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Am I Good Enough?

He who dies with the most toys wins. Have you ever heard that? I have to confess that I love to acquire toys — at least the toys that can be bought at Toys R Us for Men. You know those stores — Home Depot and Best Buy. Doesn’t matter what they call themselves — to me they are Toys R Us for men. When I enter those stores things just start shouting at me. Buy me! You need me! You have to have me! It is amazing too. I generally can think of a pretty good reason why I should.

He who dies with the most toys wins. The acquisition of things is considered to be almost a defining characteristic of our American culture. How much and what we all have defines us. Social pundits frequently comment about this tendency as if it is something unique to Americans. Our Gospel lesson today, however, tells us that the drive to acquire wealth and possessions has been an integral part of the human condition forever. In fact, it perhaps carried even greater significance at the time of Christ than now.

In our reading from Mark, we see the rich young man fall at Christ’s feet and ask him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” In an exchange with Jesus, he emphasizes that he has followed the law all of his life. This is a man who gets what he wants. He is used to being in control of himself. He has all the toys. What is more, in the culture of the time, his wealth is considered to be proof that he is righteous; his reward for living a good life. He is going to die with all of the toys and win. Because he is wealthy, he has to be pretty sure that he has done everything right. But because of a little nagging doubt that maybe he has missed something, he goes to Jesus to determine if he should do anything else to earn eternal life.

What happens next blows away not only the young man, but also Christ’s  disciples. Jesus looks on him with love and tells him to go and sell everything he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. That devastates the young man. Jesus is not just telling him to give up his wealth, but rather is telling him that his entire life, the life that he thought was earning him the keys to eternity, has been wrong. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and tells them that their beliefs are also upside down —- dying with the most toys is not proof that you have done the rights things in life. But even more than that, all of those toys actually may make it even more difficult to be a part of God’s Kingdom.

This story reminds me of the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan. In one of my toy acquisition excursions to Best Buy, I bought the movie for my son. Let’s look at the last few minutes. In it, Ryan, now a senior citizen, comes to Normandy to the cross on the grave of the man who died while saving his life during the war… his savior. Ryan asks the same question that the young man asked Jesus: Have I done enough to earn my salvation? He kneels at the foot of the cross and tries to determine if his life has been good enough.


How often do we ask the same question? Perhaps more important, how often have we answered the question by saying, “I have not done enough”? I am not worthy of eternal life. I need to do more. Or perhaps, I can’t possibly do anymore. Living the life that Christ expects is just too difficult. It’s impossible. Ok, I’ll go to church on Sunday. I’ll serve at a dinner now and then. I’ll try to increase my donations. Maybe even I’ll work at the Habitat House or go with ASP, but I just can’t do any more. I can’t possibly involve the work of the church more in my life.

Can’t you hear that going on inside the head of the young man? Can’t you see the fear in the eyes of Ryan, He knows that he doesn’t have much time to do more. What he has done has to be enough.  Do you feel that fear? The disciples certainly felt that fear. Jesus had just turned their world upside down. He had told them nothing less than that no man can be good enough to earn a place in the Kingdom of God. Look what they said. “if this guy can’t make it, no one can.” Talk about fear.

Now this often is the focus of interpretations of this story. It has become a platform for exhortations for the social gospel. The focus becomes on the wealth of the man and how Jesus opposed the power of the wealthy and charged them to work for the poor. Doing so misses the point as much as the young man missed the point; as much as Private Ryan missed the point. Jesus is teaching us that the Kingdom of God is real and present in our lives now. Being part of that Kingdom, however, is not the product of what we do. The focus of the young man and Ryan was what they had to do to earn their salvation. Jesus taught another course. Yes He taught that it is impossible for us to do anything. But look what He said in verse 27:

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Jesus was not teaching the young man or his disciples to despair. Rather he was teaching hope. He was teaching that we have to focus not on what we do, but to release all that we hold dear in our hearts to Him—to give up our lives and follow Him. When we do, all things are possible with God. He taught that God will then work in and through our lives to create His Kingdom.

Christ does not ask for our toys, He asks for our lives. He asks for our complete release of all the things that we hold more important than God. Surrendering our lives to Christ means recognizing that no matter what we have, no matter how much we think we are in control, no matter what we think is the right thing to do, no matter how hard we try to do what we think is the right thing to do, we simply cannot cross the gulf of sin that stands between us and God by our own effort and our own will. It means we must be like Private Ryan, and kneel at the cross, but instead of asking “am I good enough”, we have to admit that we can never be good enough; that we will inevitably do what we want for us, rather than what God expects, and sin when we do. We have to ask God to do what Christ taught he will do—do the impossible and close that gulf solely by His grace.

I know that it is not popular to point it out, but we are all sinners–all of us. None of us is free of sin before God. We all make choices that place our will and desires ahead of God. We can only be free of the sin of our choices when we accept God’s grace through Christ, when we give up our own free will to choose to sin, and follow Jesus. When we do, Christ starts transforming our lives to be the people that He wants us to be. He puts in our hearts His Spirit. He puts in us the desire to follow and compels us to act, but act now on His will, not ours. Our lives become the life of Christ. We then live in His Kingdom.

So what does it mean to be transformed by Christ instead of acting on our own decisions as to how we should follow His teachings. Well, the transformation can be dramatic and sudden—something that is immediately recognizable. But more often it is a subtle and gradual change from living the life of our choices, to living the life of eternity. As Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy: p.82

What that means is that God will bring our lives in line with the Spirit and with each adjustment, integrate our lives into the eternal spiritual world of God.

So the question facing each of us is whether we are good enough? If you have never faced the cross like Private Ryan and asked that question of yourself I invite you to do so. But more important, I invite you to answer it in your heart before Christ, to tell Him that you know you are not and never can be good enough, to ask Him to work that divine miracle in your life and make you part of His Kingdom, to accept the grace that God holds out to us in Christ. Or if you have met Christ, if you have surrendered your life to Him, but feel called to renew your commitment, I invite you to do so.

We’re going to sing one of my favorite songs now “Shout to the Lord”. While were singing, if you want to come forward and make or renew your commitment to Christ, I would be privileged to pray with you. But even if you don’t want that, but want Christ in your life, just open your heart to Him while you sing. Let the words of the song be your prayer and let Christ enter your life.

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2009


  1. Don Stephens on September 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Thanks, Tom. Tears. That’s always a good sign of the Spirit speaking to me.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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