Below is full transcript that can be read while following along listening to the audio…
Matthew 19. Let me get before you, just to get you back into the spirit of the book, the great message of the book and where we left off last time. We’ve been studying the third great section in the book of Matthew. That is Matthew 16:21 through chapter 25; that’s the heart of the book of Matthew. The message of Matthew has to do with the kingdom of God, and this particular section has to do with the nature of the kingdom of God. What is it like and what is the real nature of the kingdom of God. In one word you could say “spiritual”. It’s a spiritual kingdom over against the physical, material kingdom.
For the sake of analysis we divided that up into two sections; 16:21 – 17 and then 18 – 25. As we study together we call attention to the great unchanging principles of life. I believe the Holy Spirit will do the applying in our hearts, and so we don’t spend a lot of time applying, but we do long to see the principles together, and then if you get the principle, there are unlimited applications in your life. It’s important to see the principle. We were looking at these two sections and I suggested that under every story there is at least one great principle. 16:21 – 17 has three stories there, and I believe they lay down three principles that answer the question, “What does it mean to be spiritual?” If I’m really going to live in the kingdom of God, which is a spiritual kingdom, then those three principles must not only be true in my life, but they must be increasingly true in my life. They must be abounding; I must be progressing in them.
The three truths are these; one illustrated by the transfiguration – seeing Jesus glorified. Nobody is spiritual who is not seeing Jesus glorified. The second story has to do with the healing of the lunatic boy at the bottom of the mountain of transfiguration. The principle we stated in these words – trusting Jesus unreservedly. Nobody is spiritual who is not trusting Jesus unreservedly. Then the last story in chapter 17 is the miracle of the coin that was lodged in the fish’s gill. The great principle under that story is resting in the all-sufficiency of Christ. You take those three principles and put them together and you’ll see a spiritual person. A spiritual person is one who is seeing Jesus glorified, trusting in Jesus unreservedly, and is resting in Jesus as his all-sufficient one.
Then chapters 18-25 give the outworking of that king of a life. You might call the first section “root” and the next section “fruit” because 18-25 just gives the evidence, the characteristics of someone who is really spiritual. If you are spiritual what will your life look like? In story form God has laid down these age abiding principles. We’ve looked at three of them already. Let me state those and then we’ll begin with the fourth.
Matthew 18:1-14, the first characteristic is childlikeness, helplessness. If I’m really spiritual, that will be one of the main signs; I’ll be childlike. Matthew 18:15-35, the second characteristic is a forgiving spirit. If I’m really spiritual, looking to Christ, resting in Christ, trusting in Christ, then I’ll have a forgiving spirit. If I don’t have a forgiving spirit, it’s a dead giveaway that I’m not really spiritual; I’m not trusting in the Lord. I might be going through some of the routines, but it’s not real in my soul. Last time we looked at the third characteristic, Matthew 19:1-15, which is purity, holiness, godliness. If I’m spiritual I’ll be childlike, I’ll have a forgiving spirit, and I’ll be going forward in holiness.
That brings us to the fourth characteristic of the spiritual Christian. This actually takes in quite a few verses. It goes from Matthew 19:16 – 20:16, and that’s all the same principle, thirty one verses, but it’s all one principle. Jesus takes that principle and He deals with it twice. The first time He dealt with it is in terms of what we’ll look at now; the rich young ruler. He lays down the principle as He deals with the rich young ruler. Then He turns right around to His disciples who have the same problem, and He lays down the same principle again for His disciples. Even though it’s a long section, it’s the same principle. He deals with it twice; once with the rich young ruler, and then He illustrates it with this tremendous parable in chapter 20 to His disciples. We’ll only look now at the first part of that principle, as He deals with it in the life of the rich young ruler. Next time, Lord willing, we’ll pick it up and look at the same principle again, as He drives it home through that marvelous parable in chapter 20:1-16. Right now we’ll be looking at chapter 19:16-26.
“And behold, one came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be [a]complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Let me give you an outline of what I’d like to look at. First of all I’d like to state the principle, and tell you what the characteristic is, and then elaborate on it some until we get it in our minds, and then I’d like to show from this passage how important that principle really is. There are three illustrations in this passage that show you the need for that principle, and when you see it, Lord willing, then God will burn it into our lives and make it very practical. If we have time I’d like, since the Lord Jesus dealt with this man, there are great principles on how to deal with certain kinds of individuals. You might want to study that as you go through the gospel record and see how Jesus did it. How did He deal with individuals, and I find at least three great principles of dealing with others, especially those who stand on legal ground.
