Pick Your God
Matthew 19:16 A man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” … Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor…”
I used to dislike this passage as I thought it meant that I must take a vow of poverty to go to heaven. Jesus’ story of this rich young man revealed a much deeper truth however. In the story, Jesus met a self-sufficient, pseudo-seeker who wanted God but was still quite addicted to self and possessions. He had followed God meticulously, obeying all the commandments but realized something was lacking. He was a good man but recognized that he was not there yet, so he asked Jesus what he was missing.
I think that Jesus should have given the saved by faith talk, letting him off the hook of his self-sufficiency. Jesus instead, upped the game and told him that to be perfect he had to give away everything he had. Jesus, who reads the heart and cuts to the bone, saw that this man’s god was his own success. The very nature of the question asked by the man betrayed the fact that he was a victim of his own self-sufficiency, making wealth his god.
I do not think that Jesus had anything against the man’s money. Jesus could just clearly see that this man held his success, money and possessions in a position above God, making those things his god.
This teaching reveals the terrifying truth of the passage that should concern me more than a vow of poverty. God insists that I surrender anything that I hold above him. Whatever it is that I cling to above God becomes my god and is the one thing that God insists I forfeit.
I do not get to claim to follow God and then pursue me. That is not faith and it is not following God. It is hypocrisy. Jesus says whatever I follow above God is my god and is the one thing I must give up. It may be my family, career, sexuality or drug use. If I follow it above God, it must be removed from his place.
Jesus bids me to pick my god. I need to make a choice about what I serve in this life. Do I pursue me or God? I know those who say they will do anything to follow God, but when it comes down to it, they cannot leave the bottle, pill or pornography. You and I may look in disgust at the person clinging to a bottle, but remember that which kept the rich young man from God was not the pill or bottle, it was the good life. The good life was his god and it kept him from knowing God.
This teaching should worry me as it worried the disciples. When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, Who then can be saved (vs 25)? If this successful man, who had kept every commandment, could not have God, then who could? Jesus finally revealed the truth that the rich man, in his self-addiction, could not accept. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (vs 26).
It is not our success that gains us God. It is only in our complete and utter reliance on him that we truly know him and are truly saved. I cannot be saved by following my own gods. I can only know God by following him as God.