Years ago I met a guy who stumbled across our ministry while searching out help for his porn addiction. I suggested he start attending our weekly group; a place he could start digging into his brokenness and seeing how God might put him back together as a new man of integrity. He started attending, but would continually wallow in his shame. He was unreceptive to the truth about God’s grace, or even the grace extended to him by the other guys in the group. He falsely assumed his rejection of grace was a noble response because he was just too far gone to be loved or wanted. He came into the group with the appearance of wanting help, but never actually opened his heart to the truth. He eventually left the group.
The Bible shares a similar encounter that Jesus had during his ministry. It’s found in Matthew 19, starting in verse 16:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
This man approaches Jesus, seeking out his help on a very important question. “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” That’s a pretty deep question. It’s not like he’s asking Jesus directions to the nearest camel-filling station. He’s asking for help on a life or death question. Unfortunately, he comes to the question with ignorance and arrogance.
His ignorance is highlighted in his understanding of eternal life. He asks what “good deed” he must do to gain eternal life, but no one can gain eternal life through works. Eternal life is a gift from God given to those who put their trust in Him. No deeds involved, just childlike faith. But his ignorance isn’t that big a deal; lots of people are ignorant when it comes to seeking out help for their problems. In fact, it’s often ignorance that drives us to seek answers. When you don’t know something (i.e. you are ignorant) you ask questions. This is good. But if that ignorance is married to arrogance, it’s unlikely you will be receptive to any help offered. This rich guy wasn’t.
I’m actually astonished at the level of arrogance this guy exhibited. But somehow Jesus didn’t flinch. The guy asks what he should do to have eternal life and Jesus tells him; keep the commandments. For clarification, the guy asks which ones, to which Jesus responds with what we’ll dub the “Big 6.” And then this rich guy has the audacity to suggest that he has kept these laws perfectly! What?! Has he lost his mind? How can he stand there and say that with a straight face? Regardless, he does and then asks, “What do I still lack?” Then Jesus carefully fires an arrow of truth that pierces this guy’s heart in a way it had never been stabbed before.
“Sell everything, give it to the poor, and come follow me.”
This is the moment of truth for the rich young man. Did he really want the truth? Was he going to receive the help Jesus offered? No. His arrogance was exposed. He went away sad, unwilling to allow the truth to change him. Instead, he was hoping he could manipulate God’s Law to fit his agenda and desires instead of him being molded by God. Jesus then used this as a teachable moment:
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It’s hard for someone who doesn’t really want help to hear the truth about redemption and transformation. In fact, it’s so hard that from our human perspective it can only be concluded that it is impossible. But Jesus offers hope to His disciples and to us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever see that man from years ago in group again, but I pray for him whenever he comes to mind. I pray that the God of the impossible would melt his heart of stone and shame, and give him a new heart, one receptive to the truth of God’s grace and power to transform even the most broken sinner into a useful saint in His kingdom. It’s what God does best, the impossible!
But we must have the resolve and conviction of Jesus, to stand firm in the truth even when those seeking our help walk away. Jesus didn’t chase this man down to try and convince him to change. He instead entrusted him to the Father, that one day this man’s love of riches would wear him down enough to finally embrace the message of hope Jesus gave him on that pivotal day.
What is wearing you down? What do you need to give up in order to embrace the help God is offering to you? Is it money? Is it porn? Is it power, career, ministry? Whatever it is that you are using to resist God’s truth for change, maybe today is the day you lay it down, and instead take up your cross and follow Jesus. It’s the only way to find peace and offer help to others that is actually — helpful.