The story of Jesus and the rich young ruler is not a parable. It is a real event which took place. In this post we will explore some characteristics of the rich young ruler and what we can learn from this tiny piece of his life experience which I am sure shaped his eternal salvation.
Who is the rich young ruler in the Bible?
The title of the story was created based on the three different accounts found in the Bible.
- Luke 18: 18-23
- Mark 10:17-22
- Matthew 19:16-23
Each writer gives us different details that lets us know the three things we know about this character: he was young, he was rich, and he was a ruler.
This young man was not a Pharisee but he was more likely to be a Jewish leader or official in a court or at the synagogue. He had some great level of importance in his society.
Lessons from the rich young ruler?
What can we learn from the rich young ruler?
There are so many sobering and powerful lessons to learn from the rich young ruler.
Lesson # 1 – The rich young ruler was empty
Although he was deeply religious, this young man felt that something was missing from his life. He appeared desperate. Scripture says he ran to Jesus.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked.
Some translations say he asked Jesus what thing he was lacking.
Despite all he was doing in his spiritual life, despite all the things he had, he still felt insecure in his salvation.
I’d say that it’s a good place to be. To know that there is always more we can do to get closer to God.
The problem is, there is nothing we can know to earn eternal life. Which leads me to my next point.
Lesson # 2 – The rich young ruler thought that salvation was a list of do’s and don’t
The rich young ruler was a typical Jew. He was raised to believe that salvation came through your works. Good deeds.
The Jewish, and still have, 613 commandments to keep.
Jesus came to debunk the myth that good works can save us.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We are saved through what Jesus did for us on the cross. And that’s what makes salvation full and FREE.
We do good works because we are saved, not so that we can get saved.
The rich young ruler missed his opportunity to live a burden free life.
The answer to his heart’s yearning was right in front of him but he was blinded by worldliness.
Lesson # 3 – The rich young ruler did not understand the law
When Jesus listed specific laws, the young man claimed that he had kept them.
But why was he so empty?
Because he completely misunderstood the law.
You see, there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Technically, he did not really keep the law.
The laws were designed for us to enjoy a close relation with God as well as develop close relationships with our family, friends, and community.
The first four commandments help us with our heavenly relationship and the last six help us with our earthly relationships.
His response to Jesus tells us that none of this was a reality in his life.
What exactly was his reality?
Lesson # 4 – The rich young ruler loved things more than people
The rich young ruler walked away when Jesus said,
“…Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. (Luke 18:22-23)
This tells us that he was unwilling to part with his money and his things. He was not willing to part with his status and comfort.
He was not willing to make any meaningful sacrifices to follow Jesus.
Although he claimed he kept the law, he would not even consider caring for the less fortunate around him. His wealth benefitted nobody except himself.
That’s some way of keeping the law alright!
Earthly power and status and wealth are so perishable. They might be important for our survival on earth but in the bigger picture, they seem so tiny.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Jesus wanted so badly to redirect his mind to people and to heaven but he was so hampered by his wealth that he could not envision his life without it.
The rich young ruler is an excellent example of being so earthly minded that he was no heavenly good.
Unfortunately, he became an eternal frame of reference for what can happen to those who put money and things before a relationship with God and other people.
As you go after your dreams, don’t forget that those dreams were given to you to serve people.
Lesson # 5 – The rich young ruler was self- sufficient
Much of the population who listened to Jesus was poor. Desperately poor.
They hung to his every word because it brought sweet momentary and eternal relief to their dismal situation.
The rich young ruler could not relate. He had the means to live more than a comfortable life.
Money and possessions were his God.
He felt that he didn’t need God. He thought he could save himself.
Such is the plight of many people. Money and comfort take the place of God because of self-sufficiency.
You don’t have to necessarily be wealthy for this to happen to you.
If you have enough means to take care of your necessities. If you don’t have to worry about your next meal or how your bills are going to get paid.
Once you find yourself always wanting to solve your own problems with your own strength, power, skillset, intelligence, money etc, then, that’s being self-sufficient.
Once you find yourself wrestling with God about what you’re supposed to do versus what you want to do, you have a problem with self-sufficiency.
Lesson # 6 – Wealth and seeking wealth can be a hindrance to salvation
Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem with wealth. I believe that poverty is not of God’s design. There are more disadvantages than benefits when you are poor.
But in the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, Christ said
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25)
Although it does not seem like much to us now, Jesus’ statement was shocking.
You see, in that society wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. It was expected that religious leaders should be wealthy. And, wealthy people were sure to be saved.
This is why when Jesus made that statement, the people were so surprised and asked
“Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26).
Jesus completely turned common thought about wealth on its head. That wealth could keep you out of heaven was a novel and different idea than what they had been fed all their lives.
And it was such a sweet relief too!
Since most of Jesus’ listeners were dirt poor, they rejoiced at the fact that they did not have to be rich to be saved.
Lesson # 7 – God loves us whether we are loyal to him or not
That his wealth did not put him in a better position of being saved was new to this young man too. He had been raised differently.
Jesus more than likely knew that he was going to reject His attempt at saving his soul. Yet, Jesus looked at him with such love and compassion.
The story of Christ and the rich young ruler demonstrates to us all over again that God’s love is unconditional.
Make no mistake, God would prefer if we choose Him. But he also will not force us to do so.
Regardless of our choices though, he loves us anyway. The ball is always in our court.
Final thoughts about Jesus and the rich young ruler
No one knows for sure what happened to the rich young ruler. If he went on living the way he was living when he met Jesus, then his soul’s salvation would have been in jeopardy.
But, if at some point down the road he repented and observed the spirit of the law, then his salvation would look quite differently.
Whatever the case, we can learn alot from him. We spend so much of our waking hours in a grind. Just wanting to make the next buck. Wanting to secure our temporal status.
Far too often this comes at the expense of our spiritual lives, at the sacrifice of building relationships of those we claim we love.
But if we get nothing else, from this story we should really think about what Jesus said:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
This takes daily, deliberate decisions. What are you willing to do differently today so that you can invest in the important and eternal things of life?
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