This encounter plainly states that good intentions, works, and possessions are not the keys to enter the kingdom of heaven.
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your mother and father.’ And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ And when Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.’ But when he had heard these things, he became sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God! And they who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?”
- Luke 18:18-26 (NASB)
Let us get something settled as we look at these Scriptures. First, this encounter between the Lord Jesus and the ruler is not a message of economic suppression, or the evils of wealth, or the call for justice and equality for the poor and displaced. These passages are not a call for us to get rid of everything we own so that we all have a “level playing field” or whatever brand of socialism some people tend to believe is the underlying teaching that Jesus champions. Second, get it out of your heads that it is somehow a crime or borderline act of terror and suppression to be wealthy and have nice things. We are not witnessing the foundations of an economic and socialist utopia like some people would like to proclaim in reading these words.
This encounter plainly states that good intentions, works, and possessions are not the keys to enter the kingdom of heaven and that those who use them to impress God have taken their eyes off the very God who has allowed them to prosper in the first place, in that the money and items they own were obtained by honest, fair, and mutually beneficial work. We have seen in the Scriptures that any wealth obtained by dishonest or underhanded means is always condemned by God, and so are the attitudes of those who use their wealth as a symbol of status and pride in themselves. The book of the prophet Amos clearly illustrates this point.
When we closely examine what takes place between this ruler and the Lord Jesus, we are witnessing a dialogue that first shows the need to come to Jesus for all questions and concerns about what takes place after we die and the life beyond. This ruler on the surface looked like an honest inquirer and did come to the right Person to ask the question.
He had probably gone to a Pharisee or local rabbi first, since he was a “son of the Law” and been reared in the teachings and decrees set by Moses so long ago during the time of the Exodus and the establishment of what would be the people and nation of Israel. There seems to be no sign of doubt or skepticism on the ruler’s part to question or challenge what he had been taught from his youth as he tells Jesus in their exchange. What the young man had probably heard was a series of interpretations and traditions that surrounded the authentic Scriptures and had over time hidden them from the eyes and hearts of the people. He had probably received a series of interesting observations from a succession of rabbinical minds, but like anything we try to place on the Word of God and unintentionally try to improve it, none of what the ruler had heard so far made a real difference as to how his life was progressing.
He hears of Jesus and the authoritative manner in which He presents not the ideas of people with their flaws and sins, but the true and pure Word of God as it was meant to be heard and lived by Hs chosen. This intrigued him, and so he goes to find the LORD to present his concern, or so it seemed on the surface. I honestly do not believe that there was any hint of deliberate deception on this ruler’s part, but even if he did intend to approach the LORD with what he thought was a good start to the eternal journey, the LORD opened his eyes to the underlying truth of why his desire to obtain “eternal life” was not based on true spiritual hunger, but a “pat on the back” from the LORD on what he thought was authentic progression to heaven.
The ruler first addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher”, and the LORD responds with a question that should stop us in our tracks as to Whom we are encountering. The issue is on how we would define the term “good”. We are fallible, sinful beings of which the Scriptures so plainly declare (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 1:18, 29, 2:8; 2 Peter 2:15; 2 Thess. 2:12; 1 Cor. 6:9). Just how are we to define this term if we do not have a set standard apart from what we think it should mean? There is absolutely no way it can mean whatever we want the word to mean. That not only makes no rational sense, but is in of itself an act of rebellion against God, who has plainly decreed it in the Scriptures which we do not want to read or obey (Exodus 34:6; Ps. 31:19, 52:1, 65:4, Ps. 145:9) and deep down we know it.
If God, then, is THE definition of “good”, and this ruler addresses Jesus as such, then what he has just declared is that Jesus is God. Nowhere in Scripture do we read of any teaching or act of compassion by the Lord Jesus stating otherwise. We have got a lot of nerve to declare, then, that He probably sinned like everyone else, as a whole lot of so-called “evangelicals” tend to think today. I shudder for them (Matt. 7:21-23). The lesson we should learn here is that when we are talking to anyone about Jesus, we do so in the firm conviction that He is the sinless Son of the Living God (Matt.16:16). If you say or think anything contrary to this fact and truth, I would strongly advise you to think and ponder where you stand before Him, repent, and trust Him to save your life here and now (2 Cor. 6:2).
Jesus uses the Law, without any rabbinical or other additions or interpretations, as a tool to point out that, despite the ruler’s insistence that he has kept them “from his youth”, the Law in and of itself is to show us that the expectations God demands of use are impossible to obtain in our own power and efforts. The Law (the ten Commandments) is the “schoolmaster” used by God and His prophets to stop us in our tracks and make us realize and admit that we are not “good people”, but lost sinners headed to hell unless we have a means of redemption and salvation outside of our futile attempts to obtain it. Outside of God’s mercy and compassion, we are eternally doomed due to our rebellion and wickedness, which is all too obvious as we see the moral rot in the world which is getting more depraved and evil with each passing day (Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18; 2 Thess. 2; 2 Timothy 3:1-7).
Jesus continues to use the Law to flush out the sad fact that this ruler did not keep the Law as he had boldly declared. This ruler has done what we all do when faced with the fact that we have tried to flatter God with our works and words as a means of obtaining favor or approval for our efforts. If we think that anything we do or say in our own power to get in God’s good graces apart from the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, we are only fooling ourselves and are saying to God that His act of grace is not necessary, which defies what Scripture plainly proclaims (Ephesians 2:8-9). This boy loved his money and was his real object of devotion, not God. Jesus made him see that he was nowhere ready nor really willing to abide by what the LORD had proclaimed. The riches he possessed had too much of a hold on him, and he was not ready to give any of that up. This tragedy has been all too often the decision of many people who give the LORD “lip service” and say that they are His followers until their possessions are lost and they are left bare through a variety of circumstances, then they end up showing their real nature by abandoning the “faith” they never had in the first place (1 John 2:15-19).
When Jesus made His declaration about the wealthy having difficulty entering the kingdom of heaven, it shows that it is all too easy to take one’s eyes off of God as our Provider and the real source of our needs. God is all-knowing, and He keeps a lot of us away from the trappings of earthly treasure for this reason. It takes maturity, self-discipline, character, wisdom, and focus on God to not only obtain wealth, but to use it in a manner that honors Him. God is not going to bless you with wealth if all you do is run up your credit cards, fail to keep a budget, and are in debt because you think you need a bunch of stuff. The question is, just who is your God? Is it the Sovereign God of Scripture, or the pile of cards in your wallet that you will be paying on for years? Remember, we can take nothing with us when we die. Will you this day give yourself and all you have to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Your real treasure awaits you on the other side. Do not let it go unclaimed.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.