What is the fourth characteristic of a spiritual Christian? Let me summarize it in these words and then illustrate it for you. A spiritual Christian is one who lives by the pure grace of God. He’s not only childlike, he’s not only exhibiting a forgiving spirit, he’s not only going forward in purity and godliness, but he lives by the pure grace of God. This is one of the great evidences of those who are truly spiritual and living by the grace of God.
This whole story of the rich young ruler is designed to unhinge men and women from a legal foundation. We use the word “Legalism” a lot. Legalism is just self-trust, what I do, trusting in the law rather than in the grace of God. This rich young ruler was standing on legal ground. So were the disciples, the followers of the Lord Jesus, standing on legal ground. By the answers that the Lord gave to this rich young ruler, and the answers He gave to His own disciples, He takes them off legal ground and plants them firmly in the pure grace of God. We’ll see that as we go through.
I’ll admit, before I start this lesson, that I know far more about the grace of God in theory than I do in experience in life. You get all these books and read about the grace of God, and you hear messages and tapes on the grace of God, one can come very quickly to sound theology on the grace of God, and not know anything about it in his own life. I find very often that what I have in principle and in theory doesn’t exactly come out in my life. I say that to my grievance. But especially on the grace of God, I don’t know another truth in all the church of God about which there is more ignorance and more darkness and more blindness than the grace of God. People can preach on the grace of God in the power of the flesh. It’s an amazing thing! They stand up there is their own energy, generating their own effort, and talk about how free and wonderful the grace of God is. It’s a very subtle thing. We’re so subjective and so experience oriented. Everything touches us. If I experience it, if I feel it, if it affects me, how will it touch me and what will it do for me? How will it affect my life? What will it mean to me? How will it apply to me? Everything is that way, and that’s how we learn things.
When You come to the grace of God, the more subjective you are, the more you miss the grace of God. It helps in other things but it doesn’t help in the grace of God, because the grace of God is completely independent of us. It doesn’t have a thing in the world to do with what we do. God doesn’t show His grace because we’ve done something right; we’ve prayed, or we’ve trusted, or we’ve surrendered. He doesn’t show His grace because we did something right. It’s not because of what we do, or because of what we feel, or because of our doctrine or our theology or what we think. It’s not even because of what we are. The very moment we bring ourselves in, it ceases to be the grace of God.
Let me try to show you this from the scripture and then, Lord willing, God will show us light on it. In order to make this intensely practical, and still stay on theological ground, let me give you a high faluten theological definition of grace, and then come down to earth and tell you what the grace of God is, and hopefully we’ll be able to see it in this story. The theologians when they define grace have several parts to grace. Usually when they say the word “God” they throw in the word “infinite”, because God is infinite, so in this definition of grace we’ll keep throwing in the word “infinite”, because it has to do with God.
Theologians say the first part of grace is infinite favor. Infinite meaning no end to it at all; there is not beginning and no end to it. God is happy and God wants to bless and communicate Himself, and He wants to do that in an infinite way. But theologians says, “Infinite favor is not grace. There’s another part. Infinite favor on the infinitely undeserving.” In other words, I don’t deserve it at all. Let me give an illustration. Lets say that Pat was walking down the street and he came up to a complete stranger, never met this man before, reached in his wallet and handed that stranger a million dollars. You would say, “That’s favor, alright, and it’s on the undeserving.” The man didn’t do anything to deserve it. Pat didn’t even know the man. Would that be grace? Sometimes you hear people say, “Grace is unmerited favor – undeserved favor.” That’s true as far as it goes, but that’s not grace. If Pat or you or someone else gave a complete stranger a million dollars, even though he didn’t deserve it, that would not be grace. It might be kindness or generosity or a form of love. It might even be considered as mercy, but it’s not grace.
Let me change the illustration. I’ll drop Pat and pick up myself. Lets say that someone was to come into my home and violate my wife and kill my children, and ransack and spoil all of my goods, and leave me maimed and crippled, and then one day he was walking down the street, and I wheeled up to him in my wheelchair and gave him a million dollars. That’s grace. It’s not only infinite favor on the infinitely undeserving, but it’s infinite favor on the infinitely undeserving and infinitely ill deserving. He doesn’t only not deserve that million dollars, he deserves the exact opposite of that. He deserves judgment. That’s what grace is. Grace is when God freely gives, for no other reason than the reason of His own heart, when God freely gives to someone who doesn’t only not deserve it but, in fact, deserves the exact opposite. That’s the grace of God. Grace is not only favor, it’s infinite favor, and it’s not only on the underserving, but it’s on the infinitely undeserving. It’s not only on the ill deserving; it’s on the infinitely ill-deserving. That’s the theology of it. That’s what the theologians say. Grace is God’s infinite favor bestowed freely on the infinitely undeserving and the infinitely ill deserving.
