Rich Young Ruler; What was the message?

ImageHopefully you have read my post on “Perfect”.  It presents some presuppositions the English speaking person may have and should reconsider before reading this post.  Namely that in today’s English, “perfect”, has a Utopian flavor to it, without flaw, which is a relatively recent addition to the concept of the word.   The Biblical word, is more associated with the family of words which includes, complete, mature and finished.  Whether something has scars or not is irrelevant when considering if it is perfect or not.  When it’s finished and can do the job it was made for, it is perfect.   Paul speaks of presenting those he teaches as perfect when Jesus returns. (Col 1:28 KJV)  Paul is saying  he would have their spiritual growth completed before then.   (*That goes against some people’s belief that you’ll never get there while you still breathe on Earth.)

The Rich Young Ruler story is presented in the Synoptic Gospels,  Matthew, Mark, and Luke (click to view).  It’s very similarly told in each but there are some noteworthy differences.  Rather than presume contradictions, I view the differences as observations pointed out by one witness, and left out by the others.  Much like if you interview 15 people who witnessed a fight in a bar, you get different stories, and you can meld them all together and get a more complete picture of what was carried out.   Notably in Mark, Jesus is noted to have “loved him” after he established the RYR had kept the commandments.

The conversation between the RYR and Jesus goes something like this:

RYR: “Rabbi what must I do for eternal life?”
JESUS: “Keep the commandments, you know the ones, here are some examples.” (The Decalogue)

RYR: “But Rabbi I have kept those from my youth!”
Jesus: Feels a love for him and says, “One thing more if you would be PERFECT, …”

1.  Perfect doesn’t mean without flaw, it means finished.
 2. What is to be finished?
3.  In the Colossians’ verse above, you see Paul speaking to members of the church, who most of us are comfortable assuming are saved/atoned for/ have eternal life, but are not yet perfect.
4.  Perfect is a continuation after salvation.   Perfect relates to mature.  A person is a child at first in the faith, and grow to maturity.
5.  When Jesus asks, “if you would be perfect…” he has moved past salvation/eternal life to the continued development of the believer.
6.  This would also be an odd place for this man to be noted as one of the few people are noted specifically as loving.
…..A.  If the RYR were not correct that he had kept them, and Jesus “felt a love for him” would not Jesus correct him?
…..B.  Why would Jesus “feel a love” for him after he said a lie, or was mistaken about his status?  He would feel a pity for him, perhaps.  But the reassurance of love for him, would hardly be the emotion you’d expect.
…..C.  The notation of “felt a love” would show a favorable reaction to the RYR’s answer.
7.  The –love for him– being a favorable reaction to his claim “I have kept them from my youth”; and the understanding PERFECT means a continued and finished development which progresses after eternal life/atonement/salvation suggest, the conversation shifted from Salvation to Maturation.
8.  You would conclude, the “be perfect” is not the same as “Eternal Life”.
9.  If you assume that “if you would be perfect” is applied to “eternal life” then no one is saved, until they receive full spiritual maturity.
10.  That would be highly inconsistent with nearly every Christian church.

…..”Sell, all your belongings, give the proceeds away so you may not re-obtain them.  When you are a Pauper without means to care for yourself, come and follow me.  You will be fully dependent on me for all providence in your life.”

And this is how you become “perfect” in Jesus’ eyes.  Abandoning the Me Me Me nature and depending on Him as well as serving others.

Some hold the view that the RYR was being shown by Jesus that his heart was wrong, that he tried to keep the law and really failed.
1.  If this is true, you must be perfect then for eternal life. That is what Jesus said to the RYR and that is the basis for the claim on his heart being wrong. 
2.  You have to ignore the meaning of the word perfect, and assume a more modern definition that didn’t exist until well after the KJV was established.
3.  If he was not keeping the Decalogue as he should, why would Jesus not tell him?  That would have seen this man to eternal life.
4.  Jesus raised Lazarus, another man he was specifically said to have loved, from a four day death.  Wouldn’t helping this young man avoid eternal death be as equally desirable?
5.  Why would Jesus not tell him clearly his errors, as he did the woman at the well?  The one He loved, the other, as a Samaritan was borderline shunned.
6.  The giving your former life away, and start a new one with Christ, seems the practical appearance of being born again.
7.  I can see no direct reason to assume Jesus challenged the RYR’s heart.  All the written evidence seems to point to a more likely conclusion.  The “heart issue” seems an apologetic way to deal with the word “perfect” in the verse.  

