In Luke 18:18-30, we learn the story of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus first reminds him of the commandments (God’s prohibitions against adultery, stealing lying, murder, and dishonoring our parents). Apparently, this was an exceptionally fine, upstanding young man, for he tells Jesus he has kept those commandments since he was a child.
At this point, Jesus could have done what most religions tell us. He could have said, “You’re doing well; keep up the good work and if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds in the end, you’ll be good to go. See you in heaven!” Of course, this would have condemned the man to hell. So instead, Jesus tells him the hard truth, not because He wanted to discourage or offend him, but because He truly loved him.
Jesus goes straight to the core issue, knowing what was in this young man’s heart. He tells him he must sell everything he has, give all the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. To the man’s credit, he counted the cost and decided it was too much to pay; he went away sad.
In today’s reading of his devotional, New Morning Mercies, Paul Tripp does a great job explaining Jesus’ gospel presentation, which shows us we do not love people unless we are willing to tell them the truth, and we will not tell them the truth unless we really love them.
In a moment of complete honesty, Jesus doesn’t work to make the gospel attractive. Rather, he hones in on and exposes the central idolatry of this man’s heart. Jesus tells this man the bad news he needs to hear if he is ever to want the good news he desperately needs.
Truth isn’t mean and love isn’t dishonest. They are two sides of the same righteous agenda that longs for the spiritual welfare of another. Truth not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by other human agendas, and love that abandons the truth ceases to be love because it forsakes what is best for the person when it has been corrupted by other motives.*
Following Jesus means turning away from everything in this life to embrace His life. It means abandoning our sin and repenting. It means giving up all other idols and allowing Jesus to take His proper place on the throne of our hearts. It means accepting all of God’s commands as good and holy and right.
We cannot preach a gospel that leaves people in their sin. God sanctifies those He justifies. If we truly love people, we will be honest about the cost of following Christ. Truth and love go hand in hand. We do not preach perfection (salvation is never earned by good works), but we cannot preach permissiveness. Jesus exposed the young man’s heart – he loved his worldly goods more than God; it was his idol.
If you’re not a believer, what is it about the gospel that offends you? What strikes at your heart as unfair? What part of the message does your soul resist? The wise person will answer that question and allow God to show you the idols of your heart that prevent you from accepting the truth about Jesus.
The young man “went away sad.” If you are a believer, have you lost the joy of your salvation? If so, it might be an indication that you have allowed other idols to compete in your commitment to Christ. What do you love so much that you know is wrong? Let God win that battle, and return to your first love, and embrace the full truth of what it means to walk with Jesus.
*Tripp, Paul David. New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. Crossway Publishers, 2014.