The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:15-30)

In today’s sermon, a ruler asked Jesus a very important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus’ answer reveals the foolishness of seeking to earn salvation and the wisdom of receiving it by grace through faith.  In other words, in regards to eternal life, we:

Cannot Inherit as a Ruler

The Rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do?” (18. Emphasis added.)  The ruler wanted to earn eternal life and wanted to see what good things he must do in order to get it.  In Jesus’ answer we learn that we cannot inherit salvation because we are not good enough and not loving enough.

Not Good Enough.  The ruler said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus replied: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Some incorrectly interpret Jesus’ reply as a denial of His deity, but this is inconsistent with Jesus’ own words (John 20:28-29) and the rest of the Bible.  The correct understanding of this reply is that Jesus is correcting this ruler’s faulty view of “goodness”.  Jesus does this by stating that God alone is good and then tested the ruler via the 10 Commandments: “You know the commandments”.  The ruler, believing he has passed the test, replied: “All these I have kept from my youth”.  Jesus, however, knew better.  He said to the ruler, “One thing you still lack, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”  How tragic that this ruler’s god was his money and that he would rather have treasure on earth than treasure in heaven.

Not Loving Enough. The rich young ruler also did not love enough.  Consider the implications for his encounter with Jesus: 1) the ruler would not sacrifice his money in order to follow Jesus and therefore loved his money more than Jesus, 2) the ruler did not love others more than himself and thus would not distribute his money to the poor because he loved his money more than the poor.  The ruler did not inherit eternal life because he loved himself and his money more than anyone and anything else, including God.

Must Inherit as a Child

Consider the difference between the encounter the ruler had with Jesus (18-23) and the encounter the children had with Jesus (15-16).  Jesus said of the children who came to Him, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Childlike Humility. Jesus used children as an illustration for humility.  The children did not come to Jesus and demand what good works must be done in order to inherit eternal life, they came to Jesus because He loved them and they loved Him.  They knew that they did not have anything important to bring Jesus other than themselves and they entrusted themselves to Him.  The humility of the children spurs Jesus to use them as an example of the type of humility that is required to inherit eternal life.

Childlike Faith. The children were brought to Jesus so that He would bless them.  Jesus said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Childlike faith is a faith that understands that salvation is “by grace through faith and not of works” (Eph 2:8-9).  Inheriting as a child signifies that you are an heir who receives the right to inherit on the basis of a relationship rather than by works.  This is consistent with the rest of the teaching of the Bible.

Who Can Be Saved?

Imagine being near Jesus at this time. You had just seen Jesus’ disciples try to prevent children from coming to Him and being rebuked.  You had just seen a rich young ruler wanting to join Jesus and then seeing him walk away saddened.  We read that “Those who heard it said: ‘Then who can be saved?’”  Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Impossible with Man. Like the rich young ruler, we naturally try to be good enough to earn salvation.  We keep commandments and we try to do our best to be good people, but the Bible is clear that no one is good enough (Rom 3:10) and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).  If you try to come to Jesus as a ruler who deserves to inherit eternal life, then you will walk away sad because it is impossible.

Possible with God.  Men and women can try to be good enough but it is impossible because only God can make a sinner a saint, and turn a person who is spiritually dead into a person with spiritual life.  Only God can break our selfishness, self-obsession, and self-centeredness.  By God’s grace it is possible to leave everything, follow Jesus, and inherit eternal life.

In Closing…

Who do you most identify with: the children or the ruler?  If you feel like you are good enough to deserve salvation, then you will be sorely disappointed.  But, if you humbly acknowledge your sinfulness and need for God’s mercy, you will inherit salvation.