The story of the rich young ruler is troubling. (Mark 10:17-25) This man who possessed youth, wealth and power came to Jesus and asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus challenged him by saying, “Why do you call me good. No one is good, but One, that is God.” Jesus then gave the first troubling response. “You know the commandments.” Jesus is not suggesting salvation is by keeping the Ten Commandments, but is calling the young man to consider what Scripture says about eternal life and the wages of sin. The man responded with the claim to have kept all the commandments. Jesus did not dispute the point, but told him he lacked one thing. Then Jesus made the second troubling statement. He told the told young man to sell everything, give to the poor, take up the cross and follow Jesus.
Many have wondered if Jesus was teaching salvation by charity. He is not. Jesus was giving the young man the same call He gave the disciples, Zaccheus and Saul of Tarsus. Jesus called the man to forsake all to follow Him because salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone. In the course of the conversation Jesus did what He also did with the Samaritan woman, the Pharisees and others. He revealed His knowledge of the person’s heart and showed to them what was true of their own heart. He opened the curtains to reveal what was previously hidden in the shade of their own self-deceptions. Jesus revealed to the young man that despite his careful law keeping he loved something more than eternal life. He called that man to abandon what he loved more than Jesus to follow Him who is Life. This is the same call of discipleship given to every one who desires to have eternal life.
Jesus’ words strike at the heart of who the rich young ruler perceived himself to be. In love Jesus was showing this man he was relying on his personal identity (law-keeper, ruler and wealthy) instead of God. The only way to enter Heaven was for him to abandon that self created identity and every hindrance (repentance) to follow Christ (faith). None can be dogmatic that Jesus was challenging the man’s identity since the Bible does not say what Jesus was teaching the young man. However, the man had obviously based his hopes of salvation on keeping all the law. He also had great wealth and a high position. To give them all up would be to utterly alter who he was. The man’s riches were the greatest hindrance. He may have been wiling to give up his position and even some of the traditions of the law, but he was entirely unwilling to sell everything for Jesus’ sake.
If the rich young ruler had followed Jesus the end result would have been a complete overturning of everything he did and was. He would have not been rich, but poor. He would not have been a ruler, but a disciple. Is this not what happened to the other disciples? They were no longer fishermen, tax collectors or zealots. They became simply Jesus’ disciples. Their identity, however it was perceived and formed in them, was abandoned to follow Jesus. That call of discipleship is still true today. To follow Jesus each person must abandon all- even, and especially, our own selves.
Each Christian must take up his own cross. A cross is not a trial or a difficulty to bear. A man in prison is troubled, a man with a cross is about to die. Taking up the cross is fatal to yourself. Jesus requires all Christians, “deny himself.” (Matthew 16:24) Discipleship requires denying all your thoughts, desires, ambitions, loves, relationships, dreams, hopes, goods, plans, health and well being for Jesus. Jesus requires nothing less than absolutely everything we are be given over to Him.
This is radical discipleship and is the call to everyone who claims Christ. If Jesus is who He claims to be such radical sacrifice of self is perfectly reasonable. Jesus started the conversation with the rich young ruler by challenging him to consider His Deity. Jesus was saying something to the effect of, If none is good but God, are you declaring I am God? Jesus is God and, as Romans 12 declares, Jesus is also full salvation. What is more reasonable than sacrificing everything to God? Especially since God sacrificed everything for our sake. (Philippians 2:6-8) Is it not proper to give to God whatever He requires since all comes from Him anyway? Is it not proper to give up a self-created identity since Jesus is the Creator who gave each person his identity, made all in His own image and remakes the Christian into a more accurate image of Himself?