How’s our faith? Does it work? Or is it a work in progress?
A key: faith starts with God, not with us. The story of the “rich young ruler” helps here. The man asked Jesus about heaven. Was his pristine religious life enough to gain eternal life? Jesus answered by first asking him about his conduct. The man’s happy answer: I’m faultless! Then Jesus asked him to give away all he had, and to come and follow him. Apparently as a next step in life. The rich man, however, flinched and walked away—something wasn’t working!
This story is now a commonplace but the call to “give up everything” is still hard to hear. But let’s not chase guilt here. If most of us turned into mendicant monks or nuns, or lived like Mother Teresa, wonderful. But the problem is elsewhere. Let’s look at the man’s missed moment. What did Jesus do? He “loved him” and invited the man to join his disciples. But the man’s property was in the way. If Jesus had become his Lord just then, his eternal life would have begun. Jesus gives life to us. But the man didn’t see it. Instead, he trusted the security he already had, and by keeping his tangible current security he missed eternal security. He didn’t see that God, alone, is ‘good.’ He relied, instead, on his own comfortable morality.
Jesus is now in heaven so the social context today is different for us. Even if questions about motives remain the same. The real question now is whether Jesus is still saying, “Come, follow me.” And if we’ve heard him, how have we responded? Do we trust him? If we do, we’ll instantly ask, “Where to?” Whether it’s a call to a new job, a new community, a new country, or to give away some or all of our resources. Wherever he calls us, we’ll follow.
And that takes us to a broader question. How common are our conversations with Jesus? Trust forms through knowing a person. By listening, asking honest questions, then in responding to his words. So, is a real relationship with Jesus in place and growing? An active faith?
This second question might seem like a diversion, but it’s not. Instead, it centers on our view of God. Faith is our confidence in God’s active care. Remember Jesus’ call in John 8:31 for his believers to “abide” in his word. That audience missed the cue so Jesus reminded them, “If God were your Father you would love me…” [v.42]. They still missed the point. Jesus then gave a final clue, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” [v.47]. Still, no connection.
Jesus always gives an invitation as a first step. The wealthy young ruler was asking, “Am I good enough?” Jesus dismissed that bit of self-concern and instead invited him into a relationship. And he still offers that opportunity to anyone who seeks eternal life with him.
One more question. We may agree that Jesus speaks in the Bible, but does he ever speak personally, to our immediate needs? Jesus spoke of knowing the number of hairs on our head! So, if “God is great and good,” we trust the answer is “yes.” But we still need to learn to listen. A newborn infant, for instance, isn’t ready for conversations. And a newly birthed soul needs to do more listening than talking. Listen to Paul here: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” [Ro 8:26-27].
This, and other Scriptures, allow us to see our limitations as conversation partners with God. Yet we’re reminded, too, that he invites us to see him as an active, caring listener. And that the more we seek him, the more we’ll hear from him. The Bible presents him as a trustworthy conversation partner. A key in hearing him is our humility—our learning to receive him as God.
The wealthy ruler missed this, blind to his own pride. He was already successful, and he wanted to add eternity to his successes. But with eternal life outside his reach he asked Jesus for help. And Jesus offered it, but in his own relational context. The man’s proud self-confidence stopped him there. He wanted what Jesus offered, not Jesus himself.
Jesus is trustworthy. But if our focus is misplaced, with our religious management skills or good works in the way, we’ll be as foolish as the wealthy ruler. Faith follows Jesus. If we seek him first, and trust what he tells us in his word, we’ll be on our way in the early steps of eternal life.
Thanks, Ron, this is a good word. I have often said that our salvation by grace through faith in Christ begins with Jesus giving us faith sufficient to receive grace. The rich young ruler misplaced his faith.
Big concepts here – my own “big” study of grace was an awakening. I realized grace is a “he” rather than a “what” – as the Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts. All that offered in Eph 2:8&9. Wonderful!
So excited by this Ron. Just reading Habakkuk. Thought it tied in so well with this blog. Clearly an active conversation going on here which changed Hab’s view of God to allow him to live a new life of rejoicing.
I see now how his conversation with God opened his eyes to see what God is truly like, giving him the confidence to trust God’s active care in the midst of dire circumstances. Totally see how this book touched Luther’s heart!
I appreciate your connection here, Jonathan. Habakkuk is a striking figure: proud and pious at first, then he was profoundly humbled by God. And with that he rejoiced, maybe for the first time ever!
Yes, I see what you mean Ron. Hab’s initial complaint seems reasonable under the circumstances, but on closer inspection reveals that same pride shrouded in apparent goodness in all our hearts (as with the wealthy ruler in Jesus’ time). Humility is the key to hearing God, or as you say, receiving him as God.
Thank you so much Ron! Lots to ponder here.
It’s beautiful the way the Lord invites us into conversation with him. Despite being less articulate, knowledgable, perceptive — he’s engages with us because he’s not looking for a meeting of great minds, but an opp to spread his love by showing us his tenderness and approachability.
The call to humility in listening is a good reminder too. I pray he helps me to be twice the listener I am today.
For me the beatitudes is the principle key to understanding the story of the rich young ruler. In our Lords teaching we start from God’s gift of grace to us. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. In our strength we cannot reach spiritual maturity or eternal life. In this discussion the disciples realized something: “When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” Matthew 19:25; and: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor…” Matthew 19:21. A careful reading of the beatitudes points directly to the end of time. Perfection cannot take place outside of Christ even then we are being made perfect. We are not any better than the rich young ruler and I think the disciples realized that.
Thanks for engaging here, Hasan. It’s a pleasure to hear from you! I was just in the UK , visiting KCL and I got to see Jon – recalling our earlier days there. A joy.
The link you’re making between the beatitudes and the story of the misguided young ruler is certainly true in broad terms. Any and all human efforts to be self-righteous are empty self-deceits. Amen!
Yet each text needs to provide its unique contextual benefits And in here we find Jesus inviting the man to come and join him. I take the question the disciples raised here, “Then who can be saved?” displayed their failure to catch the relational barrier his wealth generated for the man. But Jesus then made it clear that with God there aren’t any such barriers to his work of saving grace.
Thanks Ron. I agree with you that one has to find the balance between the broad and particular text. In Christ the impossible can be made possible.