Riches vs. Repentance

Matthew 19:16-20
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?””

In a single word? Repentance.

Did you notice the lack of sin recognition displayed by the “rich young ruler”?

“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”

Could one be any more pompous?

Think about it. One who asks, “What must I do?” with regards to gaining eternal life, could only be asked by a person who assumes that they are not sinful. In other words, such a person who asks such a question thinks that what actually separates them from eternal life is not their depravity, but just a mere achievement on their part. It’s quite presumptuous, no? The rich young ruler obviously possesses such audacity, because after Jesus answers by telling him that there is “only one who is good” (meaning Himself) and that eternal life is based on keeping the commandments (which should be obvious to anyone that such is IMPOSSIBLE), the rich young ruler then responds to Jesus with: “Which ones?”

Are you kidding me? Could it get any more arrogant? He answers with, “Which ones?”, as though such was achievable? Seriously?

But then, Jesus calmly plays along by simply listing commandments which pertain to how we all should respond to our fellow man. (Notice that Jesus does not reference any commandments regarding how we should respond to God, but only how we should respond to our fellow man. I think it reveals a lot about who we are. When one is not repentant, one assumes that one is good with God, therefore one is not concerned with God. Such I believe is the case with the rich young ruler. Therefore, Jesus avoids the commandments which point to how we should respond to Him, and just sticks to the ones which pertain to how we should respond to our fellow man.) So, what does the rich young ruler then say to Jesus? “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”


He actually believes that he has kept the law. Really? It’s quite sad. Maybe, “pathetic” is a better word. I almost feel sorry for the guy. I mean, for someone to think that the law is something which could be kept, my gosh, that someone is either quite naive, or quite arrogant. But, Jesus doesn’t rebuke him. He just let’s him remain in his sin in order to teach His disciples a lesson regarding the unique saving power of God, which we will get to in a moment. Jesus, then again, calmly responds to the rich young ruler:

Matthew 19:21-22
“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.”

Now, it’s unfortunate that many in the modern church today assume that this account is an encouragement to the Christian to become poor by giving everything away, as though being poor was somehow considered to be, in itself, noble. I do not think that this is the case at all. I believe that Jesus is revealing something about man to His disciples. I believe that He is teaching them that riches can blind one into thinking that one is special, just because one might be rich.

The rich, in general, often mistakenly assume that they are favored by God BECAUSE they are rich. They figure, “I must be great in God’s eyes because I am rich.” I think that this is the whole point of this encounter. We see this clearly in the way that the rich young ruler handles himself in his encounter with Jesus. Repentance (the mournful recognition that one cannot fulfill God’s commands), is not even on his radar. In other words, the lesson being taught here is that riches can be like kryptonite to repentance, and we (Christians) should be cautious with our wealth, especially if God ever decides to bless any one of us with financial prosperity. Worldly comforts blind the comfortable to their depravity. Job describes this very common, yet dangerous scenario:

Job 21:7-14
“Why do the wicked live,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
Their offspring are established in their presence,
and their descendants before their eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.
Their bull breeds without fail;
their cow calves and does not miscarry.
They send out their little boys like a flock,
and their children dance.
They sing to the tambourine and the lyre
and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
They say to God, ‘Depart from us!
We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.'”

Oh how sad!

But in the end, as usual, the disciples’ edification is the reason for the object lesson given by Jesus:

Matthew 19:23-26
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”


Godspeed, to the brethren!