Let’s leave the theology and bring it down to where we can use it day by day. What is grace? In a word, it’s what God does. That’s grace. You see, the Apostle Paul constantly contrasted law and grace. In one of my Bibles in order to make that practical, every time I came across the word “grace” I just wrote “what God does”. And every time I came across the word “law” I wrote “what man does”. That’s really the heart, the difference between law and grace. When a Christian lives by grace he lives by what God does. When a Christian lives by law he lives by what man does. That’s what the Holy Spirit means when He says, “We are not under law as a rule of life, but we’re under grace as a rule of life.” He doesn’t mean we aren’t under the 10 Commandments. What He means is, “I’m no longer under the law to keep the law. I’m under grace to keep the law. I’m not longer under what I do in order to keep God’s high standards. I’m now under what God does as a rule of life, in order to keep God’s high standards. The whole section here is designed to show that the spiritual man lives by what God does. That’s the characteristic of his life. If he’s really spiritual he lives by grace, pure grace, what God does.
Before I get into the story, I think it will help if we start at the tail. Look at verse 24, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord Jesus was showing that grace living was not possible with men. It required a miracle. A miracle is just another way of saying “what God does”. Grace living goes against the very grain of the natural heart. I’ve also noticed in my study of this that it goes against the grain of the Bible interpreters. Some of the commentators get strange when you read some of this. Constantly people are trying to tone down the miraculous and the supernatural. I’m amazed at what they’ve done in this particular passage. One commentator I read said, “Matthew made a mistake when he was translating this. There’s a word in the Greek – kamalos – from which we get our word “camel”. There’s another word which is – kamilos – which means “cable”. So, some of the commentators say, “Matthew didn’t really means “kamalos”, camel. What he meant was “Kamilos” and he just made a little mistake a wrote an “a” instead of an “I”. We’re talking about threading a needle and you put thread through it. So, it would be like putting a cable through a needle’s eye instead of a camel. Well, either way it’s impossible, whether you have a camel or cable. It’s interesting that thing didn’t come up until the 5th century, and all the thousands of manuscripts we found, not one has this Greek word “Kamilos”. They all have “camel”. So, that’s just a ridiculous argument.
Then there’s another one, and perhaps you’ve heard of this; another attempt of scholarship to tone down the supernatural. They say, “The needle’s eye was not a sewing needle. They aren’t talking about what Paul used when they made tents. But it was the name of a little hole or a gate in the wall of the city. That was true in Syria and in Jerusalem. Right next to the large gate there was a little gate, and that little gate was called “The Needle’s Eye”. That was the name of the gate. Here was the idea; the camels and the beasts of burden – donkeys and all – before they could go into the city (they weren’t allowed to pass through the main gate) and what they had to do is to crawl through the Needle’s Eye, that little hole. The idea was the keepers of the gate in the city wanted to make sure that no contraband got into the city. One way they did it was that the camel couldn’t crawl through that hole until he was unburdened and had to take off all his wares and supplies that were on his back because he could hardly get through the hole himself. So, that was their way of charging the pole tax. They just unloaded the animals and everything they could not get through the hole, they had to pay a tax on. That was called “The Needle’s Eye”.
That sounds good and sort of gives a wonderful picture of Christianity. You’ve got to take off all your burdens and get down on your knees and crawl through, but it completely misses the point. That wasn’t what Jesus was saying at all. By the way, there’s no evidence and no documentation that there was a gate called “The Needle’s Eye”. That isn’t even fact. That’s just something someone drummed up along the way. They didn’t even have that. Even if they did, Jesus wasn’t referring to it. How do I know that? It’s because crawling through a gate called “The Needle’s Eye” is possible. It’s difficult, but it’s possible. His point was that it’s not possible. Look at verse 26, “And looking upon them Jesus said to them, ‘With men this impossible.’” That’s his point. He’s trying to show the impossibility. He says, “It’s like a camel going through the eye of a needle.” I don’t think that’s a figure of speech at all; it’s no hyperbole. It’s certainly not a cable, and I don’t think it was a gate called “The Needle’s Eye”. I think it was a literal statement. He said, “It’s a lot easier for a physical camel with his humps and supplies to go through an eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.” He’s showing the impossibility of it. It’s only something God can do. Man cannot do that; it’s impossible with men. Of course, that’s what makes it grace. It’s something that only God can do.
