“Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.“” (Matthew 19:21-22, NIV)
How would you have reacted if these words had been spoken to you? Jesus was speaking to a young rich man that wanted to know how to have eternal life. Most of us would probably have answered something like, “Well, if you want to have eternal life, simply put your faith in Jesus!” And then we would probably have proceeded to lead him into what some call “The Sinner’s Prayer.”
But not Jesus; he had another approach.
More Than a Lifestyle Makeover
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about this man, but it hints that he had a religious upbringing and that he was familiar with Scripture. However, it seems having some spiritual knowledge and the right code of conduct was not enough to make him the man God wanted him to be. You may know people who have been raised with strong Christian values yet don’t feel quite connected to God. Jesus’ interesting solution for this young man was to have him give away all the valuable things he had and to which he was very attached so that he could then join the disciples in their journey toward the cross.
Matthew recorded their conversation in just a few lines. We tend to read them so fast that we fail to realize that Jesus was not actually asking him to do a quick 30-minute lifestyle makeover. Jesus was inviting this man to enter into a process of emptying himself, resulting in a life of transformation.
Think about it: how long would it have taken him to make an inventory of all the things he owned, put them up for sale, give the money to the poor, and then finally tell Jesus that he’s ready to follow him? Certainly more than a few minutes, except for divine providence. Many years ago, I put my house up for sale, and it took me three months to find a buyer! So, imagine having to sell literally everything.
Emptying our bank account and giving away all our possessions doesn’t really sound like a clever “live your best life” strategy. We tend to believe that to get ahead in life, we need to accumulate wealth, not get rid of it. In this world, to get rich, you have to accumulate goods. We call it “being successful.”
In the kingdom of God, to be enriched, you must give to others. We call it “walking with God.” We shouldn’t necessarily conclude by reading this story that believers must expeditiously sell all that they have. However, we should at least consider the idea that God is not as attached to our possessions as we may be.
We shouldn’t necessarily conclude by reading this story that believers must expeditiously sell all that they have. However, we should at least consider the idea that God is not as attached to our possessions as we may be.
Having a house, car, and money may make us look rich in the eyes of some, according to the standards of this world. But God is much more interested in making us truly rich, that is, according to the standards of his kingdom. Just as Jesus was not looking to preserve the man’s appearance of richness, but rather to make him truly rich for God, his purpose for you is to make you truly rich by giving you the opportunity of storing treasures in heaven. For some, it may imply giving up something or giving everything away.
We all have our own story of following Jesus and having to leave things behind in the process. And to those who have answered, “Yes, Lord, I’ll follow you!” we know it’s definitely not a 30-minute thing nor a one-time thing, but rather a commitment that we renew daily.
The Cost of Following Jesus
Every day, all around the world, Jesus is inviting men to commit to following him. Moreover, he is inviting them to follow his own example, as he did not ask the young man to do something that he himself had not already accomplished. The Bible tells us that Jesus made himself poor so that we would become rich. What our Savior did on the cross has made a way to God for all of humanity. The young man, refusing to give his riches to the poor, was definitely not interested in having his life tell that same story. Thank goodness our salvation did not depend on him giving away his riches; we would surely be lost.
Following Jesus involves giving ourselves away so that others may know God and be saved. It is not necessarily a walk in the park, but the encouraging news is that the Lord also committed to be with us every day until the end of the world.
How much richer for God are you since you committed to following Jesus? And if you haven’t made that commitment yet, what might you have to give away in the process? Here’s an even better question: what might you lose by not following Jesus, considering that it takes more than knowing Scriptures and having a Christian code of conduct to have eternal life?
By going away sad, the young man said a resounding “no” to becoming one of Jesus’ disciples and making others rich through his witness. We don’t know what happened to him after that, as Matthew doesn’t tell us. As far as the Bible is concerned, his story ended there. Perhaps Jesus’ words will resonate differently in your heart so that your life will tell a different story than this young man’s.