Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Self-Righteous Young Man

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Mark 10:17-22

What's going on here? Here's my paraphrase:
Young man (Mark 10:17): Jesus, how much does eternal life cost?

Jesus (Mark 10:18-19): Keep the law. Can you pay it?

Young man (Mark 10:20): Yes, I can!

Jesus (Mark 10:21): Let's try this again. It'll cost you everything you own. Can you pay it?

Young man (Mark 10:22): No, I can't.
The young man's problem wasn't primarily a matter of money. The young man's problem was primarily a matter of righteousness. Jesus merely used money to reveal the deeper spiritual reality that the young man wouldn't have otherwise been able to see: "I can't pay for my salvation."

Trust in money or any other idol we don't want to let go of (e.g. family, known comforts, Mark 10:29) reveals a heart that trusts in self more than God. At the root of idolatry is self-righteousness. If there's an idol of any sort that you're struggling with, then your main problem is self-righteousness. So the proper way to deal with an idol isn't to try to get rid of it (because, just like the rich young man, you can't!) but rather to repent of self-righteousness and trust Jesus alone as your righteousness. Only then will you be irresistibly compelled to leave behind every idol and follow Him (Mark 10:28).

The attribute that most characterizes this man that we've come to know as "the rich young man" isn't so much that he's rich but rather that he's self-righteous. If only he had known that Jesus pays it all (Mark 10:27, Isaiah 53:3-12) so that he doesn't have to, he wouldn't have went away sorrowful (Mark 10:22) but instead would have went on his way rejoicing like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39).

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