Grace living is living by what only God can do. Every time you live by grace the camel passes through the needle’s eye. This is miracle living. Nothing is more frustrating than to be the kind of a Christian or to watch the kind of a Christian that tries to do what only God can do. Just think in your life how many times in your life you’ve attempted to do in your life what only God can do in your life. I’ll tell you, nothing brings in the bondage faster than that. We need to stay out of the Godhead. Let God do what only God can do. Thousands upon thousands of Christians stand upon the very soil that this rich man stood upon. They want to do something and they haven’t learned grace; haven’t learned to live by what God does.
When we come to a story like this rich young ruler, it’s easy for our natural hearts to push it aside and say, “It doesn’t apply to me because I’m already saved, and this man wasn’t saved. It applies only to the unsaved.” No, it doesn’t. You’ll notice as you go on in your study of God’s word that God doesn’t write to the unsaved or to the saved. He only writes to people, and all of His truth is equally applicable to the saved and to the unsaved. All of His truth applies to everyone, so we can always get principles from it. This man was standing on legal ground, trusting in what he does. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Christians stand on legal ground trusting what they do. What was true in the life of this rich young ruler is true in the life of every person who stands on legal ground. It applies to all of us. None of us has so fully drunk from the fountain of grace that we’re not burned in some way by legality. All of us face it and usually daily. We’ll find that till the day we get ready to meet the Lord. I think right up to the end we’re going to be facing this legality.
We talk about victory in the Christian life, as you go on you are going to see that effort not only plays no part in your victory, but effort actually gets in the way. It hinders your victory and postpones your victory and prevents your victory. This story wonderfully illustrates the pure grace of God.
In order to see why the pure grace of God is an evidence of the spiritual life, let me show you from this story of the rich young ruler the three evidences, reasons why we need the pure grace of God so much. I don’t know another story, really, that gets more under the skin of the heart than this rich young ruler. There’s a real passionate pouring out of a real heart here. I’ll almost say it’s his nature crying out. Very seldom in your life will you find that your nature cries out. Sometimes it will, but very seldom it does. Usually our nature is buried so deep within us, it’s only brought to the surface when it has outside influences. For example, your nature doesn’t run automatically to God. It ought to, but it doesn’t, because it’s usually controlled by other things. But sometimes God will engineer a circumstance, for example, outside your life, maybe a physical thing or financial problem or somebody coming across your path and opposing you in some way, and outside circumstance, pressure, impulse, that will reach deep inside and that nature will run to God. But it’s usually by an outside influence. Sometimes you seek the Lord because somebody invited you or someone gave you a book or a tape or someone invited you to hear somebody or something like that. But usually it’s from the outside. When it is from the inside, still it’s usually not from the depths. Maybe your conscience pricks you and you say, “I think I’ve neglected it too long; I better get back in the word. I ought to call upon the Lord more.” Your conscience begins to get you. But every now and then your very soul, the guts and blood of your soul, will find itself crying out to God by itself, without any influence from outside at all, not accident or circumstances, no conscience twinge, it’s just a need. Your soul was created for certain things, and every now and then your soul begins to press out toward the purpose for which it was created. I believe we have something like that here in the story of the rich young ruler.
I’m not necessarily saying that his soul was pushing out, but the Lord Jesus put His finger on this man’s soul in three areas. He touched this man, and because he was created for these things when the Lord Jesus touched him in those areas, his heart began to wince and cry out. Jesus exposes these heart cries one by one, and in every case He presents the pure grace as His all-sufficient answer to these heart cries.
Let me state them right out for you, the three heart cries, and then illustrate it in the story. Down deep in your soul there is a need to obey God. That’s a heart cry and it’s part of your soul. God put that in there; the need to obey God. In your soul there is a need to rest, to be at peace. And in your soul there is a need to surrender. Sometimes in your life God will engineer your path where He’ll meet those needs, but until you learn the pure grace of God you will not be able to obey, you will not be able to rest, and you will not be able to surrender. Your nature was created for that; it was made for that and it longs for that and it craves and thirsts; inside you push after that, “I’ve got to obey God. I’ve got to find rest somewhere. I must surrender.” Thousands of Christians run everywhere trying to meet those needs. The Lord Jesus put His finger on every one of those needs in this man’s heart, and then presented His grace as the all-sufficient answer for each need.
Let’s look at them. Verse 16 & 17, “And behold, one came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good things shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’” Why do I need the pure grace of God? Let me state it and then illustrate. I need the pure grace of God because His standard is so high. In Mark’s account we read Mark 10:18, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” The way this rich young ruler views “good” was relative good; comparative good. When Jesus quoted that second table of the Law, “Thou shalt not murder or commit adultery or steal or bear false witness, thou shalt honor thy parents,” he said, “All these things I have kept. And Mark adds, “From my youth up.” He wasn’t claiming sinless perfection. I think he was saying, in the main, “I’m a law keeper. I’m not perfect, of course, but as far as the overt act is concerned, I’m a law keeper. I never killed anyone, never took another man’s wife, never robbed a grocery store, perjured myself, and despised my parents. Compared to the guy down the street I’m not bad. In the main direction of my life I’m pretty moral. I’m a good citizen and a good neighbor.”
