Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” — Matthew 19: 21
Following Christ leads to perfection.
The path to perfection was clearly defined by Jesus Christ: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14: 6). Here we see that Jesus Christ’s activity of salvation dawned well before His incarnation. Paul asserts that Jesus Christ was already present during the desert wanderings of the people of the old covenant (1 Corinthians 10: 1–4), and thus also at the time when the law was issued.
From the law to following
In His conversation with the rich young man, the Son of God made this set of laws binding for the new covenant as well (Matthew 19: 16–22).
However, perfection is not possible by way of the law alone. It is for this reason that Jesus expanded His response to the young man’s question to include the requirement to follow Him. Following Jesus is at times associated with a conscious obligation to let go of one’s individual rights, claims, and ideas. In the case of the rich young man, this was applied very specifically to his earthly possessions, which—from the perspective of Jesus—had likely become a defining element of this young man’s life.
The call to follow Christ
Jesus not only gives the rich young man some advice, but also addresses a call to action to him. This call can be restated in the following questions. What is truly important in your life? What is the content of your life? What is the goal of your life: God’s kingdom or only earthly concerns?
Jesus Christ associates the call to make a decision for God—in other words, for future perfection in fellowship with the Eternal One—with the call to follow Him in the present.
Following in our time
Following Christ in our time still requires us to separate ourselves from the nature of the old creation, which is a reference to human beings mired in sin and thus condemned to eternal separation from God.
The hallmarks and actions of the old creation include the following:
- Deficient trust in God.
- A complete focus on the earthly, which Apostle Paul describes as being carnally minded (Romans 8: 6–7)
- Irreconcilability, which prevents us from receiving grace ourselves.
By contrast, there is the offer of salvation in following Christ and fellowship with Him. Here we experience:
- Security in the guidance we receive through the Holy Spirit (John 16: 13).
- An orientation to spiritual goods, namely treasure in heaven (Matthew 6: 33).
- Compassion and the will to make peace, which even extends to those who do us wrong.
Eternal fellowship with God can only be attained by the grace of God. It begins with our election, continues by way of the rebirth, and leads to completion and perfection at the return of Christ. On the way to this goal, the Lord expects the same of us that He called out to the rich young man: “Come, follow Me!”
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for service held on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at Midrand Congregation