At least by modern standards, the Son of God was a failure when it came to evangelism. Nowhere is that more evident than in the account of Jesus’ brief encounter with the so called ‘rich young ruler’. All the Synoptic writers include this encounter between the majestic Son of God and this moral young man seeking salvation. But Jesus violates every known stricture that modern evangelism says is so important when it comes to personal evangelism,
For one, this young man came with the utmost respect, kneeling before the Master and calling him ‘Good Teacher’. Jesus, rather than receiving this respectful young man, rebuffs his respectful greeting, questioning why he refers to him that way (“Why do you call me good?”). Then, instead of leading this seemingly interested sinner in the Sinner’s Prayer, he directs him to the keeping of the commandments as the way of salvation. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he then directs him to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor, all but guaranteeing that the young man’s desire for eternal life would be diminished. And so it was for Mark records that he “went away sorrowful.”
But it is not Jesus who needs to learn the techniques of modern evangelism, but we who need to understand the way of the Master. Jesus challenged the young man’s greeting of him as ‘Good Teacher’ because this man viewed Jesus as a human teacher and not the Son of God. As such, it was vital to capturing the soul of this young man that he understand the difference between human goodness and the divine nature. Jesus, in a terse and simple statement says, ‘There is none good, but God.”
Many have been confused by Jesus directing this young man to the ten commandments rather than to the grace which alone saves. But by doing so, the Son of God was not contradicting at all what the rest of the New Testament makes clear that salvation is by grace through faith. Rather, he was using the Law for its intended purpose—as a “school-master” to bring us to Christ (see Galatians 3). The Law is the only means of convicting sinners of their true guilt before a holy God. Yet this young man was deceived into thinking that he had indeed kept the commandments. In a word, he was blinded to the reality that he was, in truth, a slave to sin,
That is why the Master tells him that in order to have eternal life, he must sell his possessions and give them to the poor. He was, in fact, citing the last commandment (“You shall not covet”). The young ruler prided himself on his outward obedience to the Law, but he was a stranger to the fact that he really was a Law-breaker. The Law did not just regulate outward behavior but also inward attitude as well. Jesus could see into his heart and knew that this man trusted in his riches. True salvation is not a matter of outward behavior but enthroning Jesus as Lord in the heart. If he is not willing to rid himself of his god, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus didn’t have a Plan B for this young man. He went away sorrowful because he wasn’t willing to deal with the true state of his heart. Let us follow the Master in preaching a Gospel that demands Jesus be enthroned on the tablets of the heart.