Sometimes we read into it more than we ought to. We look at it and say, “How proud! What a statement! How blind! He thinks he kept all these things from his youth up.” Ask any Christian, “Did you ever kill anybody?” You’d probably say, “No, not from my youth up; never killed anybody.” I think he was answering truthfully and was saying, “I’m relatively good.” But Jesus points out, and that’s why we need the grace of God, that the good that is required by God is not relative good, but absolute good. The man begins by saying, “What good thing…,” and Jesus says, “Good? You want a definition of “Good”? Do you want to know what good is? Before I answer your question, let me tell you what good is. Only God is good. Now do you want to know what good things to do? We’re going to use good that way. I’m going to show you the absolute good.” And by putting that standard there He absolutely crushed that man.
We usually rate each other against each other and say, “He’s not bad compared to him. He’s not bad compared to her. He’s not bad compared to them.” He said, “I’ll tell you what good is; it’s perfection. Only God is good. What is required is God’s good. He’s the standard of good, the author of good, and His commandments are the expressions of His good nature. This man never dreamed that there was a heart to these commandments. He never dreamed that he could murder by hate, or commit adultery by lust, or steal by waste or lie by hypocrisy or dishonor his parents by worrying them. He never thought in the world that there was a heart to these things. He never saw under the surface. He never saw the intents and the thoughts and the motives. Everything was outside and external; just the rules. Jesus absolutely floored him with this standard, a standard that even the angels can’t reach. Angels that have never sinned are not absolutely good. Matter of fact in Job 15:15 you have a description of the angels that never sinned, “Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones; the heavens are not pure in His sight.” God said, “I wouldn’t trust My angels.” They never sinned, but it’s relative good; it’s not absolute good.
Why do we need the grace of God? I’ll tell you why. It’s because God requires from you and me absolute good, and not relative good. Try that on your own. It’s not a possibility. That’s why in the Bible He likens man’s righteousness to filthy rags. That’s relative good. And I won’t even tell you in mixed company what word the Holy Spirit uses in Isaiah 64:6 to describe filthy rags. That’s our righteousness. What would our sin be like? If our righteousness is polluted garments, He said, “I don’t accept your relative good.”
I’m not playing with this. This is what blew the lid off Paul’s theology, that God rejects all relative good. He will not accept it, and that He’ll only go after absolute good. Listen to what Paul said in Philippians, “As to the righteousness which is of the Law, I’m blameless,” – that is relative righteousness, “but whatever things were gain to me, those I have counted loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I’ve suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” And then he adds this, “And be found in Him, not having a righteousness which is of my own, by the Law, but that I might have righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul said, “I used to live by relative righteousness, and then one day God showed me, and as soon as He showed me that, I took my own relative goodness in righteousness and I threw it in the garbage heap. Rubbish! Now all I want to do is to be found in Christ with a righteousness that comes from Him, and not mine; an absolute righteousness, because relative righteousness is rejected.”
Most Christians haven’t seen this. If the Christian life were just a few rules, how easy it would be. You’d go to church on Sunday, sing some hymns, read some books, pray some prayers, visit the sick, give to the poor, and then we could paddle our own canoe. That’s the Christian life, and that’s what it is for many, many, many Christians. But according to this passage the Christian life is nothing less than the camel passing through the needle’s eye. That’s the Christian life from start to finish. It’s what God does. From start to finish it’s a miracle. There’s not one responsibility in the covers of your Bible, from cover to cover that you can do; not one. You can’t even begin to do one, because God requires absolute righteousness.
It’s easy to read, “Turn the other cheek.” Did you ever try it? Every time you turn the other cheek in reality, God causes the camel to pass through the needle’s eye. It’s a miracle of God to turn the other cheek in absolute righteousness. “Go the second mile.” Every time you go the second mile in reality, the camel passes through the needle’s eye. “Be tender hearted, be generous, be long suffering and patient, be kind.” You can’t, and God never expected you to. God has only expected you to see that you can’t, in order that He might show the grace of God, that He can and will. Only God can do these things, and every time He works these virtues in your life, the camel passes through the needle’s eye.
