As I was teaching a couple of weeks ago on the rich young ruler while at camp, I was amazed to see how dangerous idols are simply because so many of us have them and so few of us know it. In order to jump into our text that teaches us about the idols in the life of the rich young ruler, I would like to use I John 5:21
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
It almost seems like John ends his epistle by introducing a new subject, but, if you read with the entire context in mind, you will see that he actually sums up his teaching with this verse. The entire epistle is about knowing Christ and the love that is manifested because of that knowledge. At the end, he reminds the church members of the one thing that will destroy your walk with God and your love for others, idols. Idols are a snare that turn you aside from God and keep you from experiencing awesome relationships with others. When your relationship with God suffers, your relationships with others will ultimately suffer. So, in order to experience intimacy with God and have His love manifested in you and through you, you must guard yourself from idols. An idol is anything in your life that takes God’s #1 place. Idols can be vices but they can also be noble things like your family, a child, your ministry etc. Now, having this as our background, I would like to take a look at the story of the rich young ruler and his idol, a thing that was keeping him from experiencing God and having eternal life.
16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life ?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good ? There is only One who is good ; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he said to Him, “Which ones ?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY ; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL ; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS ; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER ; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept ; what am I still lacking ?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven ; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19)
I. His good life was not satisfying
The text tells us that this man seemed to have it all. He was young. He had money, power, and position. He is even a moral man, being familiar with the 10 commandments. But, he is not satisfied with life and there seems to be something missing. There seems to be something bothering this man. He is worried about the future. He is worried about eternity and he wants answers. He has it all but what he is missing is a real relationship with God. He has the cultural understanding of who God is but he does not really know God. There is a major problem that he is not even aware of and he needs Jesus to expose that problem. You may be like the rich young man, believing that money, power, and position will cause you to be happy. You may also be a spiritual person, attending church now and again to get God’s check mark of approval. But, deep down, at the end of the day, there is just something missing. Even if you were to attain all of those above mentioned things; money, power, and position, you would still not be satisfied. Living a good life will never satisfy because God has created us for so much more. The young man makes a very wise decision, to come to Jesus seeking answers.
II. His idol is revealed
Jesus goes to the heart of the young man’s problem. There was a major idol in the man’s life and Jesus cleverly exposes it. The first thing that Jesus does is try to correct the man’s understanding of God. All of us have some sort of understanding of God before we actually come to know Him. Some believe that He is like a cosmic genie, forced to grant your wishes if you say the right words at the right time in the right way. Others think of God as some old man sitting in heaven with a big smile on His face but not really able to do much of anything useful for anyone, just offering heaven to all upon death. Jesus reveals to the young man that He, Himself, is God, destroying the idolatrous image that the man has created in his own mind about God. Jesus then tells the man to keep the commandments to which the man replies, “which commandments?”. Jesus then names off 6 of the 10 commandments. The young man immediately replies that he knows them and has kept them from his youth. He does not catch the fact that Jesus skipped over the first 4 commandments that deal with man’s relationship to God. Jesus just went to the commands that deal with man’s relationship to others. Jesus does this on purpose to get to the next step, a step which reveals the young ruler’s true idol. Jesus tells the man that if he really wants eternal life, he also needs to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, then follow Jesus moment by moment. In another passage dealing with the same event, the text tells us that the young man walked away sad because he had great wealth and many possessions. What was the young man’s problem? What was his #1 idol? It was his wealth of course. He loved and worshipped his wealth so much that there was no room for God. Jesus does not call everyone to go, sell all that they have, and give the money to the poor because not everyone who has possessions holds them as an idol in their lives. In this specific case, this young man did. For others, there are other idols that they need to get rid of so that they can have a personal relationship with God. What are your idols? What are the things that you could not get rid of in your life, even if God, Himself, told you to do so? You will never be able to follow Jesus and attain eternal life as long as those idols are holding you back.
III. Keys to eternal life
In fact, in this passage about idols and eternal life, we learn about the keys to attaining eternal life. According to this passage, there are a few of them and I would like to list them out for you here.
- Come to Jesus seeking eternal life
- Acknowledge Jesus as God
- Allow Christ to expose the idols in your life
- Turn away from those idols
- Follow Jesus every moment of every day for the rest of your life
This seems simple yet there are so few who do it. I believe the reason that so few do it is because of their idols. They are enslaved to them so much so that they cannot see their need for God. When they do have their idol exposed, instead of rejecting the idol and embracing God, like the rich young ruler, they walk away from the Lord sad, choosing a temporal idol over a relationship with the eternal God.
What about you, are you satisfied with your good life or do you think that if you could just attain more money, more power, more influence then you would truly be happy? Or, have you achieved those things and still feel unsatisfied? The reason is because you have idols in your life that keep you from intimately knowing the God who created you to know Him. Until you come to Christ and accept Him as God, having your idols exposed so that you can reject them and embrace a relationship with God, you will never be satisfied. I pray that you will make that decision today, to follow Christ so that you can find complete satisfaction in this life and eternal life in the life to come. May God bless.