The Secret to Eternal Life Means Choosing Death to Self Now

July 10, 2016

A reminder to readers: We’re in the thick of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will continue to cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.

Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”


Last Sunday, we began the exploration of this passage and saw that the rich young man was confronted with a very important question about the basis of our righteousness before God. It is not earned; it is the gift of God.

The insightful question of Jesus to the Rich Young Ruler is the pivot around which the whole people of God turn in the New Testament. Jesus loves his man’s zeal for righteousness. He loves his earnestness for the Law. He loves his sincerity. This is not an emotional feeling toward this man. In the Scriptures, God’s compassion, mercy, love and so forth are not feelings, but covenantal commitments which translate into actions.

Contemporary Christianity, especially in the West, finds a thousand ways to reinforce the false idea that loving God and knowing God is rooted in some kind of mutual emotive experience or feelings between ourselves and God. This encounter is not about making this man feel better. The only way this man can get better is by confronting the realities of that which binds him. Sometimes God loves you so much, he has to make you miserable. If he didn’t, you would never grow and never break the hidden idols in your life. Jesus sees the bondage this man is in, and wants to set him free.

Jesus subtly turns to the first table of the Ten Commandments. Jesus knew that this young man had an idol in his life. The idol was his possessions. Jesus said in verse 21, “One thing you lack: go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This is not intended to be a general command to the whole church. Even Francis of Assisi didn’t interpret it that way. It was this man’s idol, and surely there are millions like him. But, this was Jesus speaking as the Great Physician—the divine diagnostic. Nobody can diagnose the chains that bind us like he can! Jesus names this man’s idol; he names his bondage; he names his chains! Don’t bracket yourself out of this encounter because you may not be rich. Jesus will name your idol too, if you listen carefully. The heart of the reply is at the end: “Come, follow me!”

The statement, “follow me,” is offered here as a summary of the first commandment: “you shall have no other gods before me.” These are his words to his disciples: “take up your cross and follow me.” If we really want to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and not just our own ambitions on the coat-tails of the church, then we must all die. Every voice in the church cries out for us to measure our success by external standards—a focus on the second table of the Ten Commandments understood in isolation from the first table and interpreted only outwardly. To focus on our measurements of righteousness and God’s blessings: What is the size of your church? How much money do you get paid? How nice is your parsonage? What kind of pension plan do you have? Are you popular? These are all the wrong questions. If the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it is that God sometimes does his greatest work under a cloak of failure.

To carry around the death of Jesus means that your focus is not so much on these outward things, but rather on following Jesus at the depth of your heart. For some of you, this may lead to charges with great responsibility over thousands of members. For others, faithfulness means feeding a small flock and defending a relatively remote outpost of the kingdom. There are no stepping stones to the kingdom. There is no denominational ladder to climb. There is no career path stretching out in front of you. What we have before us is the call which beckons us to the cross. You must never lose your vibrant confidence in the Word of God, the supremacy of Christ, and the ongoing power of the Christian gospel! The gospel is necessary in order to face the challenges of our day. It is truly astonishing how much good ministry takes place in the church under the guise of second table of the Ten commandments and misses the heart of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ—loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The insightful diagnosis of the Great Physician in the life of this young man is evidenced in the tragedy of his response in verse 22: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he has great wealth.” The Great Physician fits the diagnosis to the disease. He might have just as easily said, “go, resign your job and, then, come, follow me” or “go, close down your Facebook account, delete your videogames, and throw your iPhone in the depths of the sea, then, come, follow me.” The diagnosis comes and all rests on our responses. The young man went away sad. We are now at the heart of understanding—slowly but surely—what following Jesus really means. It means not just preaching the cross of Christ, but carrying our own crosses daily. We must die to self and renounce all of our secret idols which stand in contradiction to the first table, indeed, to the whole of the Ten Commandments. To follow Him leads to a cross. It leads to death. In the end, as Christians, we all only have two choices: Either you die to self now and you truly live, or you live for yourself now and you truly die.


1. What idols are present in your own life which are keeping you from following Jesus wholly and fully?
2. What actions must you take today to follow Him?


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The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.

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