Do you want to know what a spiritual person is and what he looks like? Stop trying to be good; they have stopped trying to play with relative good and they know the only thing God will ever accept is absolute good. They know that it’s not possible for them to be absolutely good, and so they trust His grace. They say, “Lord, if you don’t work it in me, it won’t be there. I’m quitting and I’m not going to try. I can’t do it. You do it, or I’m dead.” That’s a spiritual Christian, trusting the grace of God, not conforming to a few externals, but God working His true pleasure deep within the soul, in the spirit. “Call it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations.” Right! “In everything give thanks.” “Sure, be glad to; in everything give thanks.” “Hold your tongue.” Right! Every time you fulfill those commands the camel passes through the needle’s eye. Every one of those commands takes a miracle of God, and nothing less.
The Christian life is not easy. The Christian life is not hard. The Christian life is impossible. Only God can live the Christian life. It takes God to be a man. It takes God to be a woman. It takes God to be the person God created you to be. You look at the spiritual person and his first confession is, “I can do nothing. Without Him I’m lost. Through Him I can do all things, but without Him I can do nothing. He must do it in me, by me, for me, through me. He must do it all.” That’s grace living. When God begins to work this attitude and disposition in your heart, He begins to teach you the grace of God.
If God would show us our inner man, and show us His high and awful standard, if we could begin to see that God, in fact, will not accept from any Christian anything less than absolute living, oh how it would drive us to Him! But Christians are told over and over again to try harder and dig in, and to go with more gusto, and all that kind of thing. We don’t need more gusto. We need to see that only God can live my life. Our vision of God is so low and so small, so our lives become so anemic, and the whole Christian experience is just running around generating this and that, and getting involved in all kinds of things. Thousands of Christians believe they can meet the cry of their nature to obey God. Way down deep in your heart you say, “I’ve got to obey Him.” Oh, the liberty that comes to your soul when you understand how. Yes, you’ve got to obey Him with a New Covenant obedience. God has never required anything from you that He won’t perform for you and in you. So, all God’s commands are also promises.
Absolute good; we could go on and on about that. Let’s move on. May the Lord give us a standard, and show us Himself. There’s a second reason illustrated here why the spiritual are to live by grace, not only because the standard is too high to live in our own effort, but the heart of man, the need of man’s nature is too deep. Verse 20, “All these things I have kept. What am I still lacking?” We call this the story of the rich young ruler. All of that comes from the Bible. He was rich. Matthew 19:22, “He owned much property.” Luke 18:23, “He was extremely rich.” Jesus called Him a rich man, and contrasted the riches he had with riches in heaven, treasures in heaven. He was young. Matthew 19:22, “When the young man heard heard that statement…” The Bible doesn’t tell us how young. He’s young and rich, and he’s also a ruler. Luke 18:18, “A certain ruler came.” It’s the same man.
Commentators don’t know what kind of a ruler. Some say he was some sort of a synagogue ruler; a religious ruler. Some think he might have even served on the Sanhedrin. Others think he was a civil ruler; government official, like a mayor or magistrator or judge, or something like that. The point is that he had position. You take those three together, how would you like to be rich, and young, and influential – a ruler? Then you add to that his moral code. He wasn’t an overt law breaker. Relatively speaking he was good. You tell that to the world and they’d think they got the formula for happiness. How would you like that? Rich, young, influential, power, ruler, authority, and yet we read, “What do I lack? What’s missing?” The man was not satisfied. He was rich, young, ruler, moral, but his youth and his power and influence and his wealth and his reputation just left him emptiness. He was experiencing the vanity of this world’s treasure.
Proverbs 28:19, “He who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.” I didn’t say “plenty of poverty”. It doesn’t say that. That may be true, too, but it doesn’t say “plenty of poverty”. It says poverty in plenty. You’ll have plenty, but there will be poverty in it; poverty in plenty. The prophet Haggai presents the same truth. Haggai 1, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘Consider your ways. You’ve sown much, but harvest little. You eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied. You drink, but there’s not enough to become drunk. You put on clothing, but no one is warm enough. He who earns, earns money, wages to put into purse with holes. You look for much and it comes to little. You bring it home and I blow it away,’ says the Lord.” In that passage there’s no shortage of food, no shortage of water, no shortage of shelter, no shortage of clothing, no shortage of gold, but it didn’t meet the need. They ate and were still hungry. They drank and were still thirsty. They clothed themselves and couldn’t get warm, no matter how much they wrapped up. It wasn’t that they didn’t have it. They did have it, but it didn’t meet the need. So, this man had everything on the level of earth, but it didn’t satisfy, and that’s why he came to the Lord Jesus. Mark says he came running. That’s why he came running to the Lord Jesus; to see if Jesus could nail down his need. “What am I’m lacking. I have money, I have youth, I have power, but I’m missing something.”
