"Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (Matt 19:16)
"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." (Matt 19:21)
Someone recently emailed me to ask about what this verse means for believers today. Are we expected to go and sell all of our possessions and give to the poor in order to follow Jesus?
It's a huge challenge to consider these instructions from Jesus and even more challenging to consider applying them to our actual lives.
Here are some things to consider as you meditate on this scripture.
First, notice that the Rich Young Ruler's question to Jesus was "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (v.16)
In response to that question Jesus says, "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor and then come and follow me." (v.21)
Throughout the Gospels several people come to Jesus and ask him what they must do to inherit eternal life or to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus never gives the same answer to anyone twice.
I think it's because Jesus is able to look into the hearts of those who are asking and he can see what is holding them back from submitting themselves to him as their King, and therefore what needs to change in order for them to enter the Kingdom of God.
For Nicodemus, a wise and well-respected Pharisee, the terms of surrender were to become like a baby again and start over from the beginning with a new birth.
For the Rich Young Ruler it was letting go of his wealth.
For Peter it was walking away from the biggest catch of fish he had ever had in his entire life.
For Matthew it was quitting his job as a tax collector on the spot to follow Jesus for the rest of his life.
For Zaccheus it was giving half of his possessions to the poor and paying back four times the money he had extorted from his fellow Jews as a tax collector.
In every case, the terms of surrender were unique to the individual.
So, what is it that's holding you back from following Jesus with your actual life today? If it's your great wealth or your love of money, then maybe that's what Jesus would ask you to surrender to Him. If it's your intellect and your position of respect and authority in the community, maybe it's complete humility and the willingness to become simple and foolish in the eyes of men in order to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus. If it's your job, then maybe you should walk away from it like Peter and Matthew did and follow Him.
For each of us there is probably one thing that we would find difficult to surrender to Jesus in order to enter the Kingdom. We should certainly be willing to let go of whatever the Lord Jesus asks us to surrender in order to follow Him and die to ourselves and carry our cross in obedience to Him. But we shouldn't take it upon ourselves to assume that just because Jesus asked one person to do something that you and I automatically need to do that same thing.
What is Jesus saying to you? What is it that Jesus would ask you to surrender? What, if anything, is keeping you from seeing the Kingdom or following Jesus today? Honestly, that's all that we really need to ask ourselves.