He’d been educated in the finest universities. Still young, after a dazzling and dizzying ascent, he now had a prominent and powerful position in a big company, was a leading member in various associations, sat on boards, and was an officer in multiple civic organizations. He had a table at the country club reserved each Friday evening.
His shoes were always shined. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, and a power-tie. His lawn was manicured, there were no weeds in the flowerbeds, and his picket fence was meticulously whitewashed.
He obeyed all the rules and requirements and fanatically conformed to the “thou shalt not” commandments. He carried a big black Bible to church on Sundays and sat close to the front where everyone would notice his faithful attendance. He often said “amen!” when the preacher made an important point. He was a good guy! And very religious!
When he, or someone very similar to him, came to Jesus, he asked “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). He reassured the Master that he’d faithfully obeyed all the rules. “I’m not a murderer, an adulterer, or a thief. I don’t lie or cheat. I’m especially good to my folks, and I love my neighbors… even the Smiths who are poor” (Matthew 19:18-19). Standing extra tall, with his chest out and his gut sucked in, he nearly dislocated his shoulder as be patted himself on the back.
The omniscient Jesus knew about the skeletons in the closet. He knew his secret thoughts and his selfish and hypocritical motives. The Master might have said, “Woe to you, Pharisee, hypocrite! You’re like a whitewashed tomb, which appears beautiful on the outside, but inside is full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity” (Matthew 23:27). Jesus didn’t say that, but “looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ ” (Mark 10:21). Jesus loved him! Imagine that!
The rich and powerful young man came to the right place, to the right person, with a worthy request. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). His problem was, he believed that he could do something, anything, to warrant eternal life.
The young ruler and Saul of Tarsus suffered from the same delusion. “I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4–6).
Jesus declared, “ ‘You still lack one thing: Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ After he heard this, he became extremely sad, because he was very rich” (Luke 18:22-23). The Eternal God is gentlemanly. He offers a gift but doesn’t demand that we accept it! He doesn’t force us to be saved.
Grace is never earned. It is unmerited, undeserved, unwarranted. “You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).