By P. J. Casebolt
When a rich ruler inquired concerning eternal life, Jesus answered, “Yet lackest thou one thing” (Luke 18:22). Jesus identified that one thing which stood between the ruler and eternal life, and the importance of that one thing is clearly demonstrated in the words, “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich” (v. 23).
We often wonder today why people don’t obey the gospel, and we are sometimes tempted to compromise the terms of eternal life, or feel guilty because we cannot convert such souls. But this example in the life of Jesus and some contemporary examples should help us to understand why some folks are not willing to pay the price for eternal life.
In one place where I lived, I had occasion to contact an insurance salesman. I invited him to a meeting, and he accepted the invitation. Then he asked how long I preached, and almost backed out of his promise when I told him about 45 minutes. But he came, he leaned forward in his seat, and seemed to be drinking in every word. Later, the man told me he was used to twenty-minute sermons which included social announcements and maybe a quotation from Psalms, which put everyone to sleep. He said that he had heard more Scripture in that one sermon than he had heard in twenty years as an official board member of the denomination where he attended.
I assured this man that my sermon was typical of any gospel preacher, and that if he attended all of the time he would hear a similar amount of Bible. He said that he would like to do that, but some of his best customers were members of the denomination where he attended. I do not know if he were as rich as the young ruler in our text, but he indicated that he was in the category described by Paul when he said, “But they that will be rich . . .” (1 Tim. 6:9).
Whether we are rich, or just desire to be rich, that temptation is often greater than our desire for eternal life.
Another man who was convinced that many of the practices of the digressive Christian Church were not in harmony with the Bible, attended the assemblies of the church where I preached a few times, and indicated that he would like to make a change. But there was one hitch.
This man was a deacon in the church where he attended, and wanted to transfer his “deaconship” from the Christian Church to the church of Christ. I told him that the Lord’s church needed deacons, and that if in time he proved to be qualified for that office, that he could be selected and appointed. He went away sorrowful.
Jesus encountered rulers who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, and were fearful of being “put out of the synagogue” if they confessed their belief in Christ (John 12:42,43). Saul of Tarsus never let such things stand in his way of following Christ (Gal. 1:14), but we still have some today who do. And they aren’t all in the denominational world.
One family became disillusioned with the church where they were members, mainly because there was little spirituality preached or practiced in that particular denomination. The man was the janitor, and he said that all he seemed to get done was clean up after some church supper or party. I guess some brethren haven’t become that disillusioned over their kitchens, dining rooms, recreation rooms, and other facilities couched under the respectable-sounding heading of “fellowship halls.”
When the man and his wife indicated to their denomination that they were thinking about leaving, they were told that if they did leave, they would lose their burial plot in the church cemetery. The man and his wife turned away from the truth sorrowfully, for the break with tradition would be a greater price to pay than what they were willing to pay. I, too, was sorrowful.
In the same town, a business man renounced some of the errors of Catholicism, and when the priest came to the man’s place of business to collect money, he told the priest to leave and not come back. I happened along about this time in the man’s life, invited him to meeting, and the man said that everything he saw and heard seemed to fit his concept of what religion ought to be. But he went away sorrowful.
He could acknowledge errors in Catholicism, acknowledge what truths he had learned about the Lord’s church, and said that he would never attend the Catholic Church again. But he was afraid that if he formally renounced Catholicism that he would go to that fictitious place called purgatory. Tradition was so instilled in his heart that he could not bring himself to violate it. Jesus also encountered that obstacle, and rebuked those who allowed tradition to keep them from following the commandments of God (Mark 7:1-13). But this “one thing” is still a powerful deterrent to those who think that they want eternal life.
Maybe someone else could have persuaded these people to give up their desire for riches, preeminence, and the traditions of men, but I couldn’t. And looking back, I still can’t see how that I could offer them a “deal” and compromise the requirements for following the Lord. There are too many affiliated with the Lord’s people now who allow these and similar things of the world to hinder their service to God.
We need to keep inviting people to hear and obey the truth, and pray for wisdom that we might be able to persuade them to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow the Lord. Some will, but most won’t. And when they won’t, there is generally at least one thing, identifiable or not, that stands between them and eternal life.
When some rejected Paul’s efforts to point them to eternal life, Paul said, “seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). And whether these people be Jews, Felix, Agrippa, the young ruler of Jesus’ time, or people of our time, one thing is certain: eternal life is not the thing that is unworthy, it is the person who rejects it.
Guardian of Truth XL: 8 p. 6-7
April 18, 1996