Coming Short of Repentance

(v. 17) The man who came running to Jesus was wealthy (v. 22), young (Mt 19:22), a ruler (Luke 18:18). He had youth, wealth, power, health, an attractive personality – he had everything, but lacked the most important thing – eternal life. Everything was going for him as far as the world was concerned.

He came to Jesus with a visible urgency. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (How would we deal with this kind of person in our churches today? Often the message in churches winds up only rearranging prejudices and confirming the person in a false security. This ruler posed as if he were ignorant of the one thing needed to have eternal life. Did he really lack light? Jesus will ultimately expose him as guilty of compounding and mystifying the Gospel.)


His question, “What must I do. . . ?” appeared sincere. The words “do” and “inherit” used together along with his list of moral achievements demonstrate that he was thinking in terms of earning eternal life. His culture was steeped in legalism. (No one is capable of earning eternal life – it is only reliance upon God that brings eternal life.)

Eternal life is not just going to heaven. It is not just hell avoidance. It is so much more. Eternal life is a quality of life that begins now. The true believer is in possession of eternal life because he knows the giver of life. Thus the saved man has passed from death to life (Jn 5:24). He is dead to sin (Rom 6:11). Christ is in the believer, he has a love relationship with Christ that will never end (Jn 17:3).

(v. 18) “Why do you call me good?” Jesus wanted to show him that no one is good but God alone.The young man needed to realize that his works could not make him good. He must know that he is not capable of earning eternal life. Goodness is not something meritorious. God alone is good in character, quality, and nature. All true human goodness is derived from a relationship of moral trust in God (Hab 2:4).

Is this ruler ready to acknowledge that Christ’s “goodness” is not just high upon a sliding scale (relative), but absolute and therefore an attribute of God? (Is he ready to claim Jesus as deity?)

(v. 19, 20) Christ sets the divine standard before the man. (“Do not defraud.” This is a command that encompasses the avoidance of all covetousness.)

The Lord is about to expose the man’s complacency. Think of it. This rich man stands before God in Christ – the eternal God, light incarnate. And the man claims to have never lusted, coveted, taken God’s name in vain, never been resentful, never had an iota of moral and spiritual failure. Since a boy he has shown external conformity to the law. But like the Apostle Paul before salvation, it has been only obedience to the letter of the law (Phil 3:6). (Now the man wants Christ to give him assurance for his “blameless” life, assurance about eternal life.)

(v. 21) The Lord loves the lost as well as the saved. Jesus felt compassion for him. Christ is about to go the heart of the commandment (in this case, the man’s heart attitude toward his possessions). Jesus is going to expose the man’s heart as not as blameless as he maintained. By choice, the man served riches instead of God (Matt 6:24). If he loved neighbor as self, he would not be greedy and covetous, but would share his possessions.

(Our Lord stands before every person to break their complacency, self-delusion, pride, and self-righteousness – before they are broken, people imagine they can obligate and ingratiate God with a little moral exertion.)

The only ones who come to Christ are those who have seen their sin. They must come to Him as the physician able to treat their sin sick souls. Those who think they are good enough have no hope of eternal life. Those who think they can stand up to the scrutiny of God’s law are blind, deluded, and proud. They have no awareness of what God requires for eternal life. (The ruler wanted only betterment to merit eternal life – he did not want repentance toward God.)

The young man posed as one who was urgent, “What I wouldn’t give for eternal life. What I wouldn’t do to possess peace of soul.” No wonder why people around us are so blasé. They are apathetic about the Gospel. How willing are they to meet the cost? What are they prepared to do to be right with God? To be forgiven? This man has something he is not ready to release.

We must ask of our people, “Do you have a prior commitment, something more urgent, a pressing commitment more precious than Christ in your heart and your life?”


