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Give Up on Being Good | Part 2

March 28, 2021 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Moralism Verse: Luke 18:18–18:30

Theme: Attempting to gain salvation through your goodness will damn your soul. 

I. The Vexation of “Good” People – 18:18

A. The Respectability of “Good” People 

  • Immediately, Luke presents another emphasis on the absolute helplessness of sinners without God’s grace.
  • “A ruler questioned Him, saying …” – [ἄρχων] – refers to someone who possessed preeminence in some position of authority, possibly a “ruler” of the synagogue, but certainly an “early achiever” – cp. Matthew 19:20.
  • “Morally excellent” people often thrive – gaining respect by those around them as virtuous, trustworthy, and honorable.
  • “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” – evidence that he believed it possible to truly gain the status of being “good.”
  • We are told in the other Gospels that this man had a sense that “good things” can be done that will secure for ourselves “eternal life.”
  • There are some people that most of us can identify of whom we think: “If there were ever anyone who is good enough to get into heaven, this is one!”
  • However, we rarely think this of ourselves because we know the seething evil that resides within – the level of hostility, passion, lust, hatred, dishonesty, and pride that simmers below the surface.
  • But this man was a man who was clearly enamored by his own attainment of a “respectable,” righteous standard:
  1. He was “prosperous” – cp. v. 18 and the perspective of the Jews was that wealth was a sign of good standing before the Lord
  2. He was “young” – meaning that he was not a “sower of wild oats” – but was a serious-minded young man without the baggage of sinful conduct.
  3. He was a “ruler” – a prominent religious leader
  4. He was “moral” – cp. v. 21; blameless in his reputation and conduct.
  • This man was a sharp, wealthy, young man whose moral reputation and high level of devotion was well-known who looked like a “good” man whose life would be pleasing to God.
  • So, he approaches Jesus who he had determined to be a 
    “good teacher” as an equally “good” man. 

B. The Restlessness of “Good” People 

  • However, this man had a crisis of soul – he came to Jesus in a hurry, knelt before Him, and unloaded his burden to Jesus – “I need you to tell me how I can secure for myself eternal life”
  • Essentially, he confesses to Jesus that he has no peace of soul – he is lost.
  • However, his paradigm excluded having Jesus doing anything for him – and focused on his own ability to do more for himself.
  • He asks: “What good thing can I do to inherit [κληρονομέω] eternal life?” -  a word that conveys to “acquire,” “obtain,” “come into possession,” – he clearly didn’t have it and knew it.
  • This vexed him – drove his passionate religious performances and motivated him toward greater acts and works of righteousness, but at the end of every day, his fear and distress over being alienated from God remained.
  • The external projection of confidence and calm gave way to desperation and distress – he sensed that his need was urgent – cp. Mark 10:17.


  1. How does believing one can gain eternal life through one’s goodness blaspheme God? 
  2. What does one’s angst about eternity communicate about who or what they are trusting for salvation?

II. The Vanity of “Goodness” – 18:19-23

A. The Exclusivity of Goodness Declared – v. 19 

  • Jesus sees the urgency with which this man’s vexed soul is seeking to settle the issue of eternal life and immediately diagnoses him as a proud sinner who believes in himself. 
  • Instead of doing what many modern evangelists would do with what they perceive as “low hanging fruit” and encouraging him to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!”, Jesus seeks to help the man recognize his need as a sinner.
  • Jesus seeks to clarify for the man what true goodness is – “And He said, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’”
  • This question reveals that Jesus could read this man’s heart – He knew what was going on in this man’s perspective.
  • Jesus was seeking to demonstrate to this man that goodness was a state of something being “everything that it should be” – and “no one is good” – cp. Romans 3:10-12.

B. The Extent of Goodness Demanded – v. 20

  • Do not be confused by Jesus’ response here – He does NOT advocate that it is possible to gain eternal life by keeping the Law – rather, He is calling for the Law to fulfill its purpose of convincing us that we are not good – cp. 
  • Jesus says: “You know the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”
  • Each of these dealt with “external compliance” and were not perceived as extending inward to the heart, something that Jesus had addressed in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Since “coveting one’s neighbor’s wife” is internal, it was replaced with “Honor your father and mother” from the 1st Table dealing with one’s reverence for God.
  • This young, moralist could probably say: “I’ve never killed anyone, haven’t committed adultery, am not a thief, or liar, and I’ve honored my parents consistently – so there must be something more to it!”
  • Jesus had brought revolutionary & startling truth to bear on the Law when He declared that lusting is adultery, hatred is murder; that is, the violations of the Law in action is merely a demonstration that the sin has already happened in the heart.

