WHAT DO I STILL LACK?
by Hugo Chinchay, Sr.
When we first read the story of the young ruler in Matthew 19:16-23, we may not see any personal applications. After all, we are not millionaires, politicians or highly influential leaders. Nevertheless, we are left with the question, “Why then was this story shared?” Further study, however, reveals that this Bible story does have relevance for our time. When I read this story from a personal perspective, I was surprized to discover at least two realities that connect this story with my own personal Christian journey. First, it is not enough just to come to Jesus, and second, it is not enough to come to Jesus, even with sincerity. A comparison between the rich young ruler and and a long term Adventist church member like myself, reveals some striking similarities. Here is what I found: We would both be considered good Sabbath keepers; we both understand the sanctuary-service message; we both uphold the law of God; and, we both belong to the remnant of God in our age. He looked forward to the Advent of the Messiah, and we look forward to Jesus’ second coming. We both frequent God’s house to worship Him; we both have set religious traditions and a rich heritage, and think of ourselves as religiously ‘rich.’ The list of similarities could go on. Somehow, this mirror-like list gave me a feeling of superiority—much like the rich, young ruler—especially with regard to our biblical knowledge as a church. We are reminded that the rich young ruler’s two most significant areas of wealth were money and religion.
"He had no sense of the sin in his soul. All he wanted was affirmation that his clean moral-life was good enough for him to enter into heaven. Complimenting Jesus is not the same as worshiping Him, or recognizing Him as our Lord and Savior—with a humble heart."
COMING TO JESUS IS NOT ENOUGH
Despite the appearance of having everything that was needed to make him ‘perfect and happy,’ the rich young ruler was spiritually ‘empty.’ He saw in Jesus someone who could fill the void in his religious life. So he went to Jesus. But just going to Him was not enough. Ellen White explains that, “This ruler had a high estimate of his own righteousness. He did not really suppose that he was defective in anything, yet he was not altogether satisfied. He felt the want of something that he did not possess” (Desire of Ages, p. 518). As he came running and kneeled to ask a question, Jesus first called attention to the fact that he had called him “Good” which can only refer to God. This title was, however, only given as a compliment (Good Master), and not with a spirit of adoration. He had no sense of the sin in his soul. All he wanted was affirmation that his clean moral-life was good enough for him to enter into heaven. Complimenting Jesus is not the same as worshiping Him, or recognizing Him as our Lord and Savior—with a humble heart. His understanding was that eternal life was based on what he did, and how he did it was the measure of his success. It is not unusual for the overly religious to tell others what to do, how to worship, how to live and how to act, in any given situation and at any particular time. These individuals come to Jesus, not for Him to be their Savior, but to use Him as their consultant or advisor. They come to Jesus, not as their Creator, God or Redeemer, but as a teacher who can give the prize student an “A.”
COMING TO JESUS WITH SINCERITY IS NOT ENOUGH
The problem with the young ruler was not sincerity. Rather, he stumbled over a lack of his own understanding, and his need. His sincerity wasn’t enough.“He felt a desire to be his disciple. He was so deeply moved that as Christ was going on His way, he ran after Him, and kneeling at His feet, asked with sincerity and earnestness the question so important to his soul and to the soul of very human being” (Desire of Ages, p. 518). At this point, Jesus addressed the man’s overly religious inclinations and gave him the easiest and most obvious answer, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17).
I sense, at this point, how the young ruler’s heart pounded with excitement. It was as if Jesus’ answer fit with his own expectations. To make things even more exciting, he asked, “Which ones?” (v. 18). Jesus then recited five of the last six commandments and added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v.19). To which he happily responded, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” (v. 20).
You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v.19). To which he happily responded, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
I qualify, I made it, he must have thought, excited. But his reasoning and his human qualifications were his downfall. Such a conclusion was spiritually fatal. Sincerity was not enough. How can I avoid falling into the same trap today? What sort of things are, nonetheless, important? What would Jesus mention today? What about going to church every Sabbath, learning the 28 SDA Fundamental Beliefs, studying our lesson quarterly, reading our daily devotional, not drinking, not smoking, not gambling, not behaving immorally, not lying, returning God's tithe and giving our offerings faithfully, not eating unclean foods, becoming a vegetarian, practicing the right style of worship, dressing appropriately, participating in Sabbath School, joining missions trips whenever possible? We could continue. To this list, we would probably answer: ‟All of these things I have kept since I became an Adventist! I qualify! I think I’ve made it!”
Wow, what a coincidence. All of a sudden I realize how closely I resemble the rich young ruler. We both rely on our human achievements and our religious heritage as a way to qualify for heaven, but we also both need to remind ourselves that we can’t rely on our high standards, good morals, appropriate style of worship or healthly lifestyle, as qualifications for earning eternal life, nor in order to fill that spiritual void.
WHAT DO I STILL LACK THEN?
Finally, Jesus looks at him with love and answers his deep question: “If you want to be perfect, then go. ‟Go” is a verb, an action-word, which requires just that: an action, a decision, something that he must do right now in order to understand the core concept of religion.
Then Jesus asks him to do something radical that, even today, sounds extremely difficult to digest: “Go, sell your possessions...” (v. 21). By that He meant everything, and ‟everything” doesn't refer to the ten percent we normally argue about returning to God. Nor was it a double tithe of twenty percent. Jesus said “everything!” That's one hundred percent. Jesus didn’t stop there. He didn’t ask him to bring it to the coffers of the church. Rather He continued to say, “...and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me” (ibid.).
The rich young ruler was not rejected by Jesus. Later, Jesus tells him to come and follow Him. “Christ read the ruler’s heart. Only one thing he lacked, but that was a vital principle. He needed the love of God in the soul. This lack, unless supplied, would prove fatal to him; his whole nature would become corrupted. By indulgence, selfishness would strengthen. That he might receive the love of God, his supreme love of self must be surrendered” (Desire of Ages, p. 518). Jesus’ goal was not to make him financially poor. After all, his real problem was being overly religious. Behavior and traditions overshadowed the very reason for his existence. We run the same risk today. We may be attending church without knowing why we go to church in the first place. The real question is why does the church exist?
THE LOVE OF GOD IN MY HEART
"We are so much smaller and even more insignificant, but He still loves us. Because of us, Jesus descended, took on humanity, lived among us, suffered rejection by his own people, and died on the cross so that you and I need not die."
Jesus is the Almighty Creator of a universe that even scientists can’t measure, a universe so big that our own planet, Earth, becomes like an unnoticeable atom of dust. Yet we are on this planet. We are so much smaller and even more insignificant, but He still loves us. Because of us, Jesus descended, took on humanity, lived among us, suffered rejection by his own people, and died on the cross so that you and I need not die—because you and I matter too much to him, no matter how insignificant or small we are under His creation. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). That is the love of God! He wants to save the lost and He gave everything for that purpose. Anybody who wants to be His disciple must be willing to surrender everything to reach others.
The young ruler learned what kind of commitment was required from him in order to be a real disciple. He went away sad. It was not the money that kept him from making the decision, but rather the lack of love in his heart—love towards neighbors, a love for lost souls. When we love the lost as Jesus does, then you and I will be willing to give it all up, rather than giving something to get something. The only purpose for which the church exists, is to save a lost world, to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth. The question remains: “Are we willing to give it all up for this cause?”