The word “perfect” brings people to conclude “no one can be perfect” and so they assess the story from a cynical view, assuming sarcasm, or a pedantic trap from Jesus.  This leads to a conclusion that the RYR failed in some way to meet Jesus’ standards.  But, curiously, if “perfect” was intended that way, and assuming Jesus didn’t lie to the RYR and present a path (to perfection) that was impossible, then there is indeed a path to perfection.   That leads me to conclude that Jesus didn’t mean “if you would be perfect” to present an impossible goal in a believer’s life.  So, what does that “perfection” look like?  And is it necessary to have eternal life?  Or is it something that occurs after Eternal life is attained?

It also tells me that “eternal life” and “be perfect” were different conversations.  You see Jesus do this with Nicodemus as well, where Nick spoke of one thing, and Jesus answered another.  “Rabbi we know you come from God because of these miracles you do.”  Jesus says, “You must be born again.”  A disparate comment but a lesson that needs to be taught.  In the RYR’s instance Jesus had answered his question about Eternal Life.  The RYR having lived that life, was taken past Eternal Life to how to be perfect, or mature, or finished.  And that answer is to stop trying to do it yourself and learn to depend on God.

The RYR lived a successful life where he could provide for any needs he had.  Jesus led him to a revelation that he was to grow stronger, by becoming dependent on God.

The RYR obviously loved God.  He had kept the commandments from His youth.  If Jesus loved the RYR as it says, and the RYR was mistaken, Jesus would have told him, surely.   However, Jesus showed him a way to be MORE than he asked for.

You see this in the Beatitude, “blessed are the poor in spirit”.  The word for poor there, means dependent, needy, one who relies on another for providence would certainly fulfill that description.

Jesus has basically taken the words, “born from above” and put it into an applicable illustration.  Rather than provide for yourself, let Me provide for you.  Rather than be self dependent, be dependent on me.   What you can’t do for yourself, I can do for you, just get out of my way.  The OLD self provident self, must completely die and be removed, and a new, poor in Spirit, dependent on Him self be born.

After the RYR left, Peter, always the simple one, asks Jesus, “But we don’t have anything to sell and we already follow you, what can WE do for Eternal life?”

Jesus tells him, “Through man it’s not possible.  But through God all things are possible.   We are back to the theme, LEAN ON HIM;  Be poor, needy, dependent in spirit; lose your self providential prowess; GOD makes it possible get out of the way.

Scripture constantly reminds us that HE WILL MAKE us a new heart.  Yet we try to take charge and do it ourselves.  HE will remove the body of sins of the flesh (sinful nature) from us, yet we try to control and leash him ourselves.  HE will keep us from giving into temptation, but we try to do that ourselves.  HIS SEED in us will keep us from sinning, but we try to do it ourself.  And we fail every time we try to master that ourselves.  But Jesus is teaching the RYR to stop trying to be in control, and to give God control of your life.  He’s telling the RYR to learn how to get out of God’s way and let God do His work.

The RYR was given more than he understood, but God never challenged that he had eternal life.  The question “if you would be perfect” had nothing to do with pointing out the riches made him imperfect.

Paul describes Spiritual Perfection like this.
Through works of service, the church grows, but the individuals grow as well.   How much do they grow?  If JESUS CHRIST’S spiritual maturity on earth was compared to a glass full of water then, our glass would be:

As full as His.
In the same size glass as His.

…As the FULLNESS of His spiritual maturity.


TRULY, there is no way that happens by my doing.
Eph 4

In regards to the question of whether or not the RYR was saved…  We should have learned it’s not all about being “saved”.  It’s not all about my precious behind having eternal life.  God wants to change me.  And that change is sure, and is a destination to be attained.  To get there, I need to get out of His way, and let Him change me.


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