Matthew 19:16-30 tells the story of a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. When the man explains that he has faithfully kept all the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, to give to the poor, and to follow him. Jesus sees that the young man’s desires for his riches are preventing him from following God wholeheartedly, and he asks the man to give those things up. After the young man leaves without any apparent change of heart, the disciples are astonished at the difficulty of following God, and they ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replies that “[w]ith man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The disciples are right: no man can save himself, for the very things that prevent a man from following God are his own desires, his own nature, and his own sin.
As I think about this story, I realize that I am like the rich young man. The young man fails not because he is rich, but because he desires riches more than he desires following God. Despite growing up a Christian, I still have desires for things that compete against the supremacy of God in my life. God may not be asking me to sell my possessions and to give everything to the poor, but He may be asking me to give up other things that prevent me from following him wholeheartedly.
What I’ve come to see is that this is impossible for me to do. Given that there are already desires in my heart that match or even exceed my desire for God, I cannot turn myself toward Him, no matter how much I push myself by sheer strength of will. Just as it was impossible for the young man to give up his riches, so it is impossible for me to give up the desires that are closest to my heart.
Thankfully, with God all things are possible. How does God draw us to Himself? I cannot speak for the young man and his riches, but God has often allowed me to lose the things I desire most. Since I was unable to give them up, He has taken, is taking, and will continue to take those things away from me in order that I may desire Him more fully. This may seem harsh, but I’ll take my cue from C. S. Lewis and call it a “severe mercy.” God’s work of salvation is the expression of His love–a love so severe that it would allow me to lose everything, yet so merciful that I am able to gain Christ in return.
I don’t know what encouragement I can offer to my brothers and sisters who may be experiencing God’s severe mercies. What’s clear is that in surrendering ourselves to God, we are gaining much, much more than we are giving up. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:29,
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
God alone is mighty to save and faithful to provide.