What is saving faith? Let’s listen closely to the shocking answer Jesus gave the rich, young ruler. He was a good kid—exactly the kind of person any church or synagogue would want. He always kept himself within the moral boundaries of the Law (“from my youth”), was a person of influence in the community, and was clearly serious about getting his life with God right (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”). What’s not to like about him? In fact, Mark tells us “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
This makes me realize that Jesus’ love alone is not enough to save anyone. Jesus’ love for the rich young ruler didn’t save him. Couldn’t the young man see that Jesus loved him? I think that is exactly the point of Mark’s comment. If Mark and the other disciples could see that Jesus really loved this man, surely, he could see it too.
The tragedy is that this young man came to Jesus, saw that Jesus loved and accepted Him, but balked at what Jesus wanted him to do in order to be saved. He left sorrowful, falling away from the Lord towards his doom. We don’t know if he ever repented, turned around, did what Jesus required, and became saved. We are all rooting for him (because we love him too), but scripture is completely silent about his ultimate fate.
Saving Faith Overcomes Obstacles
I suspect that we also root for him because we can so easily see ourselves in him. It may not be our “riches” that Jesus is pointing to as the obstacle that must be removed, but we all have obstacles. Maybe we “treasure” our grudges, or secret sins, or unholy passions and addictions too much to give them up. All sorts of obstacles can rise up and separate us temporarily from the Lord and His presence. Sometimes they even start carrying us away from Jesus, as this man’s treasure did him. This is a worrisome thing. What will be our fate? We too want assurance that we will inherit eternal life!
It amazes me that things we say about Jesus after the cross seem to contradict what Jesus Himself said before the cross—and we hardly take note of it. Here is a prime example. This young man was throwing Jesus a pass in the end zone. All Jesus had to say (according a widespread presentation of the gospel) was “Just believe in Me and the death I’m going to die for you and I guarantee I’ll get you to heaven.” But that is not what He said.
Which Way Is Heaven?
Jesus looked with longing love at the young man and told him that he had to deal with his obstacle (in his case it was “trusting in his riches”), deal with it in the way Jesus wanted Him to (by selling all and giving it to the poor); and then “come, take up your cross and follow Me.” All of this in answer to a very serious question about being saved for heaven. There’s evidently a lot more to being saved than “just believe in Jesus and you’ll make it.” Jesus challenged this young man to believe in Him enough to do what He commanded. Do this one thing–clear the obstacle!–and then “follow Me.”
The question was about how to get to heaven and it turned out that the way to heaven is learning how to live the right way on earth. The right way isn’t trying to be good enough to qualify for heaven (Jesus told him “there’s none good but God”). The right way is learning to believe in Jesus enough to actually surrender to Him and start following Him as the Lord that He is. The real question isn’t “Does Jesus love me enough to save me?” but “Do I believe in Him enough to let Him rule over me?” That’s saving faith!
For more on surrender see Spiritual Healing at our website.