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A Choice That Forfeits Heaven

(Matthew 19:16-30)

Lesson 9 -- first quarter 2010
January 31, 2010

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2010

Introductory questions to chew

Do I value anything above perfection and above entering into eternal life?

Have I deluded myself into thinking I love my neighbor as myself?

Do I think Jesus required too much of the young man?

Am I glad Jesus doesn't say the same thing to me?

Or does He?

Since it impedes entering into the kingdom of heaven, why get more stuff?

Do I doubt my reward for having forsaken all to follow Jesus?

What's the solution to unbelief in all this?

Can we be too obedient?

Many have the mentality that obedience has certain limits. After all, this life view goes, once a person has obeyed "a whole bunch" without fussing, surely he is entitled to not obey a bit here or there. This way of living uses a balance -- once enough obedience accumulates on the one side, a little disobedience is tolerable on the other. You know, just a little, just so the scales doesn't tip too much on that side. How easy it is to look for all kinds of loopholes and excuses and justifications for passing over God's will!

The rich young ruler had such a terrific track record. And yet he must have sensed something was lacking, or else he simply wanted the Lord's confirmation that he lacked nothing. In any event, after hearing Jesus' answer it appears he concluded he had already obeyed enough and he wasn't going to overdo it. Presumably he wasn't in the audience when Jesus declared, "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10).

How much of this is for us?

For those of us with a materially-comfortable life, this encounter of the young man with Jesus can make us defensive or ill-at-ease. Jesus' statement of love can leave us grasping for explanations: "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21). We ask ourselves if these instructions apply to all those who would, as the young man, inherit eternal life.

I do not believe Jesus intended this verse to be a blanket admission requirement for all those who would enter into the kingdom of heaven. It seems to me that such a radical lifestyle would require more teaching and explanation in the Scriptures if it were intended for every Christian. Furthermore, if all disciple-candidates should sell whatever they have and give to the poor, why do we have evidence of Jesus' own disciples doing otherwise? Then there is the matter of various Bible passages that assume God's people having possessions (Acts 2:44,45; 4:34,35; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; 1 John 3:17).

Does this then mean that the last portion of Mark 10:21 isn't for all Christians either? No, it doesn't mean that at all. You see, the New Testament repeatedly drives home the truth that discipleship means dying to ourselves and following Jesus.

Where do you draw the line?

The young man wanted eternal life. In his effort to secure it, he had developed a life track record of living in obedience to the Law. It seems clear he had a sterling character and a great reputation. But he lacked something, and he knew it. It probably didn't make sense to him, given all he had done. So he went to Jesus, knowing the Master would give him a clear, authoritative answer.

He wasn't mistaken. Jesus told him plainly what one thing he lacked. Jesus told him to live for Him and nothing else. That meant even greater self-sacrifice than he had already experienced. It also meant greater material sacrifice than he had previously rendered. And all that meant too much, even for him, who had done so well up to that point. He had been willing to do a lot for God and for others, but "this one thing" that Jesus talked about . . . well, that was just too much. That's where he drew the line. So, sad at the saying, he "went away grieved: for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:22).

Where do you draw the line?

At what point do you decide that eternal life just isn't worth further obedience?

Perhaps you prefer not to think in such stark, black-and-white, take-it-or-leave-it terms. I don't blame you. Such a line of thinking makes me uncomfortable as well. But let me remind us both of this: Personal comfort will never make it easy for us to enter into the kingdom of God. So let's face the reality that a choice for disobedience means undervaluing eternal life.

Some folks will risk missing eternal life because they value something else too highly: possessions, status, pleasure, relationships, plans. Other folks will chance limited disobedience on the assumption that all their other obedience will stand them in good stead at that final day. Whatever it may be, these people face up to a demand of discipleship and despite their faithfulness to that point, draw the line right there. They refuse that certain step of obedience, saying, "This is the limit. This I will not do. I do not intend to be a rebel, but everyone has a stopping place. This is mine. God and others see all the other things in which I'm faithful. God will understand." They are so foolishly mistaken! But what about you . . . and me? Where do we draw the line? And why is that any better than where others (such as the rich young ruler) have drawn their line?

This concludes my comments based on the alternate lesson developed by Christian Light Publications. To read my comments on the passage for the International Bible Study, click here: Overcoming Rejection.

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