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The Impossibility of Reaching America with the Gospel February 17, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Luke, Materialism, Religion, Sermons.

Luke 18:18-30

We are in the middle of a long political season. Every politician is promising change of some type. They are promising changes on the political landscape, the economic landscape, the judicial landscape. They are promising solutions to our energy needs and to our healthcare needs. Not one of them, however, is trying to meet the real spiritual need of America. Today we want to understand what that need is, we want to look at a few things that hinder spiritual change, and then we want to see what guarantees the spiritual change that will meet our spiritual need.


Several years ago I told this story about Professor Edwin Keaty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School who for more than 20 years, used to start his classes by writing on a blackboard two numbers, the numbers 2 and 4. And then he would ask his audience, “What’s the solution?” And, one student would shout out, “6” and another student would shout out, “2” and another student would shout out, “8” and Professor Keaty would shake his head and he would say, “Gentlemen, unless you know what the problem is, you cannot possibly find the answer.”

WE NEED TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE (verses 18 and 29-30).

This young man knew what the problem was. He was as a ruler among the Jews an expert in the law. He knew the Old Testament. He practiced the ten commandments and had done so all of his life. Some of our witnessing methods might not have worked well on him. He was an upstanding moral man. It also appears that his question is sincere, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We find that Jesus agrees with this young man that man’s greatest need, especially in the coming age, is eternal life. Jesus, however, further defines eternal life in verses 22-25. Last Sunday evening we talked how that when one reads the gospel of John, one comes to the realization that eternal life is more than just unending existence.

Eternal life is TREASURE IN HEAVEN (verse 22). This word is speaking of more than just something that is of great worth. It is speaking of abundance. Eternal life is more than a life that does not end but it is a life that never runs out of riches.

ETERNAL LIFE IS ENTERING THE KINGDOM OF GOD (verses 24-25). Political power is a tempting tidbit in this world but it is fleeting. No one has found a way to make lasting the great power that comes from political success. There is, however, a kingdom that is in existence now but the king has yet to come and establish His throne on the earth. When he comes, those who have followed him will be elevated with Him, will be glorified with Him, and will rule the universe with Him throughout all eternity. Eternal life is unending in its length, it is unending in its treasures, and it is unending in its authority over the universe.

ETERNAL LIFE IS SALVATION (verse 26). We have a third person in this passage who talks about eternal life. Peter was not learned as the rich young ruler was but he had been walking with Jesus Christ for two years or so and had learned something about eternal life. He had learned that to inherit eternal life one must be saved!

This phrase “saved” can refer to either physical or spiritual healing. Peter had learned from Jesus and now recognized that spiritual healing was necessary for eternal life.

Luke’s first mention of Peter is in chapter 5. After the miracle of catching the fish recorded in that chapter, Peter said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Peter understood that eternal life is not only about the future but that it is also about the past.

For years, Martin Luther recognized his need of salvation but Martin Luther did not understand God’s provision to meet his need. Luther punished himself physically and spiritually in his attempt to earn eternal life. Years after he understand that salvation is by grace through faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ alone, Luther wrote these words:

In devil’s dungeon chained I lay the pangs of death swept o’er me.

My sin devoured me night and day in which my mother bore me.

My anguish ever grew more rife,

I took no pleasure in my life and sin had made me crazy.

Then was the Father troubled sore to see me ever languish.

The everlasting Pity swore to save me from my anguish.

Luther knew he had a great spiritual need. He realized eventually from God’s Word that climbing the spiritual steps of works and ritual do nothing for the soul. Luther quit climbing those steps and started trusting.

There are two hindrances to inheriting eternal life, to having our spiritual need met. The first, moral accomplishments, might be surprising to you.


This man was sexually pure and had always been so. He had never slipped up. It is interesting that in this case, Jesus did not use his illustration from the Sermon on the Mount where a man by simply lusting after a woman who is not his wife commits adultery with that woman. This man must have been of unusual character.

This man was not guilty of murder. Again, Jesus could have tried to trap him into admitting that he had hated someone and that hate is the same as murder but this is not the direction he took in this case.

This man had never stolen. He was an honest man in his business dealings. Now this is perhaps unusual in a man of great wealth but he was convinced that he had never taken something that was not his.

He had never lied about anyone. Never gossiped. He was not only honest but he treated others with a proper love and respect.

He honored his father and mother. Not just now as an adult but as a youth, he had always honored and respected his father and mother.

Jesus listened. He did not interrupt the young man with arguments and try to convince him that he was a sinner and born in iniquity. He made a very simple statement. You lack one thing. You keep the law, you are an upstanding, model citizen. Morally there is nothing wrong with you but it is not enough. The way you treat your fellow man is exemplary but you cannot inherit eternal life until you take this one last step.

