And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers[b] or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
This passage has been used many times to say Christians aren’t doing enough for the world. While I agree that the focus is wrong—say that Christians are setting up buildings instead of helping out the poor—I believe this passage has been misused in that interpretation as to say that Christians must follow this example—sell everything and give it to the poor. While this is an admirable thing to do, it probably isn’t the primary thing Jesus meant. Why do I say that? Because of another instance where Jesus addressed a financial issue. Luke 21:1-4, we see this:
Jesus[a] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.[b] 3 And he said,“Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
So, while we see the rich putting in extravagant amounts of wealth into the Temple offering box, something that Jesus would have approved of, but he compliments the poor widow for giving more than the rich did. Why? I present to you the idea that Jesus was addressing the issue of the people’s hearts, whether they were intentional or not in following God and having faith in Him. You see, God wants to be first in our lives, and He should be. If we are serious about really following Him, nothing should take the center place in our hearts. This is evident throughout Scripture. It’s repeated again and again in different places in the Old and New Testaments. The first piece of this issue being presented to us is in the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. We all know the story right? God tells Abraham to take his son and go to Mount Moriah and present Isaac there as a burnt offering to the LORD. Abraham is terrified by this idea, and is immediately questioning his faith to God. It doesn’t say that he did that in the story, but any rational minded person, whether they’re a parent or not is irrelevant, would begin to question their commitment to anything if that was presented as an acceptable action to perform. But Abraham ultimately followed God’s command, right up to the point where he was about to stab Isaac with a knife before an angel of God stopped him. This is where the importance of the event comes in—the angel said to Abraham:
“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
The angel makes note that Abraham was willing to obey God to the max and give everything up for God—that God was first in Abraham’s heart for all time. Did God already know this? Of course He did. So why did He tell Abraham to do this? Because an example of what it meant to follow God was needed for everyone to see to realize that following God was not going to be easy, and that making God the center of our lives was going to call for some intense work and suffering.
Another area we see where God mandates being first in our lives and in our hearts is in Exodus 20:3, here God says:
“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.”
And Jesus also said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. God doesn’t care whether you have stuff or not to give up—what He wants is our hearts, our worship, our faith. Most people are confused by this statement Jesus said, but when one thinks about it, it really is quite simple. Jesus said once to, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” What did Jesus mean by give Go what is His? Jesus was holding a Roman denarii, the currency of the Roman Empire, but made it known that money was to be paid in taxes to Caesar. So if God doesn’t care about the money, this question must be asked: what does God care about? What does He want and have claim on? The answer is: us. Plain and simple, clear as crystal. God doesn’t want anything more from us other than our love for Him and our faith in Him. God calls for us to be content with what we have and not to pursue great wealth, that doesn’t mean we can’t live comfortably—God can bless people with a lot of wealth because it’s a physical reward for others to see how living for God can bring His blessings down on His followers. That doesn’t mean just start following God for the rewards, but He rewards the great faith that people have in Him. So far, it should look like this:
- Following God Means…
- Making God first in our hearts
- Withholding nothing from God
- Suffering in our physical struggles but great joy in our contentment in God
But doing all this requires something on our part. It requires a lot of self-examination. Do we have God first in our lives? Are we willing to give everything up for His glory? The Bible says that once we find ourselves in Jesus, that we should be automatically willing to do this straight up—if God calls us to go somewhere, we should be ready to go at a moment’s notice. And we can be rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. The reaction to God’s call should be the same. Romans 6:20-23 says:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are slaves to God, ready to hear His call and answer it. For when we answer His call and that is a very visible action, mind you, it bears a fruit—no matter what happens. Something happens in a person’s spiritual life when a follower of Christ is visibly following Him by doing good unto his or her neighbors and enemies even. But once again, Paul makes note that the heart must be set in the right place. For before we were in Christ, our hearts were slaves to sin, and that it was free in terms of righteousness, but the things we were doing at the time—good or bad—had no real eternal value and were most likely serving to make ourselves feel good. Not to serve God, but to ease consciences by helping to relieve the burdens of others. This may sound crass, but in order to really do some phenomenal good, one’s heart must belong to God before we can see change in others. In order for us to see God working through us to help others, God must ultimately remove everything from our hearts that is sinful and taking His rightful place in our lives—the center. In order for God to effect change in other people’s lives through us, He must first effect change in our own lives to ensure we really do belong to Him. So this means that:
- Self-Examination means asking…
- Is God first in my life?
- Am I holding anything back from Him?
- What has been the changes God has made in my life?
- What other changes must I make, with God’s help, to ensure I totally belong to Him?
A biblical way of looking at these questions would be found in Psalm 139:23-24, which says:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!”
I have friends at school who are in leadership. For the most part, this is the first time for most of them to have a great deal of responsibility thrusted upon them. They chose to go for it and God gave them the opportunity to serve. They are an amazing team of people. Talking with 1 or 2 of them though, this semester has been a struggle for them simply because they have had to figure out a balance between everything. They came through the semester on top though. They are exhausted and glad to be on break, but they realized they needed to do a lot of self-examination to figure out what they needed to do for God to really get through this next semester. Ultimately, I believe for them the greatest obstacle will be time. With all the work they have to do, it will be hard for them to give any time for God, which is why the habit of having God time and prayer is the most essential habit to do. Even praying while walking can do wonders for a person. God doesn’t just want us to seclude ourselves in order to spend time with Him, that’s a personal preference. All He wants is to hear from us, even if it’s just for a minute. There have been times where I have found myself praying all the way across campus for various things-friends, family, school, work, etc. Prayer is important to me because it is how God has been able to communicate with me to reassure me and give me confidence. To my friends who will be struggling with this—do not separate yourselves from everyone. Sometimes, God can be found in our daily devotionals but the greatest way to find God is by spending time with other believers and in prayer. God works wonders through the fellowship of believers and we can ultimately find it easier to answer the four questions about self-examination above. In this regard, I encourage you, my friends, to remember Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7:
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”.