In the video clip below, John MacArthur uses the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler to emphasize his lordship salvation gospel. However, if we are to use this passage as instructions for getting saved, we would have to conclude that law keeping is a requirement for salvation, a clear contradiction to Romans 3:20. Jesus was not prescribing a means for earning salvation, he was simply revealing the hidden contents of the rich young ruler’s heart. The rich young ruler was not as “good” as he thought himself to be. Jesus was demonstrating to the rich young ruler that he wasn’t really trusting in God at all. He was trusting in his own righteousness, his own wealth and, ultimately, own ability to earn eternal life (See Romans 10:3). Jesus was only trying to get the young ruler to see his need for a Savior.
Even the disciples were perplexed by this encounter. In Jesus day, if a law keeping Jew had accumulated great wealth, it was often assumed that he had the favor of God upon his life. It is quite likely that many of his fellow Jews, including Jesus’ disciples, looked up to his example. But Jesus saw through his self-righteous, religious façade, saying, “How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were blown away by this. After all, this was, by all appearances, a good man! But Jesus said something at the very beginning of his conversation with the rich young ruler that seemed to fly right over everyone’s heads. The rich young ruler’s initial question was, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.”
In saying this, Jesus was really asking the young man, “Are you calling me good? Because only God is good. Are you recognizing that I am God? And, if you recognize that I alone am good, why do you presume there is any ‘good thing’ you could do to merit eternal life?” There was the answer to the young ruler’s question. NOTHING! You can’t DO anything to merit eternal life.
I love the way the King James Bible describes the disciples reaction to this encounter:
“They were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?”Mark 10:26
Because that was the elephant in the room. If this man can’t get in, who can? You could probably feel the tension in the air. Everyone was suddenly faced with the personal implications of what Jesus was saying. No longer could any of them feel secure, resting on they’re religious laurels. In one divine conversation, their self righteous chairs were pulled out from under them. Only one thing remained. That lingering question in the back of their minds…
Who then can be saved.
Then Jesus quieted their fears with one gloriously grace filled response:
With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
If our salvation was left to us alone, we would be doomed to despair without a hope in the world. Salvation, apart from God, is an utter impossibility. But God, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), made the impossible possible through His Son Jesus Christ.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done , but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 5:3-7
God took those, who were by nature “not good”, and made them “good” through faith in the work of His Son, not our work, but His alone. Salvation is an act both of mercy (not getting the bad we deserve) and grace (freely receiving the good we don’t deserve). In one amazing act of mercy and grace, God removed the obstacle preventing peace between Him and man. God took our sin upon himself. He paid the price we could not pay. Salvation, then, is not dependent upon what we have done, or promise to one day do for God. It’s entirely about trusting, relying upon, that which God has already done for us.
There are many applications one can draw from the story rich young ruler but, if you think this story is about keeping the law and selling one’s possessions in order to inherit eternal life, you missed the entire point. You will never be able to be good enough or give up enough to earn eternal life. In order to receive God’s goodness, you need to be made aware of your inherent badness.
The rich young ruler needed a wake up call. He needed to come face to face with His unrighteousness. Only then would he be able to receive God’s perfect righteousness through faith. We don’t know how his story ended. All we know is that he walked away very sad. He hadn’t learned the lesson yet. He was still so focused on his possessions that he couldn’t see the Savior standing before him. For all we know, he could have later seen Jesus on the cross and put it all together and believed. Or maybe he continued to walk in spiritual blindness, trusting in his own religious performance to gain him access into the Kingdom.
Either way, the question facing him back then and the one you must ask yourself today is, “In whom are you trusting?” Are you trusting in yourself or are you trusting in God? If you are trusting in your own abilities, you will fall mightily short of what is required to receive eternal life. Only those who place their faith in Jesus will receive everlasting life.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.Ephesians 2:4-9