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22nd July 2001

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Scripture Reference

Matthew 19:16-24

One of the hardest lessons in life lies in learning to get your priorities right. Some people just drift through life while others bounce from one objective to another like a ball in a pinball machine. Other get pushed round by people like Cornelia who declare them to be the weakest link. Others take charge of their direction but get lost without a guide to show them where to go. Others go, but put their efforts into wrong pursuits becoming a social menance. To get priorities right is difficult.

Teenagers are subject to many pressures from peers, media, parents, their own desires and life can be very confusing. Many husbands are under business, family and domestic pressures and respond by getting their priorities wrong so that work becomes their retreat and everything else suffers. Many young working mothers have difficulties balancing the competing interests of being a successful career person, a mother of a demanding family, and a wife who is appreciated. Older people with the wisdom of the years still get priorities wrong, and the phrase "silly old fool" is used far too often. 

Jesus once tried to help a young man get his priorities right. A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking: "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" He had the right qualifications. If ever a preacher wanted an ideal young disciple this man was it. He was able, intelligent, devout, good living, and to top it all off, he was described as rich, young and a ruler - a leader of noble birth elected to be a senior person in the Synagogue. Why have disciples who were fishermen and farmers, when you could have someone like this?

He had the right motive. He wanted to do whatever was required to have eternal life. What a wonderful motivation! He was not full of guilt bearing a load of past sins needing forgiveness. He was not in turmoil of mind wanting peace within. He did not want to get with the strength and find the power to enable him to cope with the temptations of drugs, sex or the world. He simply wanted to do what is required to get eternal life.

He also asked the right question. He did not ask Jesus to heal him, or work a miracle, or provide him with help or money or food. He simply wanted to get eternal life. He also came to the right source. Today others, especially the young, look in wrong directions: to Eastern religions, to the new Age Movement or to some Big Brother winner. Those who are rich often turn within their own circles not willing to speak with a carpenter and a bunch of labourers, farmers and fishermen. But this young man realised Jesus had the right answer. He seemed to have it all. Yet Jesus gave him a commandment He gave to no other. He made it hard for the young man to follow Him. Jesus saw a young man who was proud of his achievements and accomplishments. Jesus heard him reply that he had kept all the commandments since his youth. He was proud of that. There was nothing said about any conviction of sin or need for confession. It was unlikely this young man would be obedient to the way of Jesus or submissive to the will of Jesus. He could be a trophy of the Way, but never a disciple. So Jesus gave him a simple test: 21 "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 

The young man paused, reflected, and 22 "when the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." It is a pathetic picture, not of a man who had riches, but of riches that had a man. His priorities were wrong. Mark says that 21 "Jesus looked at him and loved him." But the young man went the other way.

That young man thought his good behaviour would save him. Jesus did not accept his flattery saying, "Thank you very much for acknowledging my goodness." Rather, He gives a somewhat startling reply, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." Jesus rebukes the young man's casual use of the word "good" and challenges the young man's assumptions about goodness. He says to the youth, "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.'" The young man replied, "All these have I observed from my youth." Within the breast of the rich young ruler beats the heart of a thorough-going humanist. His unspoken thought was obviously, "Oh, is that all I have to do? Well, I'm in pretty good shape to inherit eternal life. I'm not bad like other people." But obeying the commandments will not save you. Jesus was checking his priorities.

Most Australians think their goodness will save them. If they do not murder, steal, commit adultery, they think they are good! Jesus' did not argue with the man. Instead Jesus said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and come, follow me." Why did Christ change the whole conversation from goodness to giving money to the poor? 

Because Jesus started with the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," He put the young man to the test. He did not pass that test for "when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich." v23 The issue was about his priorities, what came first. With him it was money not God. Many people believe they have lived a life that will be good enough to get them to heaven. Since they have been fairly decent, they assume God will accept them gratefully! So at funerals a list of their good points is read out. But the Bible states that none of us, no matter how good, can stand before God. Rom 3:10,23 "There is no one righteous, not even one; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." 

