Reading through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) I made an interesting observation. Unless I’m missing something, it seems that in every case when Jesus issued an invitation for someone to follow Him, everyone except one took Him up on it.
As Christians we believe that salvation is free. It is free to us because Jesus paid the price that was needed to secure our salvation on the cross of Calvary.
But, it doesn’t take long for those who respond to the invitation of Christ to discover that while salvation is free, following can become costly. It was exactly at this point that the lone man who refuses to follow makes his decision.
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:17–22, NIV).
Allow me to make a couple of observations on this account.
First, by Jesus’ response, “No one is good except God alone,” two things are immediately established. First, the standard of goodness is not in comparison to other people but in comparison to God. If it is true that only good people are in heaven with a good God, than it is also true that these people have to live their lives with God’s perfect goodness as the standard.
That, of course is impossible, so we Christians believe that it is not good people who populate heaven but forgiven people.
Second, with this response Jesus is forcing this young man to make a decision about His (Jesus’) true identity. Is He merely a teacher or is He God in the flesh? If He is merely a teacher, then He is not a good teacher, but if He is good, we have to face the fact that He is in fact God.
When this event takes place, Jesus has not yet procured our salvation, so He points this young man back to the Jewish law. This delights this religious man because he perceives himself has having done a pretty good job at keeping the Law of Moses. He says as much, “All of these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus doesn’t debate him on that. One popular evangelist today delights in saying, “You have to get people lost before you can get them found.” I have observed this particular evangelist at work and he would set out to immediately dismantle this man’s argument of keeping the Law. Jesus, however, doesn’t do that.
There must be some truth in what this young man claims because Jesus’ response to the man’s response is, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Not doubted him, not debated him, but loved him.
Then Jesus puts his finger on a sore spot in this young man’s life by calling upon him to give up his earthly security to find his security in Himself (Jesus). This proves too much for the fellow and, as far as I know, he’s the only one in the Gospels invited to follow who doesn’t.
Perhaps I am making more out of this than I should, but it strikes me that the problem here is the man’s religion trumped his desire for relationship.
Let’s be careful that we don’t fall into this same trap. It is so easy for us to go through the religious motions of our traditions and in the process not follow the One who gives life.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.