The question arose as to whether the so-called “Rich Young Ruler” was saved. We read in Mark’s gospel:
17And as he 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?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)Conventional wisdom, it is fair to say, is that the man walked away unsaved.
I’ll give you my opinion. I think he was saved. (Or would inevitably be saved.)
Of course, we can not say for certain whether someone we know intimately is saved, let alone a person who lived two millennia ago. But we can speculate. (And we are supposed to speculate to a certain degree—there is all manner of instruction in scripture as to how we deal with fellow believers, presupposing that we, at the very least, take people at their word.)
To begin, I’d ask you to think about all the people you believe to be saved. Now, one by one, insert them into the rich young ruler’s position. Would each and everyone sell all his possessions? Do you think it’s possible that at least a few would falter? And if so, does that necessarily mean that they were not saved? Could it not simply mean that at that particular moment they chose poorly?
If you agree that it is possible that at a given moment a saved man could make a wrong choice, choosing the world over following Christ—then you must at least allow for the possibility that the rich young ruler was saved.
Or do you hold him to a higher standard? An unbiblical higher standard? Are you legalistic in regards to the rich young ruler? Was it for him, and for him alone (apart from Christ) that perfect obedience is demanded? Was it for him alone that the litmus test was whether or not he sold all his possessions?
Peter didn’t sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. He returned to his fishing boat after the resurrection.
So that’s my first point—which to summarize is this: whether or not the man was saved is not to be answered by whether or not he made the right choice at that moment. An unsaved person, overcome by a false zeal, might have sold everything—it happens all the time with cults.
The second point I want to make stems from Jesus’ feelings toward the man: And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
I suppose, broadly speaking, that there are four possible comments one could make concerning the fact that Jesus loved the rich young ruler:
- Jesus loves everyone, so of course He loved the rich young ruler.
- Jesus loved him at that moment, but not necessarily a few seconds later, when the man turned away.
- Jesus’ love for people is not correlated with whether or not they are elect. He loves some who are not elect, and not necessarily all who are.
- Jesus, at least in a certain sense, loves only the elect.
The second possibility points to a fickle Jesus, and brings into question his immutability. It is a Jesus that only open theists could embrace.
The third possibility fits the data—but I know of no theology teaching both: that God’s love for people is not universal and it is not correlated with salvation.
The fourth possibility is what I believe. That Jesus has a special love, a salvific love, that goes well beyond a general benevolence toward all humanity. A love for the elect (or, for my Arminian friends, those he foresaw as believers.) To me, the only reason for scripture to go out of its way to tell us that Jesus loved the rich young ruler was to place him in that category.
The final point I’ll make is that when the man turned away, he was sad, not angry. As a believer, when you sin, even as you are sinning, what is you overall emotion? Does it not include a heavy dose of sadness? Don’t we all feel exactly like this man when we choose to follow the world instead of Christ?
I think the rich young ruler gets mistreated. If he was saved, it was by grace not by works. If he was saved, he was still quite capable of, at times, choosing the world. If he was saved, Jesus would certainly love him. And if he was saved, he would feel remorse at his sin.