How would selling all his possessions and giving them to the poor make him "perfect"?
ESV - 21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
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In my opinion, when Jesus spoke of the young man becoming "perfect", He was not meaning it in the sense of "sinless" (since no one, including Christ's apostles, could have been described as being "perfect" in that sense), but of becoming justified by faith in Christ (which is why Jesus told the rich young ruler not just to sell his possessions -- since that work alone would not have had saving merit -- but also then to come and follow Him). Jesus knew that only the removal of the ruler's wealth would enable him to place His faith in Christ, rather than in his riches or in his own "obedience" (which, as commendable as it may have seemed, was not sufficient to save him, but that the ruler was using as a "cover" for the worship of his true "god", which was money).
Lets take a close look at the context of the whole story of this rich young man in Matthew 19:16-31. 1) He is a devout Jew 2) He is seeking to please God by keeping the law 3) He believes he will inherit eternal life if God is pleased with him 4) He is seeking assurance of eternal life, having a right relationship with God How does Jesus respond? 1) He tells the young man that if he wants to find life he needs to keep the commandments. This is true. If a person keeps all the commandments perfectly for a lifetime they will inherit eternal life. But this is impossible for human beings. Only Jesus ever lived a perfect life. 2) Jesus lists the commandments that reflect a persons relationship with others and the young man confirms that he has kept these. But the man still has no peace with God do he asks Jesus what else he needs to do. 3) Jesus then tells him to sell all his possessions and give all he has to the poor. Why did Jesus focus on his wealth. Because that wealth had broken the first 2 commandments. The wealth had taken first place in his life instead of God. He had idolized his wealth instead of worshipping God. Jesus was calling him to confess his sin (acknowledge the hold that wealth had on his life) and repent (give it all away). So many people look at commandments 5 to 10 and think they are good people whom God should accept. But they fail to examine their lives and see what things have taken first place and become the idols they worship. Jesus even reprimanded the young man for calling him good, when he said no one is good except God alone. 4) Jesus then tells the rich young man to “follow him”. Why? Because only Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (the source of eternal life). No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. No one can have a right relationship with God except through Jesus. The rich young man could not repent and he went away very sad. In another gospel account of this story, Jesus also is sad because he loved this young man and saw his heart for God. 5) Then Jesus talks about how hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are astonished because their culture has equated riches with God’s blessing (ie people are rich because God is pleased with them). Jesus affirms the truth that people cannot and will not repent and turn toward God unless God himself calls and draws them. Jesus also affirms the truth that whatever people give up in this life for his kingdom’s sake will be rewarded a hundred times over for eternity. The rewards that a person receives for giving their life to Christ are astounding: 1) eternal Life with the creator of the universe 2) peace with God, no guilt & shame 3) righteousness of God, love and acceptance in God’s eternal family 4) the Holy Spirit indwelling believers to teach us how to life a God pleasing life that is abundantly fulfilling and deeply satisfying. 5) the character of Christ molded and shaped into our lives which we keep for eternity 6) many more rewards and blessings What we are asked to give up to follow Christ is nothing compared with his plans and promises to us. When we hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, confess our sins, repent - turn away from them, and accept him as our personal saviour we are saved. At that moment we receive the righteousness of Christ in the presence of the Holy Spirit as he comes to live within us. Now when God looks at us we are perfect, because he is looking at us through Christ. This is the perfection that Jesus was talking about.
The rich young ruler wanted to justify himself by keeping the law. Jesus said, by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. The rich young ruler had gone the way of Cain. He wanted to justify himself by works of the law, instead of the grace and mercy of God. So Jesus gave Him a work to justify himself by works. Then he realized he could not be justified by works even if he sold everything he had and gave to the poor it would not be enough to save him. Romans 11:6 Salvation is all grace. We could never do anything to pay the debt of sin we owe. So Jesus paid it the price for us so that we could be saved through His finished work on the cross. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of your selves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. The Gift of God is eternal life when we believe it. Once we believe we have eternal life. We can no longer be condemned. John 3:18. So it was not the rich young rulers wealth that kept him from eternal life, and not his work of fallowing Jesus, but his self righteous pride to believe he could do something to earn eternal life by works. It was his idea that he could do something to save himself by justification in his own works. We can compare the rich young ruler who wanted to justify himself by works, to the thief on the cross that just believed Jesus was who he said He was, and was saved in an instant without works. He did not repent of sin, he was not baptized, and he did nothing to justify himself, but believed Jesus was the savior of the world who came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:17-18. He was saved by faith alone in Christ alone without works. He was saved by grace.
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