“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”
On my best day, I admit it’s sometimes tempting for me to start believing I’m a pretty good person.
I drive the speed limit. I’m kind to people. I pray. I go to church. I tithe. I never got detention in school. I still tend to keep out of trouble. I’ve always tried to surround myself with good friends. I never did anything outrageous that shamed my parents. And I’m a hard-worker.
I’m a good, Christian, southern girl, right?
Down deep in my heart, I can get fixated and feel satisfied by my own good intentions. After all, our culture wants me to believe those good intentions are enough. It says what really matters is what’s in my heart—not what or who I believe in.
The world has comfortingly low standards of what it means to be good. It tells me if I have good intentions, remain a law-abiding citizen, and do a few selfless acts now and then, I’m set. I’m good.
There was a young man, in the time of Christ’s life, who felt this way. Jesus had a conversation with him that continues to resonate loudly today in a world intoxicated with its own self-righteousness.
This young man asked Jesus what he should do to be good. Jesus started by reminding him of the commandments. After this, the young man replied, “I have kept all these. What do I still lack?”
In another account of this same passage (Mark 10:21), Scripture tells us that Jesus then looked at the young man and felt love for him. This one verse is so telling of who Christ is and what His mission is: to seek out and rescue those who are lost, to open their eyes to who He is and who they are in light of Him.
Jesus tells the young man he lacks one thing, “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).
The young man walked away heartbroken. He couldn’t find in himself enough will or desire to follow the command Christ gave him. He was rich, kept the law, and knew Scripture. And it wasn’t enough to save him.
It’s disheartening to realize for the first time that your good intentions can’t save you. No matter how many laws you keep, there’s always one law that causes your heart to break. And you can never attain the righteousness you thought you had just one moment before.
It’s not possible to attain righteousness. Scripture tells us there isn’t a single person who’s good. Not one (see Romans 3:10). There’s no heart good enough, intention pure enough, or selfless act big enough to save us.
Jesus is the only One who’s good. And we can only be found righteous by Him because we first surrender our self-righteousness to Him and acknowledge Him as the Lord of our lives. Our good intentions aren’t enough. Our good works aren’t what’s saved us.
Because Christ lives within my heart and compels me to daily align my actions with His truth and character, Scripture says God recognizes His Son within me. He declares me righteous because of Christ (Romans 3:23-25).
He’s the only One who’s good. The only reason I can ever claim to be good at all is because He’s within me.
- What are some areas in your life that you’re proud of? Think of some ways you try to be a good person on a daily basis. What values do you try to uphold?
- What’s the sin you feel you struggle with the most every day? Review the 10 Commandments in these passages. Which commands are more difficult for you to keep?
- The young man in this passage walked away with his heart broken because he chose to hang on to his riches. He couldn’t find in himself the strength to give them up for the sake of following Christ. What are you hanging on to that keeps you from following Christ? What’s that one thing Jesus is asking you to give up to serve Him fully?