From Luke 18:18-23:
“Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.”
The man was a ruler- meaning that he was the ruler of a synagogue. That means he paid for the synagogue to be built. That’s how you got to be the ruler of a synagogue, most of the time.
Jesus’ statement about the goodness of God is not referring to God’s moral rectitude. Most of the time, the Bible uses the words “righteous” or “holy” for that. Goodness refers to God’s benevolence and kindness, most of the time.
Jesus was calling attention to the fact that the ruler thought Jesus was just a man, although an important and influential one, like himself. But as Jesus says in other places, all good things come from God, not from man. If Jesus is just a man, then He should not be called good. This man was asking how he could acquire blessings from God, indicating a willingness to do good works to gain those blessings. But Jesus is saying that blessings are not earned from God, they are freely given, for God is good, benevolent, and kind.
The ruler would think of himself as good and benevolent. He had given the money for the synagogue to be built. He had certainly done other good works for people. He saw his money as the way to work his way into heaven, to secure the blessings of God. But Jesus denies that he really is good and benevolent. He is telling the rich man, blessings are not acquired by our good works, our strength, our piety, our money. Blessings are acquired from God, as His free gift. We must simply give up our own ability to save ourselves, and accept those blessings from God.
This is what the rest of the discourse is about. He asks the man about his adherence to the law. Curiously, Jesus’ account of the law is strangely superficial, listing only those commandments which are easy to interpret in a purely outward fashion. Don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal. He is leading the man into a trap. The ruler of the synagogue was certainly familiar with the true requirements of God’s Law. The obligation to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbor wasn’t invented by Jesus. Those are quotes from the Pentateuch, the old law. But flattered by the implication that he has been obedient, he falls into Jesus’ trap- “All this I have done from my youth.” And then Jesus springs the trap- “Go and give all that you have to the poor and come and follow me.”
Jesus wasn’t giving the man a good work to do. He was calling on the man to renounce his good works. The man would be giving up the illusion that he could buy influence and favor and merit. Giving all you have to the poor would not be considered a good work- it would be considered useless, pouring money down a hole. Most would consider it the same way today.
The money itself wasn’t the problem. It never is. No one else in Scripture is ever called to give away all their possessions. The pride was the problem. The self-reliance, the belief that he was the upper crust of society, he was a “good master”, and he could by his benevolence earn eternal life.
But there is none good but one, God. God’s gifts come not as wages for obedience. They come as His free gifts. But we must have faith, believe in Him, freely accept those gifts. As long as we are trying to earn God’s favor, we are denying His benevolence, and those gifts will be withheld.
The man could not give up his pride, his need to earn his own salvation. So he went away sorrowfully.
Man’s pride is the great obstacle. Because ultimately we must come face to face with the truth, and that truth is seen at the cross of Christ, the charity of Jesus’ blood. To our ability to accomplish our own salvation- God’s answer is the cross of Christ. The truth is that a good and righteous man had to be beaten to death on my behalf. That’s what it took to save me. That is the stumblingblock. The pride of man has to be destroyed first, before man will ever accept the charity of blood. He was a rich man- not just in his wallet, but in his heart. He was spiritually rich, and therefore refused the charity.
He is a contrast with another man, a man who was very poor in spirit. The Philippian jailer, supposed to be watching Paul and Silas. The earthquake freed them from their bonds, and the jailer assumed that they had escaped and that therefore he would be executed. He is about to kill himself. He has lost everything. But Paul and Silas are still there. They have been singing hymns all night in the stocks, and now they call on the jailer not to hurt himself, for they are still there.
The jailer fell down before Paul and Silas and ask them the same question that the ruler asked Jesus- but now not in pride and richness of heart, but in desperation and poverty. And their answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Accept the charity. For there is none good but one, that is, God.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.