The ruler is standing before the majestic sovereignty of God. The young man is pretending in his complacency to be righteous (as if Christ the God-man does not see the idol factory in this man’s heart.) Would he submit to Christ’s lordship no matter what He required? If he wouldn’t acknowledge his sin and repudiate it so as to repent of it, he certainly won’t submit to Christ and follow Him as Lord and Savior. (He was unwilling on both counts. It kept him from eternal life. He loved the prestige, security, comfort, status of his riches more.)

Jesus gives this man steps to be taken. He has to make a decision. ONE (FIRST DECISION): sell all that you have and give to the poor (shatter the covetousness and benefit others). The principle – the man has a greater priority than God. His god is mammon. His whole lifestyle has to change before God. He has built his whole lifestyle on a foundation of wealth.

For others it’s music, science, learning, popularity, culture, prestige, romance, sensuality. Every conceivable form of idolatry exists. Our culture says “obsessions are normal.” But God wants an obsession for each person – let me be your obsession. Break your idol. Level it to the ground – the whole superstructure of your life, go down to bedrock – blast the foundations, I want it all. Forsake this life.


There is no eternal life without renunciation. (The young man was only concerned about the public side of life – he wasn’t ready to forsake what had been his god.) Repentance goes deep. It calls us to abandon our primary commitments that hold our emotional life. Forsake the things that were your priorities – your living for pleasure, comfort, culture, popularity. When a man repents, he is able to say, “I have been my own god, I’ve been living for myself. I will relinquish sovereignty over my life. I’m ready to be a Christ-possessed, Christ-obsessed man. I’m serious about eternal life. I cannot get God and bypass repentance. (I’m standing with a sledge hammer before each idol.)

TWO (SECOND DECISION): “Follow Me” turn your back on all the priorities you have had. No, not what a man do to be justified – we know that – believe, have no other trust but Christ. No the decision answers the question, “What must a man do to get eternal life?” The answer is submission of the entire life to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

This is the admission of Christ’s claim over us as leader, Savior, teacher. There is a deliberate rising and following after Him in His steps.

Christ promises that He can take us to God and confess our names before angels and before His Father. If you follow Me, you must follow the Lamb wherever He goes. He is Mediator, Author, Finisher, and Advocate of our faith. To follow Christ where He goes is an immensely high and holy morality. Do you want to get to Christ you’ll have to follow Christ and submit to His directives. You must take the same view of Scripture that He took (infallibility). You’ll have to take up your cross.

The repentance enjoined by Christ falls into three steps: pluck the idol from the throne of your life. Follow Me. Take up your cross.

All unsaved men are guided by governing obsessions, desires, and biases. The unsaved are disobedient. By contrast, the saved are characterized by a continual willingness to put the old man to death. By the constraint of grace, they are enabled to stand in shame and condemnation over what remains of sin in their lives – they follow and keep following Jesus. They see by faith that Jesus has the keys of death and hell. Do you really want eternal life? Jesus says follow Me, I haven’t lost one yet who followed Me.

Is our preaching in need of a cleaner, simpler, more brilliant, easier gospel message? NO! Don’t pretend that people don’t know the way to God. Let’s destroy all our idols and follow Him!

(v. 22) He went away with his wealth, but without Jesus. He went away without eternal life. The man came to Jesus, but went away sad. What should Jesus’ response to him been? “Should I make it easier, less demanding, -- should I be sorry I’ve driven you away?”

If you won’t sell all that you have for Christ there is not a man in the world who has the right to speak peace to his soul. Christ confronts us with the absolute reality that you can’t go on with your previous lifestyle, your old ego, your old priorities. Don’t go away, take up your cross and follow Him.

Plead with people – don’t think about it. Here is Christ. God is beseeching men by us. You can’t trust Christ soon enough.

Resources used: The MacArthur Study Bible; The NIV Study Bible; The Geneva Study Bible; The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary; Barker & Kohlenberger, eds.

[1][1] From Mark 10:21-22 to the end of this message, the material in this lesson is taken almost exclusively from a message by Geoff Thomas who spoke at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ conference in 1997.