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Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. –
Mark 10:21-22

As with many familiar stories, it is easy to miss the main point of this account about the one whom we know as “The Rich Young Ruler.”

This man appeared to have everything: youth, wealth, religion, and position. Yet he still had an empty place in his heart. He eagerly ran to Jesus to ask what he should do to inherit eternal life. Did he have the wisdom to realize that the things that appeared to bless him above other men were all temporary?

Youth will always pass with the passing of time. Thieves can steal wealth. Religion and position, while appearing to be helpful, did not satisfy the deepest yearnings of his heart.

Matthew’s account even says he was the one who raised the question, “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20). He had a “felt need” – but, like Naaman, what he “felt” was not what Jesus said he needed.

What ‘One Thing’ Did the Young Man Lack?

What he was lacking was not generosity to the poor. As an obedient son of the Law, he was doubtless giving much of his wealth to the poor already. His problem was that the Law, without God in his heart, was an inadequate guide and useless Comforter.

What most expositors of this account focus on is the same thing the disciples focused on – Jesus’ instruction to sell what he had and give to the poor. This, however, is not the main point of what Jesus said. It would have been possible for the young man to sell all he had to give to the poor and still gain nothing. At least that is what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:3.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Jesus’ main point was “Come, follow me.” The rich, young man needed to follow Jesus. That is what was lacking. This is something that mere obedience to the commands of law – of any law – could never provide. Law can condemn; it cannot set us free. It is only by following Jesus and holding to His teachings that we are His real disciples. Then, Truth will set you free, and “If the Son [who said, “I am…Truth,” John 14:6, JS] sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36; see also vv. 31ff).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery….

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature [the flesh, JS]; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:1, 13-14 (NIV)

Being rich was not the young man’s problem. His problem was that he was not a man after God’s own heart, as was David. How could he become what he needed to be? It would only be by following Jesus that he could find the love for neighbor that transforms alms-giving into beneficence.

What Do I Still Lack?

Ultimately, the answer to the question of what is still lacking in me – or any other person – is that I must follow Jesus, humbly and trustingly. Until I begin to follow Him, I am still lacking. In Him, I find what is missing in my heart and life.

Too many times, I look at the cost of following Jesus – the riches I must give away. I fail to see the cost of not following Him. I do not see what I gain when I come after Him and follow Him. Only when I consider both sides of this – what I give up and what I gain – can I truly “count the cost” of being His disciple.

Someone said, “It is no loss to give up what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”

Sadly, the youth who came so eagerly to Jesus for an answer to his urgent question walked away because he judged that the cost was too great. He had great wealth, but he was not willing to surrender it to follow Jesus. He expressed great confidence in Jesus – but was unwilling to act on his own confession.

Intellectually, I can confess Jesus as well. Am I willing to act on that confession without reservation? Until I am willing to do that, I will still be lacking as well.

I will lack the only thing that really matters – Jesus Christ as my guide, confidant, and Savior.


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