“Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” –Luke 18:18
I’ve been teaching my way through the book of Luke at my church, and the scene with the rich young leader has been challenging me. Like most pastors, when we get ready to write a sermon, we are mostly thinking about how to apply the sermon to the congregation, but God seems to have other things in mind with this passage. I’m finding myself very much like the young man in the story, trying to get God to give me a good answer when in fact, God wants to give me the best.
The young ruler asked Jesus, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” But let’s be real; isn’t that just another way of asking, “What is the minimal I can do and still get to heaven?” Haven’t we all struggled with the idea of giving everything we have to God and never looking back? If you keep reading, even Peter wonders about this when he says, “We’ve left our homes to follow you,” (Luke 18: 28), which can be rephrased as “What’s in it for us?” One of the reasons we become followers of Christ is the promise of heaven, which is good. But it also means our life on earth can be challenging, especially when everything around us seems to cry out, “Worship me. Desire me. Work hard to have me!” while the Holy Spirit reminds us, “You must not have any other god but me” (Ex. 20:3).
The problem most Christians have is the experience of first committing to be a follower of Jesus and then learning to lay everything down over time as God confronts us with our relationship to our riches, but that is not how Jesus taught us. Earlier in Luke, Jesus cautioned us about becoming His disciple by saying, “Don’t begin until you count the cost” (Luke 14:28). He reminded us if we want to be His disciple, we “must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26). In other words, we don’t follow Jesus and THEN lay everything at His feet. Instead, we abandon our self and our stuff and THEN follow HIM. It’s no wonder so many of us struggle with dying to our self. We’ve never done it! We’ve come to God backwards by allowing Him to be our Savior but not completely Lord of our life and, as a result of not truly counting the cost of discipleship, we find ourselves negotiating with God just how much of our riches we can keep and still inherit eternal life. Here’s the truth: we must count the cost before we embrace the Cross. But few churches teach this. They invite people to the altar for salvation out of a fear of hell and a hope of heaven, and later tell them the cost of discipleship is everything.
When the rich young ruler found out the true cost of discipleship, he wasn’t willing to pay it. I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t chase him down and give him a second chance. Jesus simply let him walk away. Why? Because this young man should have been a miserable, half-follower of God, someone who would never be fully committed to Kingdom principles and therefore unable to make true disciples.
Now the challenge is on my shoulders. Since, like most Christians I know, I was led in a salvation prayer before I counted the cost of discipleship, I find myself wanting to do good for God’s eternal Kingdom but struggling with my possessions. I no longer want to negotiate with God just how much of my stuff I can keep and still inherit eternal life, for the real cost was already paid at Calvary. I won’t let anything on earth distract me from that.