HAVING AND HAVING NOT
by Frank James
“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up thy cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”..... “And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:17-23, 26-27)
MAN CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF
This Biblical account of the rich man is still typical of people in our day and age. From man’s perspective, the rich man appeared to have performed every necessary thing to gain entrance into heaven, yet in the eyes of Jesus Christ he was sadly lacking. Man’s sinful nature is here displayed for our view, for we are prone to make the same mistakes as he did. We want to be accepted by God on the basis of our own merits. We want to be able to work our way to heaven by our own good deeds, religion, and morality. Just like this rich man we often trust in things that cannot save. As in our text, Jesus explained to His disciples that it is impossible for men to save themselves. Only God can save sinners.
HOW DO SINNERS GO TO HEAVEN?
If man cannot save himself, how then does he come to inherit eternal life? How can he be accepted before a holy God? In order to answer this important question, let us look at what this rich man had and what he didn’t have. For you too may have as much or more than this rich man had. Or, you may be a good person in your own eyes or in the eyes of others. Yet, how do you measure up in the sight of God?
WHAT THE RICH MAN HAD
First of all, we see that this rich man had a high standard of morals. He knew the ten commandments in God’s Word and had endeavored to obey them from the time that he was young. His friends and family most likely knew him as a person of high moral character. However, this did not make him accepted before God. Many people today are like this young man and hope they will go to heaven on the basis of their “good works.” They view themselves as being a good person and strive to live a moral life in this world. While it is an honorable thing to be a person of high moral character, it is folly and vain to trust in this for salvation. It is to embrace a false hope and to trust in that which cannot save. For Jesus said that it is impossible for man to save himself. The Scriptures declare: “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.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
Second, we see that this man had religion. This is observed by the fact that he knew the Scriptures and had studied them from his youth. He was aware that there is a God and a heaven and a hell. It was his stated desire when speaking to Christ that he might “inherit eternal life.” It is very likely that he regularly attended public worship and was familiar with the religious practices of the law. Yet, with all of this, he was not accepted of Christ. This is because man cannot save himself, just as Jesus told His disciples. Multitudes of people have fallen into this grievous error. They suppose that because they attend a church, or are a member of a church that this will automatically gain them entrance into heaven. Others trust in their baptism or other religious observances, but the Bible makes it very clear that no person is saved by religious works, rites, ceremonies, ordinances, or sacraments. “for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16b). Saul of Tarsus was a devout and religious man, but he was not saved until the Lord apprehended him on the road to Damascus.
Third, we can see that this man had some degree of sincerity in making his request to Jesus Christ. He was not an outright hypocrite. This is seen in the fact that he had practiced his religion and morality from his youth. It is also seen in the respectful manner in which he approached Christ. Still, with all of his sincerity he was not accepted of Christ. How often have we heard people say; “It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to or what church you join as long as you are sincere. After all, we all worship the same God and are going to the same place anyway.” Nevertheless, by our text we see that this rich man was sincerely wrong about the way of salvation. Similarly, many people today are ignorant about what the Bible teaches concerning sin and salvation. They are trusting in that which cannot save and have a false hope of inheriting eternal life.
Fourth, this man had a proper desire in wanting to inherit eternal life. There should be no greater concern to any person than matters of eternity -- the consequences of our sins and the prospect of eternal salvation. However, just like this rich man, many people want to be saved and to inherit eternal life on their own terms. They are willing to receive the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from hell, and to possess all the blessings that accompany salvation; as long as it is gained by the merits of their own supposed righteousness. Because of pride, they must have a part in securing their own salvation. This grievous error has been propagated both near and far by those who preach that salvation is merely a matter of “letting God save you, making a decision for Christ, or asking Jesus to come into your heart.” Here again, the idea is set forth that sinners can save themselves or have a part in attaining their own salvation. The Lord and His disciples never preached such a misleading message to sinners. Rather, Christ simply declared that “with men it is impossible.”
In dealing with sinners, the Lord clearly laid down conditions that He required if any would come to Him or if they had a desire to follow Him. Please read (Luke 14:26-33, Matt. 11:28-30). He did this because these conditions could only be met by those who had truly experienced a work of God’s saving grace in their hearts and lives. His conditions required genuine repentance, which is a change within the heart about sin and a turning away from it; and a living faith which worketh by love, which is knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior; and a commitment in love to follow Him at all costs, which is manifest by trusting the Lord completely.
