He thought he saw a good man—the best man he had ever seen—a truly righteous man. He thought to himself, Surely if anyone can tell me exactly what it takes to be right with God and gain eternal life, this man can. So, he ran up to Jesus, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17) You would think that Jesus would have been eager to answer his question directly—“Well, let me tell you the A-B-C, step 1-2-3, of getting saved.” Instead, Jesus asked him a seemingly off-the-wall question and followed with a seemingly critical statement: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One~God.” (Mark 10:18)
Jesus took issue with this man’s way of sizing people up: “What is your standard for determining that I am good? The only way you should see Me as good is if you see Me as God, because no one is good but God.” And I don’t think Jesus was jumping points when He went to the issue of the commandments: “You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” (Mark 10:19) He was propping up His point: “You know the commandments from God and how they prove that no one is good but God.” Jesus was taking this man to the core issue of where he was with God after failing to obey His commandments—to be good enough.
He thought he saw a good man when he looked in his mirror. I can see him frown a little as he listened to Jesus and then lift his eyebrows as he responded, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” (Mark 10:20) Now, either he determined this with some defensiveness as he got the point, or he exclaimed this with some enthusiasm as he missed the point. I lean toward the latter, but either way, he wasn’t given over to the point. So, Jesus lovingly pressed the point painfully home: Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21–22) Right there Jesus shot down his self-goodness—shattered his self-righteousness—as Jesus revealed the idolatry of his heart, which was separating him from God and the eternal life he wanted.*
This man's idea of doing good enough to be good enough to gain eternal life blinded him to the idolatry in his heart (which for him happened to be expressed in his possessive love for his many possessions), which we all share and express in different ways of rebelling against God: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned~every one~to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). His view of human goodness distorted his view of how lost human beings relate to and must be redeemed by a holy God. The only way forward to eternal life for him was repentance into a relationship with Jesus, in which the course of his life from his heart would be forever changed in faithfully following Jesus. So it must be for all of us. No one is good but One~God.
*The post up to this point is excerpted from the book One Wrong Bite.