Why do you call me good?

Luke 18:18-30 SCC 12/18/11


There are lessons that this passage stresses:

1. God’s unique goodness to those who respond to him. There is reward that comes with obedience.

2. To give up all for the kingdom is to receive much in this life and the life to come.

3. Commitment to Jesus is serious. Putting God first is what brings reward. But doing so is sacrificial.

4. Faith is required to follow Christ and eternal life is the result of such faith.



A Question about eternal life 18

            This ruler addresses Jesus as a ‘good teacher’. This is similar to a being a good person. This is nearly the same exact question the lawyer asked in 10:25. The question is ‘how can I be sure of salvation in the final resurrection?’ Jesus’ discussion with the “Rich Young Ruler” is one of the most fascinating and difficult in the Bible. The rich ruler is asking about eternal life.


A reply about commandments 19-20

            19 Jesus rejects the ruler’s assessment because of motive since it appears to be flattery. God alone is good describes God’s unique holiness and character. Jesus is asserting God’s absolute goodness—the sum of all of his perfections. Good is relative except when applied to God. He defines goodness and before God no one is inherently good. The point of the exchange is to get the ruler focused on his original question---attaining eternal life.


            20 Jesus focus on righteousness is really the issue since salvation is the reason for the question. Jesus assumes the ruler knows the commandments and then he cites 5 of them all related to people and not God. Jesus gave him five commandments most of us would also say we have kept (as long as you don’t define adultery as looking to lust and murder as being angry). People will treat others well when they are rightly assessing themselves before God. It is the wealthy that are often warned of the danger of being self-focused (Luke 12:13-21) and citing these commandments reinforces the ruler’s need to keep on outward focus. Otherwise there will be no need for God and thus no salvation.


A confident assessment 21

            He is sure he has kept this standard. In fact so confident is he that he adds it has been so since his youth or coming of age. “If that is all that is required, well then, I must be in good shape.” God’s work of salvation in the heart must include helping one get lost. Until one knows he is lost he cannot be found. Pride and security and status and moral goodness hinder one’s ability to perceive one’s lostness.


A call from Jesus 22

            First, Jesus says the ruler still lacks one thing. It is huge by the way. Second, what he lacks consists of two commands. He must sell all that he has and distribute the proceeds to the poor. So the ruler is to divest himself of all of his wealth and benefit the poor—a move which would certainly begin to fulfill the five commandments in earnest. This would be clear evidence that he shares Gods concerns.


            Jesus then offers the promise of treasures in heaven including eternal life and the benefits in an eternal kingdom associated with such a life. Jesus offers this hope—which is the hope he was asking about in the first place—by telling the ruler it is possible should he enter into discipleship with Jesus. That is, to come and sit under Jesus’ teaching and live in the way of the kingdom—the way Jesus will reveal. So, say we are in the position of this man. Jesus said, sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. We like to suggest that this was because this man’s money was his god. Possibly, but the apostles actually did this. Apparently, they left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus is offering this man an opportunity to join the apostles. Could you do this? I couldn’t. But the apostles did, and Jesus made a side comment to them that they will be rewarded for it.


A sad moment 23

            There is no confident reply here. With tragic brevity, when he heard these things from Jesus he became very sad. The commands to sell and distribute and follow Christ had no appeal for this guy. He was ‘very grieved’ at this news. The reason the ruler was grieved—he was extremely rich! He chose his earthly security, rejected Jesus offer, and tragically walked away. Salvation is impossible for anyone relying upon wealth or works. Unfortunately many are lost and remain so because they do.



Salvation is impossible for the self-reliant 24-25

            24 Why is it impossible? Because wealth and greed makes one self-focused and unable to humbly trust God. Wealth is not a sign of God’s blessing. Then Jesus gave the general principle: 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. This is sobering because most of us are richer than this rich ruler. If we live in westernized countries and in the 21st century, we have more medical, technological, and material wealth available to us than Nebuchadnezzar, the Pharaohs, or the Caesars of Rome. And this is not about a camel going through a small door in a large gate in Jerusalem. That story came from the Middle Ages and has no historical basis. Also, that story changes Jesus’ point from impossibility to possibility.


            25 Wealth can shrink the door of the kingdom to an impassable peephole is the idea. The self-focused security of the wealthy is a padlock against kingdom entry. The point of the language is to shock all listening who would assume that the wealthy are ones who have God’s favor.


God makes salvation possible 26-27

            26 The disciples apparently had this perspective since they concluded Then who can be saved? Since wealth is seen as a blessing from God then if these are excluded who else can get in? Is there any hope for anyone?


            27 The human situation is not a hopeless one—a least it is not because of God’s power. Salvation is in the hands of a powerful God able to effect change even in the darkest of hearts. Even in the most self-reliant hearts. God can change one’s entire orientation to life. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16-17). He can break the spell that wealth and self reliance and self focus and pride holds on some people. Jesus’ point is, if you are trying to get to God by your righteousness, it’s not going to happen, just like the Pharisee in the parable of verses 9-14. Our hope is not in achieving some standard but in the prayer, God, be merciful to me, the sinner! Referring to His upcoming death and resurrection, which paid for our sins, Jesus told the disciples: The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.


Leaving brings blessing 28-30

            28 Peter speaks up and says the disciples have already made the choice the rich ruler refused to make. Humbly they had put Jesus first.


            29-30 Jesus assures Peter and the others that God is aware of their sacrifice and they will be rewarded for it Jesus in heaven including eternal life and the benefits in an eternal kingdom associated with such a life. The sacrifice is comprehensive including family relationships—sacrificing normal family closeness, financial security, and pursuing the interests of God’s kingdom first. Decisions made will seem as if all other relationships are insignificant compared to allegiance to Christ and kingdom priorities and perspective. God’s reward will counterbalance the sacrifice.


NB: Putting God first in all of life is what promises God’s blessing upon your life.