The “One Thing” We Can Learn from the Rich Young Ruler

The “One Thing” We Can Learn From The Rich Young Ruler

by Daira Curran

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I recently was asked to speak to a group of a few hundred teenagers about the fallacy that “Being a Christian is Easy.” They were doing an awesome series called “Myth Busters” and the myth that night dealt with Christianity as a rather easy lifestyle. For any of you who have followed Christ, you should be able to personally testify to the falsity of this myth. Likely, you too have experienced trials and tribulations that have challenged your faith – but how many of them have honestly cornered you directly?

As I began to prepare for this message, so many stories came to mind — some that are current and some that I learned through the study of Scripture. I was reminded of alarming statistics like the fact that 772 acts of brutal violence are committed against Churches and Christians each month, while an additional 322 Christians are killed for their faith during the same time period. Can you even fathom that reality as you read this from your comfortable office or home? Can you picture your own pastor and local church undergoing this kind of ruthless torture? Who would fold and walk away from their faith? Who would stay no matter what happened to their physical soul? Would I? Would you? Is being a Christian for the most part … easy for us? Recall with me just a few stories in Scripture: Daniel in the lion’s den, staring at the teeth of hungry lions; Paul and Silas in jail, praising God with blood running down their backs; and even Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, feeling the heat of the flames in the fiery furnace. Truly, being a Christian is far from easy for those who go “all in,” regardless of the cost. Yet, how can we relate to these powerful men of God? I’m sure for all of us (no matter our age) these stories can often seem intimidating and we often ask ourselves can really put ourselves in their shoes? Therefore, with that young group I had the pleasure of teaching, I felt led to share a compelling story that takes place between a rich young ruler and Jesus himself. Perhaps you have heard this story before, but I encourage you to refresh your memory and read back through Mark 10:17-31, as it offers us so much truth.

At first read-through, this story seems fairly easy to comprehend, but I want to challenge you and allow you to learn about ‘one thing’ that is critical to our faith. The summary to this incredible story? A rich man wanted to know how to inherit salvation and Jesus instantly hit one of his trigger points: his wealth. Sadly, we all know how the story ends; the man chooses his money over what God was offering him. However, the more I began to unravel the layers of this story, the more I realized it contains a valuable message for all of us. As the story begins, we learn that this man was never mentioned by name, but simply referred to him as a rich, young ruler. In fact, so much can be learned from the two sentences at the beginning of the story:

“Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,”  he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now, because he used the word “inherit” we know he wanted to learn what was necessary to receive what Jesus could offer to him, similar to the way he likely inherited his money as a young man. We also sense desperation in his approach. Imagine the likes of a Bill Gates running up to your pastor and falling on his knees. Surely this act alone would get some folks’ attention! This man humbly approached Christ, falling on his knees, desperately wanting to know the answer to a poignant question we all ask at some point in our lives, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So far, so good? Reading this, I would think the young man is a likeable, smart, character – knowing something was missing in his life and recognizing Jesus may have the answer to what he sought. Yet, notice how he refers to Jesus as “Good Teacher.” This is a small title that could get lost in the grand shuffle of the story, but Jesus picks up on it immediately. So instead of answering his question by saying, “You must believe in Me,” He digs deeper into the man’s heart by asking this question in verse 18:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”

Why did Jesus ask this question? Furthermore, was Jesus saying He was not good? Or was Jesus saying He, Himself, was not God? No, quite the opposite! Jesus was asking this man to decide, much like He did when He asked his disciple Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus knew that the revelation needed to recognize Christ as God could come from God alone. Jesus went on to name the commandments, commandments He must have known this young man thought he was keeping – but the Law was not the issue, the heart of the matter was deeper. The issue Jesus addressed here was whether this young man would be willing to make Christ both Lord and Savior over his entire life – wealth included. As we read on, we see at this point that the young man drops “good” from his reference to Jesus:

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

This is the turning point in the story, long before the man walked away sad and long before Jesus asked him to give all his possessions to the poor. In that moment, the man did not see Jesus as God, but merely a teacher. You might think this would cause Jesus to react in various numbers of ways, but I love this part of the story so very much, because in verse 21 Jesus simply loves him and corrects him with one short phrase:

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

Jesus gave the young man the opportunity, with all the compassion and heart of the Father, to turn his life from incompleteness to fullness. Can you imagine if the rich young ruler was recorded in Scripture as a disciple, instead of a man who walked away from salvation? Would being a Christ follower be easy for him? Of course not! However, the one thing he lacked would have been abundantly replaced by the joy of following Christ and gaining new life.

So I ask you, has following Christ become relatively easy? Perhaps Jesus might be asking you today to surrender your “one thing.” Now, for all of us, we can name more than one thing in our lives that we need to lay down at Jesus’ feet. But, Jesus is filled with compassion for us, so today my challenge for you is to merely lay one thing down. What is your one thing that stands between you and complete transparency with Christ? The thing that, had you not come to know Jesus’ perfect grace, could have made you walk away sad like the rich young ruler, clenching to what you have instead of letting go to gain what He has. We all have one thing that stops us from following Christ wholeheartedly, and we all must recognize that Jesus’ character and heart for us is the same as it was in this story from so many centuries ago.

A brilliant teacher once shared with me a relevant truth, “God does not test us to know what is in our hearts, He already knows it. But God will often test us to show us what’s in our hearts. He will try to reveal to us what is keeping us away from Him and His perfect will for our lives.” I love this quote because it is so accurate in this story and poignant to us in our daily walk as Christians. While our one thing may never be standing in front of a group of persecutors and declaring, “I believe in Christ,” with death at hand, we do all have to commit to lay down what hinders us to follow Christ. This is what makes being a Christian far from easy, yet remarkably beautiful. Can we count it all a loss to gain the joy of Christ? My prayer for you is that the rich young ruler inspires you to live a life of surrendered faith, and an ongoing commitment to follow the perfect Good Teacher.

  • brian

    i have a thought on “the rich young ruler”. It may seem Jesus was harsh on the man, but in reality Jesus knew his heart. the example Jesus tried to make, may have been made later. I am no bible scholar and i am sure i will be made fun of and “bible beaten” for many days over the comment I am about to make:
    Everything in the bible is there for a reason and has meaning. This fellow (the rich young ruler) has been picked on and made an example of in every church on earth at one point or another. But was that day the end of his storey? In Mark 14:48-52 we are at the betrayal of Jesus, there is one out of place character that seems to have no purpose. the nude man that approched them , they grabbed him , and he ran off. so who was this guy? some crazy? Or could he have heard his masters voice calling him? could this be our “rich young ruler”? could he not have sold everything like he was asked and followed him? We may not know till we get to heaven ourselves, but it is a thought. GOD’s word does not go out unanswered, the man may have been sad for he knew what he must do , not because he didnt our wouldn’t do. Someone was there with Jesus till the end; he was a big enough character to be mentioned at jesus’ betrayal. Then he is big enough character to study about. perhaps we can learn a lesson from the “rich young ruler”, not a lesson of denying Jesus’ calling, but the “doing of the word ” not just “hearing of the word” . If it be him then let him be a hero and an example to us all.