus before their last breath.
And it reminds me of the many birthdays in my calendar who are not long gone, but may one day turn to Jesus as well.
Life Is Short
The 3rd and final reason I keep friends’ birthdays in my calendar, even after they’ve passed, is simply this:
It reminds me that tomorrow is not promised.
One day, you and I will breathe our last and will stand before God and eternity. And as David wrote in Psalms:
“So teach us to number our daysPsalm 90:12
that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Every month, as I look at the people who used to celebrate birthdays in that month, I am reminded that the things I do today will have an eternal impact, and I don’t know when my story here on earth will end.
And I want my days to count.
You might find my habit weird, but I’m happy I started it. And if nothing else, I hope this reminds you…
To simply love people today,
To keep hope that God can work in even the most desperate situations and people
And to live life to the fullest of God’s calling on your life, because you don’t know when you will meet Him face-to-face.
A couple weeks ago, I got to teach the older kids class at our church, and as you might guess, our text was Mark 10:17–27 about the Rich Young Ruler. I thought I’d share it with you, so below I’ve put the highlights from our study that we had together…
What must I do?
And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Mark 10:17
It’s pretty obvious that the Rich Young Ruler wants to get to heaven on his own merit. Even his question “what must I do” implies he wants a task to accomplish.
And, he’s not alone, we all like the idea of earning things, and wanting to earn our way to heaven is no exception.
But there’s a major problem: none of us are perfect (Romans 3:23).
And as the young man is going to find out, he can’t get enteral life on his own…
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.’ ”
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.Mark 10:18–22
As we read what Jesus tells him, we realize that was Jesus is telling the young man is that he must be perfect to attain eternal life. Jesus begins by reminding him of a few of the 10 commandments listing the standard given by God for perfection.
The young man tells Jesus that he has kept all of the outward commandments and so Jesus then proceeds to remind him of the inward ones.
Notice that Jesus says “You lack one thing”. He goes from the general laws to the specific issue that this man faces.
And here’s why: Money had become this young man’s functional god. He had broken the first commandment: “you shall have no other gods before me”.
In the case of the Rich Young Ruler, his love of money was at least one of the many things that kept him from God’s perfection (and let’s be honest, how many of us would be willing to give up everything we have if Jesus told us to).
But Money Isn’t Even the Real Issue
Jesus never asks anyone else in scripture to completely give up their money (even more on that later). And because of that, we can infer that He was trying to make a point: We can’t earn our way to heaven because we’re all imperfect.
Jesus chose the thing that He knew the man would not give up, and we all have those things, don’t we? We all hold imperfections in our character and hearts that keep us from the perfection that eternal life with God requires.
In fact, money is simply a tangible asset that enables us to hold on to things as our functional savior instead of surrendering to God.
Here’s a few examples of things that money can “give” us so that we hold onto money instead of holding onto God…
The list goes on…
Obviously, money cannot provide any of these things perfectly (that’s kind of the point), but they can become false substitutes for what only God can give us.
We don’t know what the Rich Young Ruler struggled with most, but it’s no denying that money can take on many different roles in our lives and it can easily keep us from having God be our only and first love.
So, What Did Jesus Really Want From The Young Man?
Ultimately, God doesn’t care about our money, possessions or skills. We are imperfect sinners and so the best we can offer is still tainted with sin.
Jesus wanted him to humbly surrender.
He wanted the young man to stop
To realize he couldn’t measure up to God’s perfection
And for him to accept God’s grace.
The young man was created to enjoy a complete and whole relationship with God and to live in a way that reflected God as a result.
Unfortunately, his (and our) sin gets in the way and we become disconnected from God, Who is the Giver of life. And we cannot be reconnected to Him without becoming perfect.
In this passage, Jesus is essentially telling the Rich Young Ruler that he needs to be perfect to “inherit eternal life”. And so Jesus points out an area of imperfection in his life and says it has to be corrected in order for him to earn his way to heaven, all the while knowing that it would be too much for the man to do.
Unfortunately, it’s not even that simple.
In order to earn our relationship back with God, we must be perfect our entire lives: so even if you “clean up” now, it’s already too late!
What Jesus really wanted from this conversation was for the Rich Young Ruler to realize he wasn’t good enough to inherit eternal life and that what he really needed a Savior, just like everyone else.
“Then Who Can Be Saved?”
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.”
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”Mark 10:23-26
After the Rich Young Ruler determines he cannot go to heaven on his own merit, he walks away sorrowful.
Have you ever considered this problem before?
God’s requirement is perfection, and there is no way that you or I are meeting that.
For many of us, just like him, this is the end of the story.
If only he had stayed a little longer.
Because after he left, Jesus told His disciples that it is extremely difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of heaven. And He then follows it up with comparing it to a camel going through the eye of a needle (which is not going to happen).
Their response is what we should all ask: “then who can be saved?”
And that is a very good question.