Last, this rich man had a false god which he worshipped. While he professed to believe in the true God and serve Him, in reality it was his wealth and possessions that held the affections of his heart. This is proved by the fact that he could not sell them and follow Christ. His love for the things of this world barred him from the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, many today are held captive in their sinful condition by a love and worship for the things of this world. It may be wealth and possessions, or fame and worldly glory, or power and prestige, or the love of pleasure, or any number of things that are in the world. Yet anything that is loved or adored more than God is idolatry, and idolatry is sin. Christ told those who had a desire to come to Him to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) This implies that all who will come to Christ as their Savior, must also come to Him as their Lord; and those who would have eternal life, must love Him supremely.
WHAT THE RICH MAN DIDN’T HAVE
We have seen that this rich man had many admirable qualities; yet, he didn’t have that which he really needed to inherit eternal life. Let us now consider what this man didn’t have.
First, he didn’t have a proper knowledge of sin or of his own sinfulness before God. He did not see himself as God sees him. This is shown in the way that he approached Christ and addressed Him as “Good Master.” He did not see Jesus as the Savior of sinners or as the eternal Son of God, but only as a “good master or good teacher.” Like so many people today, he held to the idea that there are good men and bad men, or that all men are a mixture of both good and bad. Jesus rebukes this erroneous idea by His reply; “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” The Lord is teaching that all of humanity is corrupted by sin and that there are none that are good in God’s sight, no matter how we may view ourselves or view each other. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Rom. 3:23 “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10-12) A rotten apple that has been polished and cleaned on the outside is still rotten on the inside. Similarly, all people born into this world as sinners are still sinners no matter how much they clean up the outside with “good works” or “morality.” Only God can save sinners, and He does so by starting on the inside within the heart. There, He quickens the sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins and washes away all of his sins in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives repentance and faith by which the guilty sinner is able to turn from his wicked way and self-righteousness and lay hold upon Jesus Christ.
Second, this rich man didn’t have a perfect righteousness before God, for all those who would dwell with Him for eternity must be perfect and without sin. While he assumed he had been obedient unto the law of God, Christ was showing him that he had not been perfect. That is why Christ reminded him of God’s law as contained in the ten commandments. A thorough searching of his own heart and affections would have shown that he was far from perfect in his obedience to the law. The law is a display of God’s righteousness and was never given as a means of salvation, but rather as a schoolmaster to show us our need of Christ (Gal. 2:16, 3:24). It exposes every sin, and condemns all impure thoughts and the wicked motives of men’s hearts (Matt. 5:17-30, 15:18-20). To be guilty of one of the least of the commandments is to be guilty of all (James 2:10). For this cause, God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that through His perfect obedience to the law and by His substitutionary death, He would redeem all of His people from their sins and impute to them a perfect righteousness (Rom. 5:6-11, II Cor. 5:21). God alone is able to save sinners!
Third, this man did not have a surrendered heart and life unto Christ. While he came to Christ with the pretense of wanting to learn, in reality he would not and could not follow the Lord’s instructions. Multitudes of professed Christians are in the same condition. They claim the name of “Christian” for themselves, yet they have never submitted unto the Lordship of Christ. A sincere love and a surrendered life are the requirements of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who would follow Him (Luke 14:25-33).
The message of the gospel is the same for all; whether rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile. It matters not what our position in life is. What matters is that God alone can save sinners and that salvation is impossible by our own efforts. The gospel message in the Bible clearly proclaims that all of humanity is guilty before God and under the curse of the law. All are dead in trespasses and sins, all are by nature children of wrath who love darkness rather than light, and all are without hope in the world apart from the mercy and grace of God. This same gospel message also proclaims the “good news” of God’s purpose of grace through Jesus Christ. That He came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost, and to save His people from their sins. That through the shedding of His blood at Calvary is the remission of sins. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39) “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
WITH MELTING HEART AND WEEPING EYES,
MY GUILTY SOUL FOR MERCY CRIES,
WHAT SHALL I DO, OR WHITHER FLEE,
TO ESCAPE THE VENGEANCE DUE TO ME?
DOES NOT THY SACRED WORD PROCLAIM,
SALVATION FREE IN ‘JESUS’ NAME?
TO HIM I LOOK, AND HUMBLY CRY,
“O SAVE A WRETCH CONDEMNED TO DIE!”