“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to 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.’” Matthew 9:16ff

People are ingenious when it comes to finding ways to avoid commitment in most areas of their life. By the same token, unequivocal commitment is the surest way of finding meaning in life. Saving faith is nothing if it is not the ultimate commitment of life to God. From an unsaved point of view it is an impossible commitment. Any believer who is deliberate in his witness and desires to see others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will encounter multiple excuses arising from unbelief. Our text shows that even our Lord heard excuses from men.

Here is a young man who was smugly satisfied in his self-righteousness. In his learned ignorance the man addressed our Lord as “good teacher.” He was playing the comparison game and our Lord picks right up on it. This explains the response of our Lord in asking,” Why do you call me good?” The man was approaching the Savior as an equal in law-keeping and morality. The swift put down from Jesus is evident in the next phrase, “No one is good but One, that is, God.” Jesus was not denying that He, Himself, is God, but rather pointing out the obvious issue in the heart of the young man, that even perfect, human self-righteousness is vile in the presence of the Holy One and is insufficient to procure eternal life.

The young man’s main question showed his shallow commitment to anyone but himself. He asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He was looking for a task, a product, a deed, a feat that he must do—to check off his list so that he may be assured he has finally acquired the gift of living forever. His question belies a desire to achieve his goal with a minimum of personal investment but a maximum of return. The very nature of biblical eternal life is that it is a life which spiritually breathes and thirsts after righteousness, from the point of conversion right on into eternity.

Ray Comfort has said, “law to the proud but grace to the humble.” Our Lord responds to the young man, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He was leading the young man to consider biblical thinking. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 were often quoted around our Lord, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These two verses were well known to be the simplest way to summarize the whole law. The young man must have recognized his spiritual deficits because he began to split hairs, as is so often the case with anyone seeking an excuse not to trust Christ alone for salvation. The young man asked Christ, “Which ones?”

Our Lord provides a list that includes only the commandments that cost him in time and treasure. It is one thing to seclude yourself away in a closet, to compare yourself to others with no one to bring a counterpoint, and to rationalize your way into being a real lover of God—even a paragon of spiritual virtues. It is a totally different ball game when you have to be living out your faith among fallen men and your sinful nature is on full display.

Even so, this young man thought he was still doing pretty well, saying, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” It is interesting to me that his conscience must have been still pressing him that there was something amiss, or he would not have asked what he still lacked. There was! Something practical, something that required full, personal commitment, something that implied permanence of faith, trust, belief, and full commitment.

Then, our Lord says something astonishing, “If you want to be perfect…” That was not what the young man asked on the surface, but it was what he was asking in reality. To have eternal life requires perfection, but not the kind of perfection any man can produce either in the short run or on the long haul. Our Lord had used this phrase before, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:48. He set an unattainable standard, exactly what the law required but only grace can provide. Only through thorough commitment by faith in the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God can righteousness before the law of God be procured by the judicial act of God. Any lesser definition of perfection before God would compromise His holiness. By this answer of our Lord, the man learned that there was a price he was unwilling to pay.

Our Lord challenged him to put himself on the line, “Go, sell what you have [your belongings] and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The man went away grieving and sorrowful, and lost, because he had many possessions. Eternal life with God is the pearl of great price. Jesus gave His all that we might gain all. Only empty hands are worthy to receive such a gift. Trust and obey.