by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter Three


The rich young ruler was advised by Jesus to sell all that he possessed, distribute it to the poor and to "come, follow Me" (Lk. 18:22). Upon hearing of this heightened requirement to inherit eternal life, the Bible records that the ruler became very sad and went away. He had been so eager to gain eternal life that initially he had run up to the Savior. Now, his countenance had fallen and he went away sorrowful, full of dejection and discouragement.

He was discouraged because he saw the high price required for obtaining eternal life, and he realized he was unwilling and unable to pay such a price. This matter was particularly discouraging to him because in the past he had always been diligent to keep the known requirements of God, even from his youth. Because of his successful "track record", he had eagerly inquired of Jesus, "Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mk. 10:17). He was ready, as he always had been, to do whatever was required. We can understand, therefore, what a great effect Jesus’ answer had on him, for Jesus now presented him with a demand that for the first time in his life the young ruler was totally unable to carry out.

Perhaps you too, dear brother or sister, sometimes feel discouraged when you realize the high standards set forth in Scripture for our Christian living. Also, perhaps after reading the previous chapter, you may now be feeling anxious concerning the suggested demands outlined for entry into Christ’s coming millennial Kingdom. Take heart. Do not "go away sorrowful". There are lessons here with the rich young ruler which should greatly relieve and encourage us.

Jesus truly loved the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21) and He truly loves you and me. It was at the very time that Jesus "felt a love for him" that He laid before the young ruler the impossible demand (Mk. 10:21). Christ did it for the purpose of trying to help him to recognize something very basic, namely, that "No one is good except God alone" (Mk. 10:18). The young ruler had come to Jesus with confidence in his goodness. "What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16) Jesus immediately tried to help him come to some realizations. By advising the ruler that "there is only One who is good" (Matt. 19:17), He exposed the young man’s faulty self-righteousness and pointed him toward God as the only good One.

When the ruler addressed the Lord as "Good Teacher", Jesus replied, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mk. 10:18). Regardless of the deserved respect the ruler had for Jesus, the Lord was trying to reshape the man’s thoughts to see that no natural man is good. This truth was clearly stated even in the Old Testament: "There is no one who does good" (Ps. 14:3).

At the same time, the Lord Jesus was trying to cause the ruler to conclude (which he may have later) that if this man Jesus was good, then He was unlike the rest of mankind. If He was good, which His living and deeds proved (Jn. 8:46; 18:38; Acts 10:38), then He should be acknowledged as God. Indeed, He should be acknowledged as the prophesied Immanuel, "God with us" (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).

In conclusion, Christ’s loving and careful dealing with the young man was designed to make the man admit his lack of goodness and to cause him to recognize that Jesus, as the true Good One, was indeed God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). I believe we can have much hope that Christ’s words to him, along with His probable loving intercession for him to the Father, later bore fruit in the ruler’s conversion and discipleship.

These thoughts should bring us to some critical and fundamental conclusions concerning the Christian life. The Christian life begins with the confession that we are not good. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer (Lk. 18:9-14), Jesus pointed out that the tax-gatherer was justified because he came to God admitting his sinfulness: "God be merciful to me, the sinner" (v. 13). In contrast, the Pharisee approached God on the basis of his "track record" of good works.

In other words, we begin our Christian life by abandoning any hope in who we are and what we have done and, instead, placing our trust in who the Lord Jesus is (God come in the flesh) and what He has done (accomplished our redemption through His death on the cross--Rom. 3:22-25). On such a principle of faith in Christ, God can justify us, declaring us righteous (Rom. 3:26; 4:5).

After beginning the Christian life by faith in Christ, we should continue our walk by faith. Our trust is not in ourselves, nor should the righteous life that God expects be one worked out by our effort. The principle of the law involves what we can do to meet the demands of God. The principle of faith involves what Christ in us, as our new life, can do to meet the demands of God (Gal. 2:15-5:14). [1]

The apostle Paul told us that the person that he formerly was, the old "I", was crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Paul had been a zealous, religious person, capable of doing much that was right under the standard of the Old Testament Law (Phil. 3:6). However, he had learned to "put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). That is, Paul abandoned all confidence in his ability to meet the righteous standard of God. In Philippians Chapter Three Paul spoke firstly of counting all of his past efforts under Judaism "as loss for the sake of Christ" (v.7). Then, he went on to speak of his Christian walk:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus My Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:8,9).

The righteousness Paul spoke of here was not initial justification (imputed or positional righteousness). This is proven by the context. The sequence of experience that Paul describes in Philippians 3:8-12 is one portraying his pursuit of a more intimate knowledge of Christ. In other words, it describes his desire to grow in Christ, not to find Christ initially. The righteousness that Paul speaks of in this passage is not of Paul’s own efforts to keep the law, rather it is a righteous living that comes from God Himself through Paul’s exercise of faith (v.9).

