Grab your Bible and let’s go deeper into Matthew 19.
Matthew 19:16-17 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”
Jesus, knowing the man's heart and hang-ups, is already trying to correct the man’s over-belief that man can be, and is, good. In other words, He is wanting the man to rethink his idea of what is good since there is no one who is ultimately good or righteous other than God. As Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
This brings us to the root of our problem—our sin! Our sin fully and rightly separates us from a holy God.
Matthew 19:17b-20 “… If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”
Jesus directs him to consider the Ten Commandments. The man is excited because this is an area in which he feels he has done well. Jesus, being the all-knowing God, knows that this man feels he has earned eternal life because he has kept the laws well and is simply asking his teacher, “Did I get a passing grade on my test?”
Now, this is Religion 101. If there were a banner or a phrase that described what religion is, it would say, “I obey therefore I am accepted.” This is the mantra of a religion, “I do these things and because I do these things, God will accept me, God will forgive me, God will be nice to me, and God will bless me.”
In our sin, man has pridefully and self-righteously tried to live their lives with the goal of achieving a certain identity, life of significance, level of security, purpose, and joy. When we try to achieve these things on our own, it is called “self-salvation”.
Life becomes about our achievement. We think, “I have to be more, do more, and I have to prove myself.”
Our sin tells us that we must achieve, on some level, in order to find a sense of identity, significance, purpose, joy, job, friends, love, family, family being proud of us, house, car, bank account, recognition/awards. It becomes, “Can I achieve to the point of ‘self-salvation’?”
Hear this clearly: As long as you live in achieve mode you will live as a slave!
But there is good news. Instead of slaving away at trying to achieve, you can receive! Receive what? You can receive the gospel, which brings us to a different way of salvation.
You need to turn Godward and receive the life of Christ who stands in your place to achieve all that is needed to be restored to the living God and who ultimately is your identity, personal significance, sense of security, and purpose for living. You need to find in Him your happiness and joy.
You need to understand that Jesus came and achieved what you and I could not. He took upon himself our deserved wrath and died in our place so that we no longer have to achieve but could be free to receive his life in our place. In Christ we receive an identity with God that we could never earn nor can we ever lose!
In achieve mode you can constantly search for “self-salvation” but you will never find it. All the achieve mode will equal is eternal death. All your trophies, recognition, bank accounts, and toys will be swallowed up and lost forever.
In receive mode you can have Christ's salvation and truly receive from Him all that you truly long for.
Let me be really clear. Receiving Jesus is not attending church long enough so that you are okay, obeying the laws of God well enough to get your life straight, or rectifying the wrongs from your past. All of that would just be more achieving, by which you would claim some of the worship and glory—that’s religion.
The gospel is altogether different because Christ achieved what we could not. He makes us a forever-part of the Church. He empowers us to straighten our lives to honor him. He rectified the wrongs of our past on the cross.
Now, there is another way our sin causes us to deny the gracious gift of the gospel. Back to our text in verse 21.
Matthew 19:21-22 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.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Riches in this world are not necessarily the blessing many attribute them to be. Instead, they often quickly become a curse. Why? Because anything that the heart makes ultimate is a betrayal to the one who is ultimate, and it is a disease that leaves the heart unsatisfied in a way that only God can satisfy.
The building blocks we use to erect our temporary kingdoms on earth are the very weights that keep our hearts from embracing the eternal kingdom of God.
The rich young man thinks he has kept the commandments, but the commandments he has kept are only regarding other people. What he is omitting are the commandments regarding God directly. Like the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3
This commandment basically says, “Do not make anything more necessary or fundamental or valuable than me.” In our sin, we do this all the time. We lift up idols in our hearts and make them more necessary or fundamental or valuable than God. One way we like to define an idol is: something within creation that is inflated to function as God.
Richard Keyes says, “All sorts of things are potential idols, An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero - anything that can try to substitute for God.”
Another way to define idolatry is: taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.
Idolatry happens when you and I try to find our identity, personal significance, sense of security, purpose for living, happiness and joy in things, people, or statuses instead of in God.
The rich young man’s two big problems were:
He thought he could earn his way through obeying the laws in religious self-salvation.
As Jesus helps him see, his greatest affection, his idol, was his money. He loved his money more than God. And he walked away from Christ that day because if having God meant giving up his greatest love for his money, he chose his money.
Do you see how enslaved to his idol he was? We have to see we are just as enslaved to our idols.
The truth is you become a slave to your idols, and they begin to control you. They become functional, counterfeit gods in your life. They become your master. Herein lies the irony for all those who intentionally say no to God because they don’t want to be controlled by God. What they don’t realize is they are inevitably controlled by the idol of their heart.
Now, every one of us thinks we can control it in the beginning, but it gains power and priority over us and, in the end, controls us—so much so that we become a slave to our idol.
It looks like Jesus is giving this guy a way to save himself—a work to complete. But this is not so. He is revealing his idol. He is showing him the reality found in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus is using the man's love for money to reveal where his heart is, where his treasure really is, and who his god really is! In the end, the man did what so many of us do. We want God’s kingdom for eternal security, and not because we want God. The rich young man kept his possessions and his status in this world, but in doing so, he never knew true life—life with God. Instead of his riches being just the beginning, they were his end.
Matthew 19:23-24 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
There are so many reasons why this is true. Rich people have a lot of ways to distract themselves from the beauty of God’s grace. When the wealthy feel lonely or when they feel afraid, they can easily go on a vacation or buy a new trinket. And trinkets have an amazing amount of power, don’t they? A new car, a new phone, a new television; they just make things better for a bit. Here is what many of us must realize. We are incredibly wealthy by the world’s standards and the opportunity to do this is very much at our doorstep all the time.
Now watch this. I believe it is God’s mercy on us when he takes away our idols or when He turns our life upside down. It is in those moments we are freed up to finally embrace Him and to see through the cloud of lies that have told us for too long that all we need is our idol. No! All we need is Jesus. Anything else you say that you need is a lie, a distraction, and an idol that owns you.
My prayer is that we are truly, and only, satisfied in Christ and that nothing else will do. He is enough; He is more than enough.
May Christ be our prize and our identity in all we do.