Fully Human: Why Think Part I: The Rich Ruler and Jesus

The blogs which I will be posting under the heading “Fully Human:  Living the Story of Shalom” were written as lectures for a study I have designed at the Neighbourhood Church.  The course is designed to help people figure out how to be good ethical thinkers in light of their commitment to follow Jesus.  I have made several edits from the spoken version in order to make for better reading.  Today’s post is a part of the first session and it uses the story of the rich young ruler to illustrate why it is important for followers of Jesus to be careful thinkers.  The next 2 posts will contain two more stories that further illustrate this point.


Three of the four gospels record a story about a rich man, full of zeal, who races up to Jesus in order to ask him:  “good teacher what is it that I must do to inherit eternal life”.  New Testament scholar Tom Wright points out that for the rich man this question would have been about more than just wondering what the minimum requirement would be to “get in” to heaven but rather meant:  how must I live in order to please God?[1]Image

Jesus’ answer, unsurprisingly starts with the commandments:  do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give a false testimony, honour your father and mother…The rich man responds, I have done all of this since I was a boy.  Tom Wright notes that in making his statement of faithfulness the rich man is revealing his deep-seated yearning to please God and he is also showing an intuitive sense that there must be more to pleasing God than simply following the rules.

Jesus’ answer shows that the man’s intuition was right.  Full of compassion, Jesus gives the rich man his answer.  Yes there is more to living a life that pleases God:  he says “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come follow me.” (Mk 10:21b).  The man being wealthy, walks away dejected.  Departing with his wealth was the one thing he could not do.

What this story illustrates for us is that Christian living is more sophisticated than simply carrying out the commands of God as if right living could be reduced to a checklist: yep I’ve avoided adultery, yep I’ve been kind to my parents, yep I haven’t stolen—I’m good to go!  In our story the rich man did many things right but was deficient in the area that matters most to God—his character.  He was unwilling to let go of that deepest part of who he was.  He wanted to please God but not if that involved changing who he was.

Yet Jesus’ answer about the life that pleases God does involve us changing who we are.  It means being willing to let go of everything that we hold to so strongly, it means being willing to be transformed, and it means picking up and following Jesus.  Yet following Jesus is not nearly as simple as ticking things off a checklist.  It requires careful thinking, it means paying close attention to who Jesus is, what he teaches, and why he taught it.

[1] NT Wright After You Believe, 13.



  1. richard p dyck · February 7, 2014

    Good article Travis. Is is good that you have embarked with a constructive idea

    • travisbarbour · February 7, 2014

      Thank you for your support. I am glad that you are following along on here as well. I look forward to hearing your point of view along the way. 🙂

  2. Ross Williamson · February 7, 2014

    I totally agree that it is all about the character of a person that really matters in a friendship and in life. Material wealth however is necessary to enjoy a certain standard of living that we have all become accustomed to. Looking forward to the next two posts.

    • travisbarbour · February 7, 2014

      I’m glad to have you as a reader Ross. I KNOW you are going to love the next one…

  3. Pingback: Fully Human: How to Think Part III Why we need all 4 sources « Barbourisms

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