Text: Mark 10:17-22
In 2015, The Atlantic magazine ran an article titled, “The Power of Good Enough.” It was about, quote, “How settling can make people happier and more satisfied than gunning for ‘the best.’” The point of the article was that we, as American consumers, frequently set the bar of goodness for the products we buy too high. Particularly, with technology this is true – according to the article. Why spend so much money on a new computer, when a less expensive one will do what you need just as well – for cheaper? It most likely is good enough for you, and you might be happier in the long run. The article ends with this quote, “It can be hard, in our culture, to force yourself to settle for ‘good enough.’ But when it comes to happiness and satisfaction, ‘good enough’ isn’t just good – it’s perfect.”
Now, this is probably well and true when it comes to our possessions but – to bring us in a spiritual direction – is “good enough” really, as the article says, perfect in God’s eyes? To ask the question in a different way: When are we good enough in God’s eyes for salvation? As Lutherans, we’d probably say that the question itself is wrong. But, it is what’s on the young man’s mind in our text. He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Through the conversation, Jesus taught the man that – contrary to his measurement – he was not good enough to enter heaven. Entrance into God’s eternal kingdom comes only by His grace through faith in Christ, and not by our works. By our works, we will never be good enough in God’s eyes. Therefore, Jesus became “good enough” for us. By faith in Him we receive salvation.
We are thankful that this doctrine – that we are saved not by works but entirely by grace through faith – is preached clearly and loudly in the Lutheran Church. Still, it does not come easy to our sinful nature. The Old Adam is always looking for something to contribute, always looking to be “good enough” to earn salvation. The problem is, the more I can do myself, the less I need Christ. That, unfortunately, was the man’s premise. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Mark recorded for us, “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?’” Our text this week actually follows our text from two weeks ago – when Jesus blessed the little children. He taught then, also, that little children can be part of God’s Kingdom because salvation is received through faith. But, that’s not what the man is thinking here.
The young man, who was not yet a disciple of Jesus, assumed that – at some point – he would be good enough to enter eternal life. The question is: How good is good enough? Jesus answered him by first asking, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” That is Jesus’ clever way of telling the man that he’s already missing something here. The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things. God was there, right in front of the man, and he missed it. Then Jesus taught him – correctly – that if he would like to earn eternal life – to be good enough in God’s eyes – he should keep the Commandments. Jesus didn’t list all of them, but it’s implied. Upon hearing this, the man should’ve been convicted and realized that he wouldn’t be able to earn his way in – if the Commandments are the standard. Instead, “He said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’” Perhaps, he answered more out of pride than truth. Still, he revealed that he thought he was good enough to enter life.
St. Mark wrote that Jesus looked at the man and loved him, and then He proceeded to preach the Law to this young man. We should learn from this example that when the pastor preaches the Law – as Jesus does here – it’s not to be mean or judgmental, but a work of love. Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor.” We find at the end of the text that this young man was wealthy, but Jesus had already correctly diagnosed this man’s temptation. The lure of his wealth and possessions had taken the place of God in his heart. He was convinced that by his works he was righteous in God’s eyes, but Jesus showed him that true righteousness is not a matter of outward appearance, but what’s in the heart. The man wouldn’t have treasure in heaven because of the act of giving to the poor, but through the faith in his heart that led him to give. Salvation is never a matter of being good enough to earn our way in, but what’s in the heart, namely, faith.
The Greek better expresses the man’s reaction than the ESV here. I would translate it, “And he, after becoming shocked by the word, went away grieving, for he had had many possessions.” He asked Jesus how good one must be to enter heaven, and Jesus answered, totally. We must fear, love, and trust in God above all things. All things. If you can do that, you can enter eternal life. If you can maintain that in the sight of God’s all-seeing, always watching eye, you will be good enough. But, “If we say we have no sin…” How good is good enough? Perfection…which we will never reach.
St. Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” St. Paul reminds us with these words that, by the Fall into Sin and by own our evil deeds, we are sinners and unable to merit salvation. By nature, no matter how many good works we do, we will never be “good enough.” When we attempt to be good enough, we miss the point and sin just the same. Jesus taught how good we must be, and we never will be. Therefore, Jesus became “good enough” for us.
St. Paul wrote, “by the one man’s obedience.” By this, he meant our Lord’s fulfillment of God’s Law, His perfect keeping of it, and His total obedience to God the Father’s will. None of these things, we do. Jesus feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. He loved His neighbor even more than Himself – so much so, that He suffered and died for an entire world of sinful and corrupt human beings. Jesus was “good enough,” to merit salvation. Only, He didn’t just earn it for Himself – but for you. In Hebrews it says, “being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”
We’ll hear these words again in a few weeks when we celebrate the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, but let us be glad to hear them already today. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The answer to the young man’s question of how good one must be to inherit eternal life is that one must be perfect. One must observe the Commandments faithfully and completely. Since we are incapable of that, we will never – by our own works – be “good enough.” Therefore, Jesus became good enough on our behalf. He fulfilled God’s Law and kept it to the end. By God’s grace through faith, Christ’s righteousness is counted to us and we are reckoned as “good enough,” in Him. What must we do to inherit eternal life? Repent and believe that Christ already has been and is “good enough” for you.