From Frank Turk:  “I was watching my son’s basketball game a couple of weeks ago, and it’s the “recreational” league where the kids really haven’t ever played on a court before with rules or a ref. And on the other team was this really aggressive kid who simply wanted to put the ball in the net. It was clear to me he had played football before because every time he got the ball, he tucked the ball under, ducked his head, and rolled into the crowd of boys in the key like a fullback.

And in this kid’s case, it was actually kinda funny – he obviously didn’t know any better. He was playing by the wrong rules, and he had no clue what the right rules where. But if that same thing happened in a High School game, or even in the next age bracket up, it wouldn’t hardly be that funny – because those kids know better, and they prove it in all kinds of ways.

And this is the case with us: we show that we know enough about God’s law to obey it when we want to, so when we are unwilling to obey God’s law it’s that much worse for us (From Frank Turk’s Pyromaniac post The Talking Stain, February 13, 2008 http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2008/02/talking-stain.html).


A. The one time act – repentance revealed by the act of selling and distributing to the poor. How important can one action be? If that action reveals something about your faith, then it can be an enormous action. This man’s earthly attachments were so great that he could find no way to bring himself to performing this one act.

B. The continual lifestyle of following Christ – discipleship. The action of selling and distributing was only an outward sign and revealed that this purest, honest, loving man loved the abundance of this life more than the abundance of eternal life. It seems that the young man could never bring himself to admit that his money did not matter. He could never find a way to cut himself off from the things of this world.

Only God can change our attachments (verses 27-30).

He can do the impossible (verse 27). You cannot do this on your own. You must turn to Christ. Only He can help you. Only he can reveal to you the value of the heavenly treasures, of the heavenly kingdom, of eternal life. The title of this sermon, “The Impossibility of Reaching American with the Gospel” is based on this verse. Political power will not change America spiritually. The best it can do is improve the landscape. Oprah and Dr. Phil and their religious counterparts like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer cannot change America spiritually. Their messages are tied to this world. The best they can do is get people to think positively about their current situation. Only the message of Christ spoken and lived in us as Christians can turn America to eternal life. Not our programs. Not the Sunday School and Awana and nursery and youth space that we hope to free up by finding a parsonage or some other solution. Not our fine singing. Those things apart from Christ have no power to change anyone but the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation.

Repentance and discipleship are an essential part of our faith in God (verses 28-30).

It is not surprising that money is the one of the greatest hindrances to discipleship. The things of this world are a trap that tries to pull us down. There are few of us, both wealthy and poor, for whom money is not a spiritual problem. That is why God uses the way we handle money as a gauge to measure whether we are truly disciples. There is no more accurate gauge of my spirituality than how I view money and the things that I can buy and do with money.


Patrick Morley once said, there are two ways to find out what is important to a man. This might apply to a woman also. Where does a man spend any discretionary money he might have and how does he use any free time he might have. That is how you find out what a man loves.

James 4:1-3 describes a group who claimed to be disciples of Christ, who even when they prayed, received nothing because they did not understand what it means to follow Christ, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

The love of the things of this world does not produce faith but rather hinders faith, stifles faith, kills faith. Christ was demanding from the crowd listening to Him evidence of their faith. Jesus was applying the young man’s question about eternal life even to those who were already following him. Discipleship is about more than growing in Christ. It is a matter of total commitment, total allegiance to Christ. This is how Jesus determined who were truly His disciples. What or who did they love more than him?

Not everyone is hindered by money and houses and land. Some are hindered by family. If your treasure is in your family then you are no different than this young man. If the abundance of your riches are your parents or siblings or spouse or children, you cannot truly serve God. For some of you that is a tough decision. God, however, can change your heart.

I meet very few people who admit that it is hard to choose between Christ and the wealth of this world. I do, however, often meet people who have trouble between choosing family or Christ. I have been asked, how do I do this practically.

1. Meet your rightful biblical obligations to family members. The Bible is clear as to how a man is to relate to his wife and children. It is clear who is to have priority in his life. The spouse, then the children, then other family members.

2. Ask yourself this question. Is my relationship to this family member hindering my relationship to Christ? The answer is usually not to break the relationship but to begin to take those steps that show where your loyalty truly is. 1 Peter 3:1-17 is a great passage to study and to digest to help you to understand your relationship to that person.

3. Make you commitment and follow it daily. Pray daily. Read your Bible daily. Have contact if at all possible with God’s people daily. The toughest commitments are always taken just one slow step at a time. Do not lose heart. Your reward in this life and in the life to come is eternal life.

What does it mean to follow Christ? It is simple, turn away from what you love and turn to Jesus Christ, who died for your sin. You can become his disciple but he demands total allegiance, total commitment. Obviously, he does not demand perfection, otherwise Christ would have welcomed Him with open arms. Ultimately it is not about you. It is about Christ. He died for you. He rose from the dead for you. Follow Him and Him alone.



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