Christ living in us to be our daily righteous living is a matter of faith. But what is faith and where does it come from? "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Faith is the exercise of our trust in what God says in His Word. Miles Stanford comments:

...true faith must be based solely on scriptural facts . . . Hebrews 11:1 leaves no question about this: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith standing on the facts of the Word of God substantiates and gives evidence of things not seen. And everyone knows that evidence must be founded on facts. All of us started on this principle when we were born again--our belief stood directly on the eternal fact of the redeeming death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as recorded in I Corinthians 15:1-4. This is the faith by which we began, and it is the same faith by which we are to "stand" (16:13), "walk" (2 Cor. 5:7) and "live" (Gal. 2:20). "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (Col. 2:6).[2]

Faith trusts in what God says He has already done for us or given to us. Concerning the matter of living a dedicated righteous life, as Jesus required of the young ruler, nothing is more crucial than faith, especially our faith in our spiritual union with Christ. My union with Christ, shown in the Scriptures, tells me that the old man was crucified with Christ at the cross, and that I was raised with Him from the grave to live out a new life, which is Christ living in me (Rom. 6:3-7; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3,4a). These truths are precious. We should memorize such passages and meditate on them daily. As we use these verses in our communion with God, He will have a way to make them real to us. "And as we exercise faith in God’s fact, we begin to receive the benefits of that finished work in experience." [3]

How often, dear Christian, do we hear a sermon or word of exhortation and immediately "set ourselves" to carry it out. All such efforts are doomed to failure and are portrayed by the pitiful struggle depicted in the seventh chapter of Romans. Our failure is because we tried! On the other hand, perhaps after some of these failures, we may sense God calling us to some new requirement, some new area of rightness in our lives, and we shrink from the call because we fear we just can not meet the demand. This failure, too, is based on the same faulty perspective. God wants us to live righteous lives, but not by our effort.

No, it is not I, my natural self with its resources, that must meet God’s standard of righteousness. The righteousness He seeks must come from Christ, on the ground of faith. Such faith in Him and His Word results in Christ living in me.

The following comments on faith will also help us:

Faith is dependence upon God. And this God-dependence only begins when self-dependence ends. And self-dependence only comes to its end, with some of us, when sorrow, suffering, affliction, broken plans and hopes bring us to that place of self-helplessness and defeat. And only then do we find that we have learned the lesson of faith; to find our tiny craft of life rushing onward to a blessed victory of life and power and service undreamt of in the days of fleshly strength and self-reliance. [4]

The exercise of faith, however, does not mean we are passive. No, with a prayerful spirit we must constantly seek God (1 Thess. 5:17) and dwell in His Word often (Jn. 8:31). Charles Trumball remarked:

The effortless life is not the will-less life. We use our will to believe, to receive, but not to exert effort in trying to accomplish what only God can do. Our hope for victory over sin is not "Christ plus my efforts," but "Christ plus my receiving." To receive victory from Him is to believe His Word that solely by His grace He is, this moment, freeing us from the dominion of sin. And to believe on Him in this way is to recognize that He is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.[5]

Also, the great chapter in Hebrews on faith tells us of the activity of the life of faith: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).

Where the rich young ruler went astray is where we can also go astray. We are often presented with situations beyond our ability. This is the point of testing. If we are used to depending on ourselves, upon our resources, we may either try to overcome in the situation and fail, or, like the ruler, we may be so overwhelmed by the demand presented that we "go away sorrowful". But God has brought us to that very situation of demand in order for us to realize His supply in Christ.

This experience is pictured in that which He did to the children of Israel in the wilderness. He led them to places where there was no water or no food (Ex. 15:22; 16:1-3). Looking only at their own resources, they became embittered and discouraged. Had they trusted in God, however, they would have discovered that He had been ready all along to supply their needs.

God also wanted to give them the good land of Canaan and promised to do so (Num.13:2). Twelve spies went into the land for forty days (a Biblical period of testing) and saw that it was a good land. However, only two of the spies believed that the land could be taken in spite of the giants that possessed it (Num. 13:28-33; 14:6-8). The other ten spies disbelieved God’s promise to give them the land and felt defeat was probable because they looked at their own abilities: "But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us’" (Num. 13:31). Faith does not look at self or circumstances, but trusts in that which God says.

Only a few highlights have been given here of some of the keys to the victorious life in Christ. You will recall that the purpose of this writing was to touch on principles, but not to treat them exhaustively. If the reader is not thoroughly grounded in such truths, I strongly urge you to immerse yourself in the books noted in the suggested reading. We all daily need reminders on these matters because we easily fall back into old habits. A continual review of these principles is recommended.

"No one is good except God alone" (Mk. 10:18). What a refreshing realization this is! It relieves us. We do not have to depend on ourselves, our resources, to meet God’s high standards of righteous living. Instead, we should look to Christ and put our faith in Him. He can do in us what we can not do ourselves (Phil. 4:13). Of course, this matter is a learning process. We will learn this lesson over time through many experiences.

In the chapters ahead, we will see some very challenging requirements from the Scriptures. Remember this thought along the way: God never lowers His demands of righteousness to accommodate our weakness. But, with His demand, He grants us His supply in Christ to meet the demand.

Finally, as we continue to look at Kingdom truths and principles, please notice one very significant feature. Our preparation for the coming Kingdom is very much related to our experience of the indwelling Christ, or, if you will, to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. In this chapter we saw the necessity of appropriating the experiential righteousness of Christ by faith in order to have the manner of life that God requires. In future chapters we will again see the working of the Holy Spirit of God in the believer’s life as the believer makes progress towards the Kingdom.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] For illumination on this point, the reader should study Chapter Nine in Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life. 1957. (American edition, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977), pp. 151-173.

[2] Miles J. Stanford, Principles of Spiritual Growth. (Lincoln: Back to the Bible), p. 7-8.

[3] Ibid., p. 69.

[4] Ibid., p. 9, quoting James McConkey, no reference cited.

[5] Charles G. Trumbull, Victory in Christ (Ft. Washington, Pa: Christian Literature Crusade, 1992) p.51. Used by permission.