“What lack I yet?”
behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do,
that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good?
there is none good but one, that is,
God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto
him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit
adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear
false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have
I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt
be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou
shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the
young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great
possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That
a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say
unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than
for a rich man to enter into the
Here is a man who was anxious about his soul and concerned about eternal life. Such men are rare. He was rich; but he was concerned about his soul. He was young; but he was interested in eternity. He was a ruler of men; but he came to be taught by the Lord Jesus Christ. This rich young ruler came running up to Christ, and said, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Our Lord knew the man’s heart. He knew that this young man was thoroughly familiar with the law of Moses. And he knew that the young man thought, like most people do, that eternal life could be gained by outward morality, by obedience to the law. Therefore, he answered this young man according to the law. He told him to keep the commandments. The rich young ruler responded, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.” Then he asked, “What lack I yet?”
Perhaps some who read these lines ask the same question in their own minds, “What lack I yet?” You are very moral, and respectable in the eyes of men. You believe in God. You believe the Bible is the Word of God. And you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You believe that he is God. You believe in his death, burial, and resurrection as the sinner’s Substitute. You even know that Jesus Christ the Lord is the sinner’s only hope of salvation before God. Yet, for all that, you know that you are not a child of God, a saved sinner, and an heir to eternal life. Knowing all these things the question of great concern in your heart is just this — “What lack I yet?”
Many very moral and religious people yet lack that one thing which is essential to eternal life. They lack faith in Christ. There are three questions raised in this passage of Scripture that I want to answer from the Word of God.
1. “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (v. 16).
The rich young ruler asked our Savior this question. Looking at the question by itself, it appears to be a very noble one, one that we all should ask. We find this question many times in the Scriptures. Those who asked it became saved men. They were given eternal life. On the day of Pentecost, a large number of men, after they heard the gospel message, were pricked in their hearts, and they cried, “Men and brethren, What shall we do?” The Philippian jailor, with a broken and submissive heart cried, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
when this rich young ruler asked the question, his heart was not broken with
conviction. His soul was not humbled with a sense of sin. He was a terribly
proud, self-righteous man. He felt that he was sufficient in himself to meet whatever
requirements God himself might demand of him. In essence, he was saying to the Lord, “You tell me what God
requires, and I will do it!” He had a zeal for righteousness; but going about
to establish his own righteousness he had not submitted himself to the
righteousness of God (
There is much about this young man that is commendable. He was not a base, profligate rebel. He was moral, religious, and devout. He had been a respectful and obedient son to his parents. He was a good husband, a good father, a good provider for his family. He was a hardworking, honest man, who had acquired much wealth. He was a good neighbor, a respected community leader.
In a day of abounding unbelief he came to Christ of his own accord. He came, not to have some disease healed, not to plead for a helpless child, not to see some great miracle, but out of concern for his immortal soul. He was earnest and sincere. Mark tells us that he came running to Christ. He was orthodox in his creed. He was a religious leader. He believed in God. He believed the Holy Scriptures. He believed in the reality of eternal life. He was very strict and devoted in his practice of religion. Since the days of his youth, he had outwardly kept the law of God. His life was meticulously moral and precise. He even worshipped Christ. Again, Mark tells us that when he came to Christ, he kneeled down before him. Like Nicodemus, this young man realized that Jesus Christ was a teacher come from God. He seems even to have acknowledged our Lord’s deity. When the Lord Jesus asserted that no man is good, but God only, the young ruler did not withdraw his statement. He seems to have acknowledged that Christ is God.
Yet, this young man demonstrated two very sorrowful characteristics. Two things about this rich young ruler’s character show us that he was a lost, ruined, unregenerate man. First, he was ignorant of all spiritual truth. He knew much in a natural sense, but spiritually, regarding spiritual things, he was as ignorant as a man who had never heard of God. He was ignorant of God’s holy character. He was ignorant of his own sinfulness. He was ignorant of the law’s spiritual nature. He obviously thought that the law only required outward obedience. And he was altogether ignorant of the gospel of Christ (Eph. 2:8-9).
Second, the rich young ruler was, as I
have already stated, dreadfully
self-righteous. Beware of self-righteousness! No sin is more deadly, and more likely to keep you from Christ than
the sin of self-righteousness. And no sin is more common to man. All men, by nature, are self-righteous. It is the family
disease of all the sons of Adam. From the heights to the depths of society,
we all think more highly of ourselves than we should. We secretly flatter ourselves that we are not so
bad as some, and that we have something that will recommend us to the favor
of God. The wise man said, “Most men will proclaim everyone his own
goodness.” We forget the plain
testimony of Holy Scripture. — “In many things we offend all” (James
3:2). “There is not a man upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not”
(Eccles. ). “What is man that he should be clean, or he that is
born of woman that he should be righteous” (Job ). “They are all under sin; as it is written, there is
none righteous, no not one” (
Ever since man became a sinner, he has been self-righteous. When man had a perfect righteousness before God, he did not glory in it or cherish it. But ever since the fall, when we lost all righteousness, man has pretended to be righteous. Immediately after his fall, Adam wrapped himself a fig leaf apron and began to defend himself by blaming his troubles on God who gave to him the woman, and the woman for giving him the fruit.
As it was with Adam, so it is with us all. We justify ourselves before God and men. Self-righteousness is born within us. While we can, to a degree, control our lusts and wicked behavior, our self-righteousness will not allow us to confess our sins and come to God for mercy as guilty sinners. Millions of sermons have been preached against self-righteousness, but it remains the number one sin that keeps men from coming to Christ.
One old preacher said, “I scarcely ever preach a sermon without condemning self-righteousness, yet I find I cannot preach it down. Men still boast of who they are, what they have done, what they have not done, and mistake the road to heaven to be one paved by their own works and merit.” God help us!
