The greatest learning opportunities often occur in life when failure is forced upon us against our will. We as humans have this amazing ability to stubbornly believe that we are correct in our assumptions until we are driven to the point of failure. One example comes from the life of a young George Washington. Washington was leading an expedition in 1754 against French forces in the Ohio Valley. He built a small fort, Fort Necessity, as a defensive position against the French. The problem was that he built it on the low ground and within the range of musket fire. The result was a quick defeat and forced surrender to the French. Washington was humiliated and dejected. The failure, however, turned out to be a great experience for the young Commander. His assumptions about battle and leadership were changed and it would prove to be the only surrender in his distinguished military career.
Similarly, some of our greatest spiritual lessons occur when we are confronted about misunderstandings of Christ and His demands of discipleship, which bring us to a decision point regarding our obedience to those demands. Matthew 19 contains perhaps the most famous Scriptural occurrence of this ideology in the story of the rich, young ruler. We see a series of exchanges where Jesus gets this man to the point where he is forced to admit that the Lord does not have His heart, and that he is not willing to give it to Him because of what is required.
This young man approaches Jesus inquiring about obtaining eternal life. His question reveals his understanding that eternal life is something to be earned by performing the correct actions and going through the proper religious mechanisms. “If I give this amount, and pray this much, and attend church this often, and don’t do these certain things, then surely I can earn eternal life,” he might be thinking. Jesus challenges his understanding of righteousness when He responds, “Why do you call me good?” It is quite obvious that this fellow understands goodness as something to be earned by his actions and works, so Jesus challenges his assumptions with this question.
Jesus then questions him on his relationships with his fellow man – don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don't lie, and so on. Our Lord is slowly building a case against this man by beginning with his assumptions about righteousness, then moving to his relationships with others before getting to the real issue: the condition of his heart before God.
After the man’s self-proclamation that he is excelling in each area listed by Jesus, we then see Jesus penetrate his assumptions by targeting that which he is withholding from God. Jesus asks him about his riches, possessions, and money, knowing that this man’s life was built upon a material foundation. You see, on the surface this young man is doing everything right, but on the inside he is holding everything back from the Lord. This is revealed in the fact that he walks away sad; he was willing to give the Lord his entire exterior and none of his interior, and therein was his problem.
The most revealing words of our Lord are his last to this young man. “Come, follow me.” Jesus calls him to get rid of everything in his life that would keep him from completely serving Christ, and he simply was not willing to obey. The call to truly follow Christ demands total surrender. Perhaps the best gauge of our devotion to the Lord is how much we are willing to give up for Him. What are you holding back from the Lord? His call demands our heart, and it is when He has our heart that we are ready to truly follow Him.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.