Do you think you can get to heaven by what you do? In the last post we examined the two prevailing ideas to get to heaven. The first is God’s plan, and the second and more commonly held plan is the Moral Plan, or man’s plan. The Moral plan could be called the DO plan. It’s all about everything that you do: living a good life, keeping religious teaching and a check list of rules.
In Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to this young man, who is so determined to live out the Moral Plan, “If you want to be perfect…” That’s a bombshell. The pursuit of perfection is the essence of the moral plan. Jesus is really saying, “Very well then, if you want to be perfect…” Jesus is describing the logical conclusion of the Moral Plan. If you plan to access heaven on the Moral Plan, then you’d better plan on being perfect. That’s the fatal flaw of the Moral Plan. It’s a plan with an unachievable goal. And because this guy hasn’t realized this yet, Jesus exposes one clear example of the corruption in this man’s heart that is so close to home for him, that he will have no alternative but to admit that he is not the model of moral virtue he pretends to be. Jesus can see inside his heart and knows that his dominant flaw is a greedy heart. So, to expose the greed, in verse 21, Jesus says, “Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor…” Jesus wasn’t saying that access to heaven was contingent on giving away all your money. Jesus not teaching that access to heaven is contingent on being generous; or on meeting the needs of the poor (as important to God as all those things are). If that’s what He meant then Jesus was sanctioning and validating the Moral Plan. There are many examples of wealthy people in Scripture who loved God, and were never told to give away their wealth. Not one of Jesus disciples was asked to sell all that they had. The point Jesus making is not to “sell or give”, the point that he is making is to confess that he’s not perfect.
A careful reading of the text makes things clear. Jesus says in verse 21, “You will have treasure in heaven…” That’s a marvelous promise of eternal life that Jesus extended to this young man. The promise of heaven is dependent on the invitation to follow Christ, not the action of giving away your wealth.
Jesus is simply illustrating that no matter how good you are, you’ll never be good enough to earn heaven. And the tragedy of the story is that “when the young man heard that, he went away sorrowful” (v22). The problem is not that he was sad. The tragedy is that he went away! Away from the only one who could end his quest for the life he so desperately wanted, but unfortunately wanted on his terms, not God’s.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples…. it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (vs.23)
Jesus is NOT teaching how hard it is for rich people to get unhooked from their riches and bow their knees to Him in humble faith. He is saying how impossible it is for them or for anyone else to be saved by self-effort of any kind.
“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (vs. 25)
Jesus was forever turning the tables! The last would be first, children are the kingdom, the wealthy would have to squeeze through an impossible gate to heaven. Rightly, the disciples were astonished. What’s going on here? Who changed the rules? they must have been thinking.
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NIV)
God is able to change sinful hearts, it is possible for Him to save helpless men. God can do what men cannot do.
Whenever we’re puzzled about the eternal destiny of a loved one or exasperated at a friend’s hardness of heart toward God, remember Jesus’ assurance that God has the power to save anyone. Trust God to change and soften people’s hearts.
The fatal flaw of the Moral Plan is that every heart is imperfect. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short.” That’s the fatal flaw in the Moral Plan. People try to work the Moral Plan or trying to be perfect with an imperfect heart, and it’s not possible.
What’s the solution? If not the Moral Plan, then what plan? In verse 21, Jesus says, “Come, follow Me.” Jesus is saying to this young man, “I’m the alternative to the merciless, impossible, moral treadmill you’re on.” In John 14:6, Jesus said the same thing in different words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is God’s Plan.
Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is the God-Man. He was virgin-born. He lived a perfect, righteous sinless life. He died on a cross to pay the penalty for your blunders, mistakes and wrong choices-the Bible calls them sin. He offers you and me complete forgiveness. There is no failure in your past that lies beyond the boundary of His willingness to forgive. He rose victorious from the grave. He is alive today, and through His Spirit lives in the hearts of men, women and children all over the world. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of our worship and the surrender of our lives to Him. And He invites each of us to “Come, follow Me.”
This guy’s problem wasn’t that he was rich, or that he wasn’t willing to give away his money. His problem was that he refused to abandon his Moral Plan, and he turned his back on Christ. It’s not sin that keeps people out of heaven; it’s a rejection of the Person of Jesus Christ. He went away sorrowful because he thought Jesus told him to lose the money. But the real tragedy is that he lost his life. Unfortunately, our friend was heartbroken for the wrong reason. He missed the point. And unfortunately that’s the mistake everyone makes who is on the Moral Plan. They miss the whole point. The whole point of Easter, Christ and the Cross, is that we can’t get to heaven without Christ.
Perhaps you’re wondering where good works fit into God’s plan. Does God not care about good works? Yes, He does. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, He begins to transform our lives. Goodness and good works will be part of that transformation. We will produce good works in our life as an expression of gratitude because God has promised us heaven, not as a currency to earn heaven.
One last thing; God loved that young man. Do you know how much God loves you? Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby, and died on a cross, and rose from the dead, because of His great love for anyone who is religiously laboring at the moral grindstone.
Each of us too faces a choice. Will we stay on the moral treadmill, or will we follow Christ? I admit that I am far from perfect, I cannot save myself. I choose to put my faith in Christ and his perfection not my own. I hope that you will join me.