There are many moral and upright people who contribute to the common good. But the Bible says that no matter how good someone is, no one is good enough to meet God's standard. For we are not measured by our standards, but God's. We need God's help to become part of God's family. God has provided that help in Jesus. Salvation is not a matter of more effort to be good. Many people wanting to get right with God try to live the good life. They give to charity. They do good deeds to help others. They show concern for others and compassion for the poor. They do not lie, steal or cheat. They throw their hands up in frustration: "All these I have kept, what do I still lack?" But they have the whole thing the wrong way up. You see how they go astray in their first question: "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?" That's the point! We think we get right with God by the good things we do. No amount of good deeds gets you right with God. Thinking like that indicates you have your priorities wrong. You, not God, come first in your life. 

As the Apostle Paul put it: Eph 2:8-9 "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." The good deeds you do, result in your boasting, in pride in your accomplishment. Eternal life comes when you acknowledge your utter need, your unworthiness and dependence upon God. You gain eternal life not by your success, but by your acceptance of Jesus as your Saviour by your faith in Him. 

The struggle to be good is the ideology of humanism. People strive to be good. Humanism is the current religion of most Australians. The conflict between Christianity and humanism is a conflict of ultimate standards. Christianity asserts that a normal person is a fallen sinful person. The standard of goodness is found only in the holiness of God, not in human relativity. We are saved by God; we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts: Titus 3:5 "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Salvation is always dependent on the grace of God, through Jesus Christ whose incarnation and atoning death took place in order that He might save sinners. 1 Tim. 1:15 "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 

The disciples asked Jesus: John 6:28-29 "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent." We must believe in Christ as God's provision for us. 

Believing in Jesus is our top priority. For Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. We must accept His sacrifice by faith. A religion of good deeds is not enough. It takes belief and God's grace to save us.

You must let go everything in which you place your trust, and trust in what Jesus has done for you. Jesus gave the rich young man a simple test: 21-22 "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." The rich young ruler valued his wealth, as most of us value those possessions we have accumulated with so much hard work and careful saving. Few of us can let our wealth go. Jesus knew that. That is why 23 "Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, 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."

It is not impossible. There have been wealthy people who have given up their riches in order to follow Christ. I know a millionaire who gave away all his wealth simply to serve Christ better. My friend is a brilliant lawyer who had an ambition to be a millionaire before he turned thirty. He did just that. Then found his money got between him and Jesus. So he and his wife gave away their bank accounts, sold their houses and motorboat, studied and went to Zaire as Churches of Christ missionaries. Later Millard and Linda Fuller established Habitat for Humanity to organise volunteers into building houses for half as million poor families who could not afford bank loans.

Jesus challenges us to give up whatever holds us. It may be money, or property, or status, or position or authority or pride in your achievements - to give it up and follow Him. Not everyone is challenged to give up wealth and possessions to follow Jesus. Jesus never asked that of anyone else. We are asked simply to put God first.

Our obedience lies in following Christ completely, not in doing any amount of good deeds. That is why becoming a Christian is difficult. 25 "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked "Who then can be saved?" Indeed who? The Bible's answer is simple: Acts 2:21 "Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." When the Apostle Paul was asked in a jail at Philippi, Acts 16:30 "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." This was the same as he was later to write: Rom: 10:9,13 "If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 

The scriptures teach that everyone can be saved, but they do not teach that everyone will be saved. The choice of whether we will believe in Jesus or not, is still ours. God does not make our salvation automatic. It requires the response of the believing heart. Christianity is not advice to be good but is good news about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is our faith, not our goodness that saves us to eternal life. Paul expressed it: "For it is by grace you have been saved." Eph.2:8 It is putting God as first priority that makes the difference.

Reason To Believe R.C. Sproul. Zondervan 1978. What Everyone Needs To Know About God. Don Stewart. Dart Press, 1992.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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