**Please note that when Jesus said it’s difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, He is not saying that it’s wrong to be rich. What I believe Jesus was getting at is that when you are rich, you are all the more able to hide behind and hold onto the things in your heart that separate you from relying on God. It’s simply harder to choose to surrender and trust God as first in your life when you have such a tangible ability to “trust in yourself” for all of life’s needs and problems. Jesus is merely saying that it is a natural roadblock to salvation, not that it is wrong to be rich.**
What Jesus Offers Us (And The Rich Young Ruler)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
If only the young man had stuck around.
He had finally come to the end of himself.
He had finally realized that he could not earn eternal life.
He had tried his hardest,
And when he realized that wasn’t good enough,
He figured that was the end of it.
(After all, he was rich and probably didn’t ask for help often)
But he had forgotten about the only One Who could really help.
He Had Forgotten About God.
The Rich Young Ruler, unfortunately, left before Jesus had a chance to remind Him that God’s grace is an option for Him to inherit eternal life.
What’s a little ironic, is that the Rich Young Ruler wanted to know what he could do to “inherit eternal life” when an inheritance is far from earned.
To inherit eternal life, you merely have to become an heir. In this case, an heir of God.
And we once were heirs,
Until sin entered the world and our hearts.
From then on out we were separated from God,
And removed from His inheritance.
There is nothing we can do,
as the Rich Young Ruler found out.
We can’t offer God a complete and perfect heart and life.
But what the Rich Young Ruler missed was this:
There was something God could, and would, do.
To give us the inheritance we could not earn ourselves.
And He was standing right in front of him.
As part of His Salvation plan,
Jesus would take His rightful inheritance,
And would trade it for our lack of inheritance.
The Rich Young Ruler (and all of us as well) wanted to earn his way, but as Paul wrote in Romans “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And that’s not a good wage.
But in that same verse we learn that “the grace of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
You want to earn eternal life?
Sorry, that ship has sailed.
That’s not going to happen.
But are you willing to receive it?
Are you willing to accept God’s free gift through His Son?
That Jesus paid your price,
That Jesus accepted the wages for your sin,
And that Jesus gave you His rightful inheritance?
Then you can receive, you can inherit, eternal life.
What Happens If We Receive This Free Gift?
If you accept Jesus’ free gift of life, there’s a few things that happen.
- He gives His Spirit to be inside of you (and every receiver), to be with you, and to transform you to be more like Him. Remember, we were created to worship God, be in relationship with Him, and reflect Him in our lives. By receiving Jesus’ free gift of eternal life, your eternal life starts now. Instead of waiting for eternity, God wants to start now. He wants you to be close to Him, now.
- As you continue to rely on His grace for your inheritance, and on His Spirit for your daily life, you will supernaturally become more like Him. These changes will take place in personal inward thoughts and desires, and also in your outward actions and words. This is a continuation of the first part as mentioned earlier that our relationship and closeness to God is what continues to transform us to be more like Him.
And there is no better example for this story than the rich man who was saved shortly after this passage.
In Luke 19:1-10, we meet Zacchaeus who is not only a rich person, but clearly an unethical one as he was a chief tax collector. To spare you the details, he essentially gets saved and tells Jesus he’s going to repay everyone back what he has stolen from them and essentially obey the Hebrew law that God put in place.
He’s not giving away all his wealth. He’ll actually probably still be fairly wealthy when he’s done.
Yet he is saved, while the other wasn’t.
It’s because his salvation didn’t come from his work,
It came from receiving Jesus’ grace.
Zacchaeus received Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness and was transformed because of it.
Is he perfect?
But he was saved, has been given eternal life and now is being transformed by God from the inside out.
Did he give away all he had?
But he joyfully gave back what he had stolen, and I am sure that if he remained in Jesus’ grace and love, he continued to joyfully give, love and surrender in many areas of life, including his finances.
The Difference Between The Two Rich Men
In these passages we saw two rich men.
The first wanted to earn his eternal life.
The second realized it was a free gift.
The first desired to earn an inheritance by being perfect himself.
The second was given an inheritance through Jesus’ perfection.
The first could not be perfect and walked away to continue earning his wage of death.
The second received eternal life and began living a generous and love filled life that reflected the great gift he had been given.
The first left feeling like his life was probably over.
The second left feeling like his life was just beginning.
Which do you feel like today?
Which do you want to be like?
The Prayer Of Salvation
To close this post, I wanted to remind you of another rich man who found eternal life in one of Jesus’ parables. In the chapter previous in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a tax collector who went to the temple to pray and left righteous. Here is all he prayed:
“…the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’Luke 18:13
Do you have that same prayer of repentance and humility?
Do you hold to that same mercy that God offers us through Jesus?
It’s your only way to eternal life.
If you already know Jesus, then reflect back on His grace and come back to those first joys of salvation. We all tend to drift away from that feeling and mindset, and it is important to draw near again.
If you don’t already know Jesus, please contact me with any questions you have about what it means to be forgiven for sins, have enteral life, and to know and follow Jesus.