Jesus was always encountering people who were seeking to justify themselves. It seems like everyone was looking for a sure-fire recipe for salvation – to know that they were safe and on the right side of God’s law. Not much has changed in 2, 000 years. Far too often, religion becomes a game of proving to ourselves that we’re OK. If we just follow the rules, say our prayers, and don’t commit any of the big sins, we can feel safe.
Yet, following Jesus has nothing to do with safety. It’s not about obeying the rules or believing all the right things. It’s certainly not about being a good person. Rather, Jesus calls us into total surrender to God. Only by acknowledging our own brokenness and powerlessness can we expect to enter the kingdom.
Jesus confronts our human obsession with being good in his famous interaction with a certain rule-follower:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
If there is any human being that should be called good, surely it is Jesus! Yet, Jesus rejects this title. Why?
Probably because the whole interaction reeks of idolatry. Thiscertain ruler doesn’t want a relationship of dependence on God. He’s looking for a set of rules to follow, not the ambiguity and riskiness of real love. The ruler calls Jesus goodfor the same reason that he asks his question about which rules he needs to follow: He’s looking for an external standard of righteousness. Rather than throwing himself whole-heartedly into the waiting arms of God, he wants to know how to be good.
What does Jesus prescribe for this man who wants heavenly guarantees? The ultimate non-guarantee: Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. Only when this man is ready to truly surrender control will he be able to approach God in spirit and in truth.
Enough about that guy; what about me? Am I really looking for a relationship with God, or am I seeking a checklist to reassure and protect me? What are the idols that I’m going to have to give up before I can truly walk in relationship with Jesus? I can call him good all I want, but if I fail to imitate his humble, out-of-control walk with the Father, I’m missing the point.