"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33
This is a very interesting statement made by Jesus to his disciples. But what made Jesus say this? The comment follows an encounter with a young man who came to Jesus and posed an important question to him. Maybe you are seeking and asking similar questions to his? He said to him “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
He knew exactly what he didn't have. Being rich he had a lot of things money and position could buy, but he knew he didn't have eternal life. There was something missing in his soul, an emptiness that made him feel ill at ease. He had not found any peace, joy, hope in his life so far. He felt unsatisfied. Was he feeling in his heart the absence of feeling right before a Holy God? He was coming to Jesus because of a deep inner felt need. There was restlessness and anxiety in his heart. There was a sense of missing something he couldn't quite put his finger on. What of you? Is what lies beyond the grave worrying you?
Jesus replied "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17) He then asks Jesus which commandments he should keep, and so Jesus started to tell him, listing them. But he didn't finish because the man interrupted "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” It seems there is an urgency to know here. He is desperate, anxious, frustrated! The gospel of Mark says he came running to Jesus, this was something he needed to know, he couldn't wait! It was deeply unsettling him. Has God given you a similar burden, a conviction not all is well? He was young, but he knew he wasn't right with God and it needed fixing.
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 17:21)
This answer didn't go down to well, for "When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 17:22) Wow! Jesus stops him dead in his tracks and makes it impossible for him to continue his questioning. He was very religious, a devout Jew, but this by itself was not enough. Notice he asked Jesus - what must I do? He thought he could earn God's favour. What good deed must I do? For scripture says "there is none who does good" (Psalm 14:1), and "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20). None can face God, and gain eternal life standing on their own merit, and that was why Jesus first corrected him before answering his main question.
Trying to gain eternal life by keeping God's law simply doesn't work because of our inability to keep it! That was never the intention of the law. God demands perfection, his standards are too high for us to reach! So why did God give them? God gave us his law so we see that we cannot keep them, it's impossible! They were given to show us what wretched sinners we truly are! No matter how hard we try we will fail to live up to God's perfect standards.
This is precisely why we need Jesus, to follow after him. He is the only person to have led a perfect, sinless, righteous life well pleasing to the Father. He willingly gave up his own life in order to save others. The Apostle Paul addresses this same issue and directs us to Jesus by saying "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Romans 3:20-23) And there we have it! Only by believing, trusting and resting in Jesus, can someone inherit eternal life. There is nothing we can do, no tremendous act, no amount of charitable work and good deeds. Instead, one must empty oneself of everything and submit to Jesus. He becomes your prize possession, your ticket to heaven and all its glories.
The rich young ruler knew that he didn't have the life of God in his soul. He knew that he really didn't sense God fully. He knew that he didn't walk and commune with God. But, he didn't want to change. He loved what he had, his wealth, his riches. Jesus must come first in our lives, hence the comment made to his disciples after the young man had left them. Is there something in your life you are not willing to give up for Jesus?
Jesus then said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 17:23) Notice it's not impossible for rich people to become Christians, just very hard. This young man's particular stumbling block was his love for his wealth in this life rather than eternal treasures in heaven. What holds you back from following Jesus?
When the disciples heard how difficult it is to gain eternal life, we read "they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Our sinful hearts hold us back, what we need is a new heart only God can give. He can change our motives and desires if we only seek him and ask. Fred Charington the brewer was such a man, he stood to inherit millions, but turned to Jesus and renounced it all for his sake, and resigned from his father's company to run mission work. Later, following a serious injury his father on his death bed said to him "You are right Fred, you have chosen the better part which can never be taken away"
An eternal reward
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. They had given up their jobs, their income to follow Jesus. Peter asks "What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Mathew 17:25-29)
And your reward is yet to come, it's being prepared for you right now. Eternal riches and life can be yours if only you place your trust in Jesus Christ.