Our Lord Jesus answered this man’s question plainly. He asked what he could do to win God’s favor; and The Savior told him. “If you want salvation by human merit, you must keep the law. As far as he understood the law, in its outward requirement, he had kept it. He was like Saul of Tarsus, “as touching the law, blameless.” But he was not all that he thought he was. He did not, in reality, love his neighbor as himself. The law must be kept perfectly. It must be kept in all points. It must be kept at all times. It must be kept outwardly. And it must be kept inwardly.
God never intended the law to be a basis of salvation. Its design is to show man God’s holy character and his own condemnation and guilt. Nothing else. But those who attempt to obtain righteousness by the works of the law do not understand what the law requires. It requires perfect, complete obedience (Gal. ).
2. “What lack I yet?” (v. 20)
Though our Savior answered the rich young ruler’s question so plainly that he should have been convinced of his inability to produce righteousness for himself, his pride and self-righteousness compelled him to press the matter further. He asked the Master, “What lack I yet?”
Who would dare be so bold? The man must be either mad or blind. Yet, this man, like most, was very confident that he was righteous. He appears to be saying, “If there is any deficiency in me, I do not know what it could be. I have done all that God requires of a man.”
He did appear to lack very little. If a modern soul-winner could find a young man like this, he would have him under the water, dried off, and in the pulpit in no time. But the Lord Jesus was not trying to get another decision to put on his promotional charts as a “soul winning evangelist”. He labored for the souls of men, not their applause. He was both compassionate and honest. Therefore, he showed the young man exactly what he lacked. He was not lacking in morality, religious duty, orthodoxy, sincerity, or zeal. But he was lacking one essential thing. He had no faith in Christ.
“Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest” (Mark ). He boasted that he loved his neighbor as himself. Therefore, Christ put him to a test. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me” (v. 21).
Our Lord commanded this young man to surrender to his authority as his Lord. – “Go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor.” He commanded the man to trust him. He said, “Come.” Coming to Christ is an act of faith. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Mark adds the words “Take up thy cross.” That is to say, our Lord commanded the man to confess him. And he commanded this young man to obey him. He said, “Follow me.” These are the things which our Lord requires of all his people: submission, faith, confession, and obedience.
The Lord had a good reason for giving this command to this particular man. He was probing at his heart. He wanted to expose his point of rebellion. He was determined to show this young man exactly what he was lacking. God always meets the sinner at his point of rebellion. This man’s money was his god. Therefore, the Master commanded him to give it away. This command was designed to expose the evil of his heart, destroy his self-confidence and pride, show him the impossibility of salvation by the works of the law, and to show him the necessity of the gospel. By this one, pointed command, our Savior stripped away the fig leaves of the rich young ruler’s self-righteousness, exposed the foolishness of his pride, and showed him his need of the grace of God and his need of a Substitute.
The rich young ruler’s one fatal deficiency was a deficiency of the heart. Like Simon Magus, his heart was not right in the sight of God. He was yet unregenerate. He was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. His heart was not broken. His Spirit was not humbled. He would not surrender to Christ as Lord. God met him at his point of rebellion, and he would not bow. He would not come to Christ, trusting him alone for salvation. He would not confess Christ to be Lord. He would not obey the Son of God.
Are you like this young man? If so, our Savior’s words to him must be addressed to you, “one thing thou lackest.” You have one fatal deficiency. Your heart is not right before God. If ever you are saved, your heart must be broken (Ps. 51:17; Isa. 66:2). And the only way your heart will ever be broken is if God is pleased to reveal himself to you in the fulness of his grace and glory in Christ (Zech. ; 2 Cor. 4:3-6). Unless God himself breaks your heart, it will never be broken; and you will never be saved. You must be born again by almighty grace. A new heart must be created within you.
3. “Who then can be saved?” (v. 25)
When the disciples saw and heard these things, they were astonished, and cried – “Who then can be saved?” Our Lord gives us a plain answer to that question. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). Salvation is not a work of man. It is not, in any way, or to any degree, dependent upon or determined by man (John -13). Salvation is altogether the work of God’s sovereign and irresistible grace (Rom. ; Eph. 2:8-10). None but God can save sinners in a way that is suitable to satisfy his holy law (Rom. -26). None but God can give a lost sinner a new heart. None but God can break a sinner’s stubborn will. None but God can give life to the dead and faith to the unbelieving. None but God can reveal Christ in us.
With men salvation is impossible, “but with God all things are possible.” Salvation is accomplished entirely by his omnipotent, effectual, irresistible grace (Ps. 65:4). If ever the almighty God puts his hand upon a sinner, that sinner will be saved.
“Who then can be saved?” Let me tell you who can, who will, who must be saved. All who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, all who are born-again by God the Holy Spirit, all who are called by almighty grace, all who come to Christ must and shall be saved. The Lord Jesus Christ has declared, and it shall never be reversed, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John ).
Come to Christ, no matter who you are, no matter how vile your transgressions are, and he promises that he will receive you just as you are, and that he will never cast you out, that he will give you eternal life, that you shall never perish. Come, then, to Christ without any preparations to make yourself worthy of coming, without making change to qualify you for acceptance. Come to Christ without delay. Sinner, come and welcome! The Savior’s word is, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew -30). If you are lost, it is not because there is no love in Christ for sinners. It is not because Christ is not able, willing, and ready to save sinners. If you are not saved, it is because, “Ye will not come to Christ, that ye might have life.” If you die in your sins, it will be entirely your own fault. If you do come, if you are saved, if you do trust the blessed Savior it will be entirely because of and entirely the work of God’s free grace.