It’s Just Impossible
Read Matthew 19:16–26
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Yesterday I described myself as a recovering spiritual perfectionist. At the time I thought I was alone, but, like any recovering addict, I soon started meeting a lot of people just like me, people who were performance-oriented, guilt-haunted, and driven by a need to be sure they were pleasing God — yet also exhausted by their efforts.
In fact, I met some in the pages of the Bible, especially in the Gospels as they encountered Christ. Here’s the story of one of them.
One day a very rich young man comes up to Jesus — and his question and his attitude remind me so much of my old performance-oriented self. He essentially asks, “What do I need to do to get an A-plus from God, to win a golden ticket to heaven?”
I think Jesus is testing him when He says, “Well, keep every single commandment.” The man betrays his to-do list mentality as he responds, “Which ones?” Jesus names six commandments — and the man says, “Done!” I honestly do not know how Jesus doesn’t burst out laughing here. But He sees into the man’s proud soul and says, “Then sell all you own and follow me.”
Now the man is going through a major conflict. Think about it: He probably has all his stuff precisely because he’s so driven. He wants to earn more stuff, more rewards, not give away stuff. Even his spirituality seems to be part of his pursuit of trophies. Jesus’ words do not compute, so the man walks away.
Then Jesus says something a lot of people miss. The stunned disciples question him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus then says, “With man this is…” What? “…Impossible.”
As Max Lucado points out in his book The Applause of Heaven:
He doesn’t say unlikely. He doesn’t even say it will be tough. He says it is impossible. No chance. No way. Impossible. It’s impossible to swim the Pacific. It’s impossible to go to the moon on the tail of a kite. And unless somebody does something, you don’t stand a chance of going to heaven. All your life you’ve been rewarded according to your performance. That’s why the rich young ruler thought heaven was only a payment away. Then Jesus says you don’t need a system, but a Savior. You don’t need a résumé; you need a Redeemer.
Don’t miss it. You cannot save yourself. Not through the right rules. Not through the right ritual. Not through the right religion. It is impossible for human beings to save themselves.
But… with God, all things are possible! With God, the prodigal, the prostitute and the priest are all brought into the fold because of His love — not because of what they have earned. That’s grace!
For a deeper look at grace, see the definition on page 125 and the chart on page 126 [attached below]. In the first group discussion guide, I explore some of the nuances of this fascinating concept. Reading those definitions will help you understand and enjoy the rest of this week’s meditations!
How do you relate to the rich young man’s driven personality?
How can this become an obstacle to understanding grace?
Why do people want to cling to their performance-driven motivations? What do you think they are afraid might happen if they let go and simply receive God’s grace?
Ask God to help you stop being a performance-driven person when it comes to your faith. Ask Him to help you relax in His grace.