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What is the One Thing You Can’t Give Up?
Every story has a good guy and a bad guy.
Whether in books, on screen, around the campfire, or anywhere else we experience stories, each encounter brings us face-to-face with someone we like and someone we don’t.
From the eternal struggle between Tom and Jerry to the heroic exploits of Batman against the Joker, we know whom we’re rooting for and whom we aren’t.
And the stories recorded in the Bible are no exception.
I don’t know about you, but when I read Scripture, I can easily pinpoint the bad guys and criticize their glaring faults, disastrous choices, and evil intentions. Whether haughty Goliath, deceitful Delilah, baby-murdering Herod, or Judas the Betrayer, they’re people we love to hate.
At least this is how I used to read God’s Word until I realized something rather humbling.
I’m the bad guy.
While I like to flatter myself as courageous as Esther, obedient as Noah, loyal as Ruth, or forgiving as Joseph, it turns out I’m more akin to the double-minded Israelites, doubting Thomas, and high-and-mighty Pharisees.
And this pattern holds in the record of Jesus’ encounter with a young man we know as “The Rich Young Ruler.”
And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. –Mark 10:17–22
Oh, how easy it is to judge. Jesus invited this man to “follow me” — the exact words He spoke to His disciples. The 12. His closest friends. And the guy refused because he has a lot of stuff? Could he be any more short-sighted? Greedy? Foolish?
But on my most recent reading of this familiar story, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I have more in common with this “bad guy” than I’d like to admit. Like him, I have my own “one thing.”
I asked myself, how would Jesus have filled in the blank in verse 21 if he’d been talking to me?
And Jesus, looking at Melaina, loved her, and said to her,
I believe we all have that “one thing” we haven’t given up yet. The one we cling to more closely than the cross — a source of happiness, comfort, self-worth, or whatever hole we’re still trying to fill apart from Christ.
For me, it’s admiration from others. I cling to my ability to do, earn, and achieve in order to feel “made worthy” by the praise or gratitude my hard work earns.
How about you?
What’s keeping you from complete surrender to Christ? A relationship? Career? Reputation? Or maybe, not unlike the Rich Young Ruler of Biblical times, you have a lot of stuff — enough of it to clutter up your heart and muddle your perspective on what really matters.
Whatever your “one thing” is, Jesus is calling you to go, take care of business, then follow Him. And another look at verse 21 reveals the reason why: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…”
It’s in love that Jesus longs for you to lay down your “one thing” because He knows it will never be enough to fill whatever part of you is empty. It isn’t what’s best for you. He is.
Just as praise from people will never equate to the unconditional love of my Father, the thing you’re holding onto is incapable of giving whatever you’re asking of it.
The lures of this world can’t keep their promises, but Jesus always does. And He pledges that when you lay down whatever you’ve been holding onto, He’ll fill your open hands to overflowing. Like the Apostle Paul, you’ll realize your loss is actually gain.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. –Philippians 3:7–8
Friend, whatever you’ve been clinging to is trash compared to the treasure of following Jesus. He is the only real and lasting source of exactly what you need.