In a surface reading it looks like he was lacking poverty, because Jesus said, “Go sell all your possessions and give to the poor.” But poverty wasn’t his lack. Verse 21 tells what his lack was, “treasures in heaven”, that’s what he was lacking. He had treasures on the earth, but he didn’t have spiritual treasures. Man needs the grace of God. Man needs what God does. Man needs His miracles because God created man with a bottomless soul. God created man with a hunger for rest that nothing in this world could fill; not youth, not power, not money, not gold, silver, prestige or anything. God created us with a hole in our heart that only He can fill. That’s why He came crying for eternal life.
Ecclesiastes 3:11, “Thou has put eternity in their hearts.” When God created man He put eternity in every person’s heart. Way down deep they’re just crying out. Nothing temporal can fill the cry for eternity. Only God can. He was pursuing relative goodness, but he couldn’t satisfy his soul with things shakable. I’m empty. I’m not fulfilled.
Let me bring it home a little, and then we’ll go on to the third one. Once again it’s tragic to see God’s children who are blind to the possibilities of their own natures that God has created them, trying to satisfy themselves in anything but Jesus. It’s tragic. It doesn’t work and it can’t work. God’s people thinking that if they had more money and had more position and had more friends and had more influence, they would be different. It won’t fulfill, it won’t satisfy, it won’t fill the need. Do you realize this? Every time a Christian has peace in his soul, the camel has passed through the needle’s eye? And every time a Christian has rest, the camel passes through the needle’s eye. You find someone who is content, there’s a good chance you have found a spiritual Christian.
Rest is not something you do. Everybody says, “Rest, rest in the Lord,” as if they had to do something. I’ll tell you how not to have a good night’s sleep; try to get a good night’s sleep. The more you try to sleep, the worse it gets, and the more you try to rest, the worse it gets. Rest is not something you do, it’s something you receive from God. It’s a gift from God.
We’ve already had Christmas in our family. Our children have already opened the gifts and everything because we have quite a schedule coming up, but the kids didn’t agonize over those gifts, “Oh, I’ve just got to get those gifts,” and go into a prayer meeting on Christmas eve saying, “Oh, I’m just going to have to really long for these gifts.” Do you know what they did to get their gifts? They just received it. That’s all. There is no agony. That’s all there is to getting the gifts of God. You just take it. Christians don’t take rest. They try to rest and they try to do rest. You can’t rest. It’s a gift of God and it’s a miracle of God. Every time anybody enters any degree of rest, the camel has passed through the needle’s eye. It’s a mighty miracle of God; the whole Christian life is. If I’m going to be fulfilled as God’s child, if you are going to be content as God’s child, so that your heart will no longer have to cry out, “What do I lack?” then it’s going to take a miracle of God. God will cause the camel to pass through the needle’s eye and bring you into rest.
Let’s go on with one more. Verse 21, the heart is also crying out for surrender, “If you wish to be complete surrender all of your possessions. Give to the poor and you’ll have treasures in heaven. Come; follow Me.” Of course, the problem is that everybody takes that literally. The question is, does Jesus require this of everyone? Does He require everyone who desires to entire life, who desires treasures in heaven, to sell everything and distribute to the poor, and come and follow Him? Don’t be shocked at my answer, but the answer is yes. Of course He requires that of every one; every single person is required to do this, in principle, not in fact; in principle. You see, there were many earthly rich, literally rich who didn’t literally dispose of their wealth, but had in principle; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon; these were all rich men in the Bible. Zaccheus was a rich Christian. So was Matthew and Philemon. Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Jesus said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, it was under your control.” It was theirs.
The principle is a total absolute complete undisputed surrender. It’s just illustrated by letting go of everything, becoming empty, totally free from the treasures on earth, totally embracing the treasures in heaven. He illustrated a principle by saying, “Sell all and give all and follow Me.” That’s a principle.
Everything in this passage comes back to verse 26, “With men it’s impossible, but with God it is possible.” Let me bring it back to you. Christian, live by absolute goodness; verse 26, with men it’s impossible. With God it’s possible. Christian, be satisfied and lack nothing; with men it’s impossible. With God it’s possible. Christian, surrender everything. Do you know why man couldn’t do it? He didn’t trust the grace of God. Only God can do it. There’s no way in the world anybody can be totally surrendered on their own. Every time you see a Christian who is surrendered you have witnessed the camel pass through the needle’s eye.