C. The Estimation of Goodness Discredited – vv. 21-23

  • Yet “he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’”
  • Like most of the other Jews of his day, this young man had reduced the Law to a series of “doable” deeds, measurable on a scale of righteousness fixed in favor of externals and merit.
  • He failed to recognize that the purpose of the Law was NOT to provide a pathway for merit but existed to orient the sinner to his demerit; not to affirm similarity between the sinner and God, but to identify the absolute perfections of God as singularly “good” and highlight the human inability to “measure up.”
  • Because Matthew adds that this rich man asked “What am I still lacking?”  - the man reveals that the burden of sin remained heavy on his heart, but that there must be some unknown deed of righteousness he had not yet performed.
  • However, the Law was having its way in his heart as it produced guilt – cp. James 2:10.
  • This man was blinded by sin to sin – he realized that he needed something that he did not have, but he was unwilling to recognize that he had something from which he needed to get freed, sin.
  • He was not looking for a work of God to free him from sin, but something that he could do for himself to gain what he didn’t have – some additional commandment, formula, ritual, ceremony, or something that he could do that would make him acceptable to God.
  • “But salvation is for people who despair of their own efforts, who realize that, in themselves and by themselves, they are hopelessly sinful and incapable of improving. Salvation is for those who see themselves as living violations of His holiness and who confess and turn from their sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy. It is for those who recognize they have absolutely nothing good to give God, that anything good they receive or accomplish can be only by His sovereign, gracious provision in Jesus Christ.”
  • Thus, until this man was willing to see how terribly he failed the standards of God’s law, it was impossible for him to realize his need for God’s grace.
  • Thus, Jesus attempts to force the self-satisfied, self-dependent, self-righteous, externally focused young ruler to face his true spiritual condition – “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.’”
  • The issue here is not that wealth is something that has to be discarded – there are many wealthy Christians, but that one’s reliance on wealth stands as an obstacle to true saving faith that depends upon nothing but God and His grace.
  • “Genuine belief is characterized by a willingness to do whatever the Lord requires, just as unbelief is characterized by an unwillingness to do whatever He requires.”
  • Clearly, this man was brought face to face with his own limitation – his sinfulness was crystallized by Jesus’ call for this man to “have no other gods before Me.”
  • The obstacle to this man being saved was not the inability to part with wealth and possessions, but the refusal to do so. – “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” 
  • For some, the obstacle to a person coming to salvation could be one’s family, boyfriend or girlfriend, or some cherished indulgence that they feel that they would have to “give up” if they followed Christ Jesus.
  • A person’s sense of sin and guilt must produce a desire for salvation that exceeds anything else so that no sacrifice is too great to make for Christ’s sake.
  • However, any person who refuses to surrender to Christ cannot know anything from Him except condemnation. 


  1. What is wrong with focusing on external indications of morality and ignoring the heart?
  2. In what way was Jesus’ instruction to this rich man unique to him; and, in what ways does it apply to us today?

III. The Value of Grace – 18:24-27

A. The Disability of the Self-Dependent – vv. 24-25

  • Having identified wealth as the major obstacle to this man’s total dependence upon Christ, Jesus draws attention to the difficulty of abandoning one’s sense of self-sufficiency and turning to Christ for what only He can do for the sinner.
  • Jesus zeroed in on this man’s complete self-reliance – “And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’”
  • He knew this man was a proud, self-righteous, self-dependent man who was disinterested in what God can and will do for him.
  • By saying that it is “hard” [δυσκόλως] for such a man as this rich man “to enter the kingdom of heaven,” he refers to something that is impossible.
  • Jesus is not here condemning wealth but condemning the prevailing heart of those who are wealthy and depend upon themselves and their wealth to secure for them what only God can provide.
  • Thus, Jesus clarifies further – “For 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.”
  • In this reference to a “rich man” – refers to anyone approaching salvation with a sense that they can secure it by their own resources … an approach that means that they cannot “enter the kingdom of God” – cp. Matthew 18:3; 19:14.
  • Salvation is impossible by any human effort – cp. Matthew 5:3.

B. The Dependency for Salvation – vv. 26-27

  • This man was not a denouncer of Jesus, merely a man who refused to rely upon Him instead of his own righteousness or wealth.
  • The disciples had always been taught that the wealthy were the ones who had the advantage – they were blessed by God, capable of giving alms, and most respected.
  • Now Jesus tells them that such “advantage” was actually an obstacle – “They who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’”
  • Jesus makes a dramatic pause for emphasis – “But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”
  • “People,” regardless of their socio-economic status, who attempt to please God on their own find that it is “impossible” – but when they turn in poverty of soul to God for His grace and acknowledge that only He is good, they find that “with God all things are possible.”
  • Salvation is not only “possible” but certain for those who come to God and acknowledge their sin, helplessness, and dependency upon Him to save them, and who call upon Him for His mercy and grace to save them through the work of Christ Jesus who died for them.


  1. Why is it necessary to see salvation as impossible? 
  2. How can a person be wealthy and saved? 


So What?

Jesus doesn’t merely say it is unlikely for us to be saved through our own resources, He says it is impossible.

Even the most zealous religious performances leave the soul vexed with the incorrigible guilt of sin.

Beware of reducing God’s requirements for righteousness to a minimized, doable code of conduct you think you can fulfill – the righteousness required by God is absolute.

One must despair of the ability to do enough to please God - turn to Jesus who did it all for us and is willing to save us by His grace! 

Jesus alone has the ability to save us from our sins.



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