The Word of God is confusing. On one hand, it’s full of strange commands for us to do things, such as blessing our enemies, but on the other, it seems to be purposefully vague about how to enter heaven. To make matters worse, Jesus is not what we consider nice when the experts of the day pressed him hard on what he meant or who he was.
Take for example the rich young ruler. This guy asked what he must do to enter heaven. In Matthew, Jesus said, “If you would be perfect…” (Matt. 19:21). In Mark, he said, “You lack one thing:” (Mark 10:21). And, in Luke, he said, “One thing you still lack…” (Luke 18:22). The young man wasn’t willing to give this up (his money), and walked away from Jesus.
We’re often taught that this man’s love of wealth was more important than heaven. If we would be wise, therefore, we must be willing to give up that which we put before Jesus. Indeed, that is the expectation that God has for us. While it’s easy to point fingers at the rich young ruler because, frankly, very few are rich, but the fact of the matter is we ALL have sin that keeps us from being perfect.
Look, we have no reason to believe that this guy was anything other than a really great guy. He obeyed the rules. He was eager to be better. Everything about him was likable. It could very well be that his wealth was from his family, thus he would possibly have to walk away from a significant career and obligations to many in order to sell all that he had. Couldn’t he be a nice guy WHILE keeping his position?
It’s not that only the poor have favor with God. Some of the wealthiest people on earth have been favored by God. Noah, Abraham, and David all had lots of dough. So did Job. Why couldn’t this young guy keep it? Couldn’t he learn to put money in its proper place and thus please God? Why would he have to sell everything? Think about what a rich man – who was properly motivated – could do for the kingdom!
Here’s the problem. You and I will always have something between us and Jesus.
Folks, if this has never made you think, then you likely are skimming over the words in the bible because there are TONS of head-scratchers like this one. The boys with Jesus certainly were stumped. They even asked him about it. Point blank. “Who then can be saved?” You know what Jesus said? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:25-26)
What kind of answer is that?
God holds us accountable for our deeds, all of them. The way I read my bible is that our “good” deeds will be counted against us because our heart isn’t pure (Isaiah 64:6). We are all doomed to eternal hellfire because of our sin.
But, wait, doesn’t Jesus tell us that faith will save us? Yes, he does, but that should open up a whole new line of questions. How much faith do I need? What does it look like? How can I make sure I’m doing it right? In light of the rich, young ruler, how do I put God before my money?
Here’s what happens to all of us: we always have something that keeps us from honoring God and giving him thanks – as he deserves – and instead put something ahead of him (Romans 1:21-23). You may be thinking of God and be all religious, but you think that your efforts in this will save you. But you know what? All the confessions of sin, all the rituals, all the Sunday services, all that stuff won’t do the trick. Just look at how Jesus confronted the religious people of his day.
Here’s another thing that happens. People will say that the reason we don’t get rid of our idols (sin) is that we can’t, and that’s why Jesus came and why we need him. He does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Well, that sounds fine and good, but then explain to me how God can still hold us accountable? If we are unable to do something, how can he blame us? (Romans 9:14)
This seems to me a grave error of reasoning because the bible is plumb full of warnings about the judgment to come and that only a few will escape it. No, be certain that God holds us accountable for our sin, including our lack of faith.
So, how must we be saved? Jesus tells us that only those who are born again will see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This begs the question, how can I be born again? That’s exactly what one of the top-level religious experts of the day asked him. You know how Jesus replied? “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Are you kidding me?!?! And then, Jesus says this:
John 3:7-8 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born again.”
That’s how you get into heaven.
Unfortunately, all of us know better but simply do what we want to do, whether it be religious in nature or just forgetting about this stuff altogether. Either way, we’re making up our own rules, doing our own thing, all the while we are headed right to judgment and the lake of fire that God warns us of.
Humans have a choice. We have the ability to recognize our situation and change it. God holds us accountable because we won’t. Yes, we have freedom to choose between right and wrong, yet all of us, yes, all of us, choose wrong. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
That’s me. That’s you.
Let’s not misunderstand. There ARE some who are born again, some who will see the kingdom of God. These are people who did not seek him (but do now), just like everyone else, but are ones that God has had set aside for his own.
Matthew 19:26 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
John 3:8 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
IF you are born again, it is not because of what you did. What you did earned you damnation. No, if you are born again, it is an act of God. Not because you can’t be perfect, but rather that you won’t.
Romans 9:14-16 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
And this is a good thing, a very good thing.
32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Tell me. Are you going to scratch your head and try to understand this, or are you going to go about your business, thinking what you want and doing what you want? I would encourage you to do the former and warn you sternly against the latter.
Father, what confusing things we see in the bible. Jesus says things that just don’t make sense in the everyday way of thinking, from a human (sinful) perspective. Thank you for changing the way I look at the world. It is only by your grace that I do and that I may enjoy you forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Scott Powers