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This will be a three-part post. In these posts, I examine three guys and Jesus’ response to them. All three encountered Jesus, all three had questions, and all three received different responses to their questions.
So here we go.
First, the good guy.
The good guy
A young impressionable bourgeois and a good guy came to Jesus with a smirk on his face said this, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus slightly irritated tersely replied, “Why do you call me good?” “Only God is truly good.” But to your question, Jesus continued, “You know the commandments: You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.” The good guy replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” (Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31, Luke 18:18–30)
This unnamed good guy (unnamed so you can insert your name) represents all good moral people, who mostly are in the middle and upper-class stratum of society. These are good ethical people. They pay their taxes. They obey the law. They have credentials and qualifications. Their skills and experiences can land them good jobs internationally. They have a profile on LinkedIn. They approve and sign major deals. They work hard for their money and prestige. It doesn’t come easy nor cheap. You will not find them sitting idly even when they are on holiday. They are on their devices responding to emails or idling away trying to look busy. They exercise often and eat healthy meals. They are global citizens. They travel the world on holiday or business. They live in suburbia (the Northern suburbs here in Johannesburg South Africa, in Runda, Kileleshwa, Karen, Muthaiga, Garden Estate, Gigiri, Lavington, Loresho, etc. in Nairobi Kenya or equivalent). They drive modestly good cars. Their kids go to good “public” schools but mostly to private schools. They have strong social and business networks. They have multiple streams of active and passive income. These are movers and shakers of society. They treat their house helps and employees well, at least sometimes. They give to charity—help the poor, widows, orphans, etc. These are good moral people.
And it is their representative that meets with Jesus. Notice he asks, what shall I do?
This question reveals the modus operandi of good moral people. They are doers. They are constantly doing big stuff. They are constantly on the move. They do, do and do more. It is their default mode. It is inherent in them to do something.
His reply “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” (Luke 18:21) also reveals something else. I have done all that is required. Emphasis on ‘I’. My CV says that I’m a self-made man. I am good at what I do. And so when good moral people come to Jesus, they usually ask him, “What else can I do? I want to do something to boost my CV.”
If you speak to good moral people, they will say this is the furthest thing from their minds. They will vigorously deny this premise. In their minds, they do good moral things because they want to do good or they do good moral things because situations require these things to be done. They want to make a difference. But wait a minute. This good guy in our narrative reveals actually what is subconscious in their souls. And what is it? Inherent in them is a deep need to be good and moral for validation. If only I could add one more feather to my performance cap, I will be alright, they say.
In the eye of my imagination, I can see Jesus kindly put his hand on his shoulder and with the kindest smile he could muster say to the good guy, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22)
This is how Jesus responds to good moral people. He raises the bar. He increases the pressure. He gives you more things to do. Why does he do that? To crush you. Like at the gym, Jesus adds more weights on your bar and does not come close to spot for you. You are on your own. You said you could handle it. Then let’s go, PUSH! The added weight is to bring you to the end of yourself.
Now watch what happened to this good moral guy. “But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.” (Luke 18:23) The Greek word for sorrowful is perilypos, which is a derivative from peri, “encompassing” and lype, “sorrow”)–properly, being sorrowful “all-around,” i.e. engulfed in sorrow. This happened to this good moral guy. He felt the added weight to his bar, and he knew he couldn’t handle the pressure. He needed a spotter. He had come to the end of himself.
Jenny and I fall into this category. According to the Enneagram, we are reformers. We are goody two shoes. We follow the letter of the law to a tee. We like people who follow the rules and live good lives. We blame people who fail to follow the rules. At least we believe we have kept all of God’s law and we just need one more thing to make it to the finish line—to be perfect and to gain the applause of the gallery. And oh! how times we have been sorrowful. How many times have we felt the pressure when the weights were added and Jesus stood by and offered no help. How many times we thought to ourselves, we got this, we can do this, and then fall flat on our backs with exhaustion because we did too much. It’s our doing that has been our undoing.
It’s our doing that has been our undoing.
Finally, Jesus makes this remark, the final nail on the performance coffin, “And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25)
Is Jesus against us being rich? Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is against us using our performance—our good moral deeds—as a way of getting God’s approval. The good moral guy wanted to do—to do moral things to gain God’s favour, however, Jesus stopped him in his tracks.
This is where grace steps in. Grace is unearned, unmerited, and unconditional love of God. In grace, God does not accept us based on our performance nor reject us based us on our non-performance. Grace is this—God accepts us when we offer him nothing. In grace, we meet God at the end of our performance. It is Jesus’ performance on our behalf that counts.
Of course, the question arises, what should the good guy have done? How should he have approached Jesus and received eternal life?
If the good moral guy would have come to Jesus and said to Jesus, “Hey Jesus I have obeyed everything from my youth and I am still empty. Nothing satisfies me. I have a deep hole in my soul I cannot fill with all my riches. I have been to the mountaintop of my career and I have seen it all and still, I am not satisfied. I am depressed. My marriage is in shambles. My kids hate me. My health is falling apart. My friends have all walked away from me. My employees think I’m a bad person.” If he would have come to Jesus on these terms, Jesus would have responded differently. You think so? Yes, I do. His response would have been, “Welcome into the kingdom. Welcome to eternal life. Eternal life is for people who have nothing to offer. Eternal life is to be received.”
This is what grace looks like. Grace is for people who are desperate, broken, poor, sick, weak, confused, shameful, barren, disqualified, divorced, racist, prostitutes, poor parents, addicts, disobedient, liars, murderers, adulterers, chaotic, unfavourable, dirty, unhealthy, bankrupt, orphans, widows, immigrants, suicidal, depressed, etc.—all the good-for-nothing.
Good moral people can receive grace too. How? If they consider the bankruptcy of their good moral deeds. If they abandon the idea their good moral deeds are enough to gain God’s favour. This is easier said than done because we all are creatures of performance. It takes the grace of God to break through into our hearts and transform us.
Do you want to see more grace in this story? Right in front of the young, rich bourgeois stood another young man who had obeyed all these commandments since he was young. Right in front of him stood a man who only did what his father commanded him to do. He was the perfect young man—Jesus. Is this good news? Nope. This is bad news. This news condemns all of us because none of us has kept all of God’s commands. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standards. (Romans 3:23 NLT)
This is good news when you realize that the perfection of the young man, the obedience of the perfect young man was imputed to you. That on the cross, God made Jesus sin and judged him thus, and imputed Jesus’ righteousness to you and thus considers you perfect. That God now sees you as if you have obeyed all the commandments from your youth.
So to you good moral people, the bourgeois class, there is room at Jesus’ feet for you. This room is for people who have nothing good to offer to God but only to receive all that is good from God. This room is for the good-for-nothing, which we all are. Come find your rest at Jesus’ feet. Come to the one whose performance is all that matters. Guess what? When you believe that his performance for you is enough, your good moral deeds will be worthwhile. That’s the beauty of grace.
That’s what grace looks like
… Now on to the Christian guy