And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” … 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.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
– Matthew 19:16-22
In this passage, Jesus comes across a rich young ruler, who is enthusiastic about “earning” his salvation by doing some great task. Jesus asks him if he’s kept all the commandments, to which he replies, “perfectly.” Then Jesus says good, just sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and follow me. To this, the young man turned away sad.
Basically, what Jesus did was show how the man had not even kept the first commandment — You shall have no other gods before me. To the rich man, his wealth and possessions were his god — more important to him than following Christ.
Jesus later warns that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven for this very reason — rich men tend to put their faith and trust in their wealth and material goods. Which is a distraction from the faith and trust they must have in Christ’s sacrifice alone to save them.
Salvation isn’t gained from any task we must perform — as we will never be able to keep every commandment of God perfectly. And since perfection is required for salvation, no one will every achieve salvation by following the law. It’s a fool’s quest.
Instead, our only hope is in the perfection of Christ. If Christ’s sacrifice paid for our sins, then we are considered perfect in God’s eyes. So, the question is, how do we get Christ’s death to apply to us? That’s easy… Faith. Believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that his death is the only way you can be saved. That’s it. Just believe it. Then cling to Christ and follow him from now on.
There’s no task you can do. Just believe.
I’ve always had a problem with this story in the Bible. From childhood, I’ve been a collector of every possible thing I could collect. I was a pack-rat of sorts, determined to get every item in a series, whether it be comic books, music CDs, or Blu-ray discs.
I’ve always struggled with materialism. So, when I read of the rich young ruler in the Bible, I have great sympathy for his dilemma. If I was ever asked to sell all I had and follow Christ, I don’t think I would be able to do it. For all of my 33 years of life on this earth, I never thought I could do it.
Then last month, I felt compelled (or called) to do just that. Sell everything I was collecting. Every possible collection had to go.
First, I started selling off all the books and DVDs I didn’t want. Surely, that would be enough. But after getting rid of a few thing, I noticed I felt like I didn’t need some of the stuff that was left. Wave after wave, I sold off everything except my “must haves.” Then when that was through, I trimmed more, and so on.
Pretty soon, I had sold all but a handful of Blu-ray discs, CDs, and books. I had gotten rid of 3/4 of my possessions — not stopping with collectible media. I sold all three of my video game systems (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii), several of my cameras, and every single comic book I still owned (I donated those to a friend).
At this point, my condo looks very modest. Yet I am still compelled to sell or give away more. Who knows where this will end?
But the benefit of having done all this is that I now enter my home and have a completely blank slate of how I wish to spend my time. No longer is there an unwatched Netflix movie, or an unread book, or a hot new video game demanding my attention. I come in, sit down, and have absolute freedom.
Now I can turn my attention where it belongs… to Christ. My life is now structured in such a way that I can easily find time to pray, read the Bible, and write down my thoughts. It’s perfect. I may even find time to make exercise a regular part of my day.
I couldn’t do that before. With all the junk that was squeezing shut my days. I’ve cut out almost everything in my life and am wary to add anything back in.
Things are different now. And I’m excited to see what Christ has in store for me, as I begin to follow him wherever he wants me to go.