Luke 18:20 “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”
Most of us would be very depressed having received such a statement about what our obedience must look like to be right with God. Yet the young ruler, very sure of his righteousness, takes note of Jesus’ words- familiar to any devout Jew- the last five commandments having to do with our duty to our fellow men-and makes a remarkable statement in verse 21-
Luke 18:21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
Imagine that! Jesus says that you must not commit adultery, not murder, not steal, not lie, and honor your father and your mother. The man says he has broken none of them! In a sense, the man might be right. At least he might genuinely believe himself to have kept these. Remember, the old Jewish way of thinking of these commands pertained to the outward activity not the thoughts of the heart. It was Jesus who clarified if a man hates his brother he was guilty of murder. It was Jesus who said if you look at a woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. To the religious, works-focused Jew, it might be possible to say with some confidence that you have never committed adultery, murder, or stolen anything Perhaps the outward works-oriented Jew could say he had never told a lie nor disobeyed his parents. Really, the ruler’s statement makes some sense if you consider how he probably viewed obedience to these commandments. Among many other things, what Jesus does in His coming is to bring clarity to these ageless commands. God has always been concerned with the heart. The heart is manifested by our actions. Hate begets murder. Lust begets adultery. Covetousness or envy begets stealing (I sound like Yoda here). Sin starts in the heart. Making our outward actions look holy doesn't necessarily indicate we are truly holy.
Yes, to the watching public, the man was righteous and blameless. To God, who could see his heart, he was guilty. The corruption of our heart renders our works as filthy to the Lord. Isaiah captured this long ago:
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousness are like filthy rags;
The man had a serious delusion about his righteousness. He misunderstood a fundamental truth of fallen man, including himself:
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
The man had a serious delusion about his depravity. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the last century made this amazing statement about his own his own depravity (what? A preacher depraved? horrors!):
They see only what which is good in me; they see me only at my best. I shudder when I realize how unworthy I am and how ignorant they are of the dark and hidden recesses of my soul where all that is devilish and hideous reigns supreme, at times breaking through onto the surface and causing a turmoil that God and I alone know of.
The fact of man's total depravity is doctrine rarely preached anymore. Why don’t we feel as wicked as the doctrine says we are? For the same reason that a fish doesn’t feel wet- because it is immersed.
The Rich Young Ruler was deluded about his righteousness. Why did Jesus pose such a response to the man? Why did he respond to the man’s question about inheriting eternal life as he did? I believe Jesus was holding forth a portion of the Decalogue in order to test the man’s understanding of himself. If the man had responded, “Master, I have sinned in many ways according to Thy Law”, it would have show him ripe for salvation. In fact, an honest understanding of our unrighteousness when confronted by the sinless Christ may indicate regeneration has already occurred. Our profession of faith in Christ then serves as the fruit of being born again.
We have to get over the delusion that man is somehow basically good or mostly good. According to God’s authoritative word-
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;