“Jesus said to him “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”” Matthew 19:21
There is a rich young man who comes to Jesus with a question, asking “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). This man was well off. He had good standing in society. He considered himself fairly respectable and thought he did a good job of following God’s commands. He saw eternal life as something to be gained by ticking the right boxes – if he built up enough ‘good credit’ with God through his deeds then he believed he would earn eternal life. He was not so much looking for guidance but reassurance and affirmation that what he was doing in being what society considered ‘clean living’ was enough to gain him eternal life. His real question was not “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” but rather “I am good enough to have eternal life already aren’t I?”
But Kingdom life is not earned. It is not a reward for accruing enough good deeds to satisfy God. Kingdom life is a free gift lavished upon all who put their faith in Jesus and enter through the narrow gate. So Jesus responds by taking the focus off the deeds we do and puts it onto God, the one who gives eternal life, telling the man “There is only one who is good” (Matthew 19:17).
Jesus here is making the point that though we think we are really impressing God with our ‘good’ deeds, only God is truly good and our efforts will never be enough. As Jesus reminds us, our attempts at ‘good deeds’ are but “filthy rags” to God (Isaiah 64:6 “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”). We cannot earn our way into the Kingdom. Yet in the upside down paradoxical logic of the Kingdom, receiving the gift of Kingdom life compels us to carry out righteous deeds – not to earn eternal life, but as a sign of gratitude to the only good One who in His grace and mercy lovingly gave us eternal life.
The young man thinks he has done a good job keeping all the laws. But Jesus reveals that God doesn’t just care about outward signs of obedience. He cares about the heart. He knows when we follow the law from an attitude of love to Him, and when it is merely the result of a feeling of religious duty. He cares about what we value above all. And unfortunately for the rich young man above all he valued his possessions rather than God. Jesus made it clear by issuing the man a challenge to “sell what you possess and give to the poor” so that he will then “have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). It is his response to this challenge that reveals what it is that the young man values – “he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” Matthew 19:22.
Ultimately Kingdom life comes down to what we value. Do we value our material stuff that will not last, or do we value our God who was and is and is forever? Have we seen the unrivalled worth of the Kingdom or do we value our possessions more? Jesus is not saying that as Kingdom citizens we should not have possessions. He is not saying that everyone needs to sell all they have and give it away – that was a challenge given to one individual rather than a command to us all. But Jesus is warning us not to value our possessions on earth over God. And while He may not ask us to give up all our belongings and sell them He wants us to be prepared to – we are to hold loosely to our possessions and cling tightly to our God, for as Kingdom citizens we know our earthly possessions will not last and will never satisfy, but that heavenly treasure and eternal life is of so, so much more value and will never fade.
“And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”” Luke 12:15
- What do you value most?
- Do you view eternal life as something to be earned or a gift? Why?
- What is challenging about Jesus calling us to be prepared to give up our possessions for the sake of the Kingdom?