Are you and I devoted disciples of Jesus or a spare-time supporters?
That’s the question God asked me a while back: am I a devoted disciple or a spare-time supporter? Or as Kyle Idelman put it in his book, Not a Fan: am I a fan or a follower?
Discipleship is something that, I’m convinced, many of us haven’t truly given enough though to. We may go to church, read the Bible every day, and do all the things that good Christians are supposed to do. But is that biblical discipleship?
In today’s passage, God showed me that there is a cost to discipleship that many are not truly willing to pay. Today, we’re looking at the story of the rich young man. What’s interesting is that this would-be disciple expresses views and beliefs that still exist today, some even held by Christians. Jesus’ response challenged the man and, if we’re honest, should challenge us, too.
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 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, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 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.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The Rich Young Man’s Inquiry
A rich young man came to Jesus inquiring about salvation, eternal life, and being in God’s kingdom. His question and presentation reveal some interesting things about him that are relevant to us today.
First, he believed salvation was something earned by good works.
The young man asked Jesus, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Salvation, in his mind, was earned by doing good works. God would look at his actions, and if he’d done enough good deeds and completed his religious checklist, then he would enter God’s kingdom. However, he feared that he despite all the good he’s done, it wasn’t enough.
You see, the Rabbis and Jewish preachers and teachers would often add more and more requirements on top of the already existing law. Thus, concerned he might have missed something, the young man asked Jesus what else he needed to do to ensure his salvation. He wanted to know that one good deed that would guarantee his being in God’s kingdom.
Many today hold the same religious view: good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. So, to get to heaven, do enough good works.
Second, the rich man was prideful about his own righteousness.
The ruler told Jesus that he kept all the law. In fact, his whole life was seen by many as a testimony of his being righteous. It was a common belief that righteousness and riches were connected. This man – while still young – was already prosperous, so he must have been very blessed by God! Besides, he was a man who kept the law.
Religious or spiritual pride continues to be a problem today. Many look at all the religious things they do, how long they’ve been going to church, how many Bible verses they’ve memorized, or other things and think they are spiritually all that! Some believe that righteousness and wealth are connected: to be a disciple means to be rich, and if one isn’t rich, one isn’t holy enough (i.e., the prosperity gospel).
Jesus’ responses to the rich young man revealed that salvation isn’t about doing the right things and calling it a day.
Jesus’ Response to the Rich Young Man
Jesus reminded the rich young man two things about righteousness and God’s kingdom.
First, Jesus reminded him that nobody is perfect, but all are sinners.
Jesus said to the man, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good” (v. 17). You and I are not good. The rich man, despite his wealth and legal compliance was not good. We are all sinners born into wrath and judgment. Each of us sins every day, falling short of God’s absolute, perfect glory (cf. Rom 6).
Second, Jesus told the man that salvation means following Jesus, and that comes with a cost.
Jesus showed the rich young man that to be saved, he must become a disciple of Jesus. That meant doing something he may not be willing to do: give up his life and make Jesus his Lord. Jesus told the man, “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” (v. 21).
Jesus was telling the young man that following him came with a cost. Discipleship requires dedication and humility. The rich man wanted to be a spare-time supporter of Jesus, able to coast along doing what he had to do without taking on any risk. However, Jesus told him it doesn’t work that way: you can’t love God and love worldly things. God must come first.
The rich young man was unwilling to give up his wealth and life, even if it meant walking away from Christ. If he couldn’t follow Jesus on his own terms, then he wouldn’t follow Jesus as all.
So, let’s bring all this home.
Bringing It Home
Salvation is free because Jesus paid man’s penalty on the cross and rose on the third day. Being a follower of Jesus, though, comes with a cost: it means being a full-time, dedicated disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus entails making Jesus our Lord and Master and following him, even if it means giving up all we have in this world.
Discipleship is not a part-time, seasonal job; discipleship is a daily way of living. It may cost us prestige, money, family, or even our lives.
The rich young man was unwilling to put anyone before himself and his possessions. Are we willing to give up our livelihoods to follow Jesus? Are we willing to give up our pride, possessions, and even our person to be a disciple of Christ?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a dedicated disciple of Jesus and prisoner of Germany during World War II, wrote an awesome book called The Cost of Discipleship. In it, he deals with the choice between following this world and following Jesus. Bonhoeffer was faced with the same choice as the rich man. However, instead of choosing his life and livelihood, he chose Christ.
Through this passage, God asked me if I was a dedicated disciple or a spare-time supporter. I ask that same question of you. What’s your honest answer? I pray you’ll choose Jesus.