For years in my Christian life I was frustrated because teachers and preachers called me to surrender, and I surrendered my guts out. I didn’t know how to surrender any more. I surrendered and I yielded myself in every way that I knew how. No one even suggested to me that surrender was a work of God, that surrender was an act of God. Do you know that in the Old Testament economy if you were a worshipper you could not bring a lamb, an animal, to God? You weren’t allowed to. You had to give it to the priest, and then the priest would offer it for you. Do you want to know how to surrender? Give yourself to your high priest and let Him surrender you for you. That’s exactly the teaching of the Bible through and through.
If you have an opportunity to challenge someone in the Lord, don’t present surrender as if it were possible from man. It’s not possible for men. It’s only possible with God. God has to work in us. Sometimes He enlarges the eye of the needle, and sometimes He shrinks the camel, but it’s always a mighty miracle of God. This is what I mean when I say this is an evidence of the spiritual Christian. This is not a popular Christian I’m describing, because he’s going to be misjudged all over the place because he’s not trying to be good anymore. Everyone is going to say, “What king of a Christian is he? He’s not even trying to be good.” A spiritual Christian is one who no longer struggles to obey God. Let me tell you, if you are struggling to obey God, you are not spiritual. A spiritual Christian is one who no longer struggles to rest. If you are struggling to rest in the Lord, you missed the boat. You don’t understand the grace of God. A spiritual Christian is one who no longer struggles to surrender to the Lord.
How many times in my life I dedicated and rededicated and yielded and consecrated, signed cards, raised hands, went forward, and did everything in the world so I’d be sold out for Him. The spiritual Christian does none of that. He doesn’t struggle to obey God. He doesn’t struggle to rest. He doesn’t struggle to surrender. He has learned that God must cause the camel to pass through the needle’s eye. God must do it. It’s a miracle life. Only God can make me obey. Only God can bring me into rest. Only God can surrender me, so that I’m holding nothing back. If I’m not living that way, I don’t try to live that way, that’s an outworking, then I run back to the other chapter to seeing Jesus glorfied, trusting Jesus unreservedly, resting in Him as my all-sufficiency, and when I see Him as my all, when I see Him by the Spirit’s unveiling of Him in the scriptures, when I place my trust in Him, I will be childlike, I will have a forgiving spirit, I will be holy, and I will be living by the grace of God; by what God does.
The disciples had trouble with this. Jesus turns around and begins to deal with them. We’ll pick that up next time.
Answers to Questions:
God doesn’t have a double standard. Every standard that He has is for the Christian He has for the unsaved, and that’s the whole purpose of the Law; to show them that they haven’t kept it. God doesn’t have a standard for you and not for them. Sometimes we read about the elders in the church and deacons, and that’s a standard for deacons. No, no, no, He doesn’t have a double standard; one from deacons and then one for the average Christian. He’s just saying that you have to at least have come this far before you hold responsibility among God’s people. But all the qualifications for deacons are His qualifications for every Christian, and for the unsaved, but they just fall short of it.
As far as the record goes, see, we can’t judge him, on this occasion he turned and walked from the Lord. The word that’s used in Mark is the same word that’s used in Matthew 23:6 where it says, “The clouds in the sky were lowering.” This man walked away with a depressed countenance. Did he ever come back? The Bible doesn’t say. I know this, if I see this man in heaven I’ll know the camel passed through the needle’s eye. It takes a mighty miracle of God. At this point he didn’t but we have no record of his end. We don’t know. The way he was seeking, Matthew Henry calls him, “A fine gentlemen.” The way he was seeking, he may have continued seeking and found the Lord, but eternity will declare that.
There was too much of a price to pay. We didn’t get into the principle of how to deal with others, but the way the Lord Jesus dealt with this man was amazing. For one thing, if someone were to come to me and say, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” I wouldn’t say, “Keep the commandments.” I’d probably try to give him the gospel, and then if he decided to walk away, I’d try to bring him back. I wouldn’t just let him go. I’d try to explain more. It must relate to the fact that He doesn’t pressure us. He lets us choose. It’s a free will.
It sounds harsh, but the Spirit of God included in Marks gospel, “And looking upon him He loved him.” Mark records that He loves this man. It looks like a severe dealing with him, and yet He loved Him. So, you know there was no contradiction in His dealing in His heart. We don’t know if it was a final no.
Our Father, we want to be spiritual. We want to be ruled by the King, and we know it’s a spiritual kingdom. Lord, we pray that these characteristics of spirituality might be true and increasing in our lives, that we might be helplessly dependent, that we might have that forgiving spirit, that we might be holy and clean and pure, that we might walk by the pure grace of God of what You do, and not what we do. Teach us these things. In Jesus’ name. Amen
(this transcript can be downloaded and/or printed in Word from www.biblestudyministriesinc.com)