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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #35: Are you ready to declutter your soul?

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. Mark 10:21-22

One story of Jesus that causes more eyebrows to be raised is his encounter with a rich young guy who seemed eager to get the same answers Nicodemus came looking for. How do you get eternal life, peace with God? Notice that Jesus’ conversation with him did not follow the same lines as those found in John 3— no ‘born again’ allusion; no ‘for God so loved the world.’ Instead, Jesus put the greatest stumbling block it seems he could find between this man and his hopeful query. “Give it all away. Then you can come follow me and discover the answer you seek.”

No one can accuse Jesus of making the good news of the kingdom easy-peasy. So easy and inviting that everyone and anyone would choose it. But why does this one story send the most disquieting shivers up our collective spines? I say this because I find that believers are often making excuses for Jesus’ asking him to part with his wealth. I think this is because we may wonder if we, too, need to divest our lives of our wealth—after all, compared to the rest of the world, almost all American believers are rich. Should we take this seriously? Or was Jesus’ admonition only meant for this one rich guy?

Frankly, I think this story gets down to the reason the good news of the kingdom was revealed in Jesus. All of us in our rebellion against the reign of God hold something closer to our hearts than our Father. For one, it was burying his father. For another, it was a goodbye party with his family. For this guy, it was his wealth. Some of the things that lay claim to our soul are made up of the ordinary things of life; a contented life; close family ties; financial security; responsible decisions. People would argue that these things must surely be what God wants for us. Yet what we hold most dear will divert our hearts from the pearl of great price.

What this rich young man thought he wanted was eternal life. “Alright,” Jesus responds. “For this to happen, I need you to be ready to declutter your soul of all that competes with that desire. Get ruthless and chuck away all the financial props you have depended on to make yourself a secure, even a ‘good,’ person, and follow me.”

What the good news of the kingdom does for us is to expose the lie of the non-essentials in us. We have been convinced by the enemy that we cannot live without some things in life; convinced that our souls will not be satisfied without them. But Jesus is offering transformation, which starts its work by waking you up to the fact that you have embraced the lifestyle of the lie so deeply that you are not really free. You might go away sad and still trapped.

You know how this story turned out. But it did not have to end with him going away sad. He might have chosen to receive the eternal life he asked Jesus for. He could have been freed from the burden of success in the same way that others have been freed from the burden of failure. If he had confessed his inability to let go, Jesus would have supplied him with the power he lacked. This is the nature of the gospel.

So what’s your version of this story? If you were the main character, what would Jesus challenge you to let go?

-Steve Smith