When you read the story of the rich young ruler this morning, stop and wonder at the marvellous work God has done in your own heart. For apart from God’s grace we are all like this man – hearts of stone, running after idols, trusting in our own worthless deeds – without a hope in the world of entering the kingdom of God, “but when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4). Oh what a Saviour!
Notice the question the ruler asks Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? Well, if anyone wants to be saved by doing, he has to keep all of God’s law (Gal 3:12). So Jesus lists commandments 6-10 of the Ten Commandments. The young man responds – “All these I have kept from my youth”.
“An answer more full of darkness and self-ignorance it is impossible to conceive! He who made it could have known nothing rightly, either about himself, or God, or God’s law” (J. C. Ryle)
The rich young man did not know what he was saying, for “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless” (Rom 3:10). He also seemed not to understand that God’s law required more from him than mere outward conformity – (See Matt 5:21-30). If he knew the reality of his sin, he would have trembled before the God whose “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Hab 1:13). He would have done well, when confronted with the law, to cry out like the tax collector “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
But he does not, and Jesus exposes his idolatry in vv 22-23. His love of money demonstrates that he has not really kept the commandments. His greatest treasure is not God, and therefore his heart is far from him (Matt 6:21). It would take a miraculous transformation in his inner being to bring this man, and people like him, into the Kingdom. And that doesn’t happen in this instance, so he goes on his way.
Jesus’ disciples and others who had gathered recognise the impossibility of it all and exclaim “then who can be saved”?! (18:26)
Jesus answered “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.
Oh what a glorious truth! God, through the preaching of his word, and the regenerating work of his Spirit, brings people out of darkness and into his marvellous light. He doesn’t rely on our efforts. In fact, we have nothing to bring to him but our need and our thirst. Which means not one iota of salvation is our work, it’s all of grace. Revel in this truth this morning, and pray for unbelievers you know, asking God to give them new hearts, that they might here the good news and respond like the tax collector, not the rich young man – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.