You Can't Do It, Only God Can

The most important message in this day is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is also the most difficult for many Christians to receive, because they think they’re already experiencing His Lordship. For example, some years ago I received a phone call from a lady who lived in another city about a hundred miles away. She said that the word “kingdom” kept coming to her mind, sometimes even at night in her dreams. She said that although she had been a Christian for many years she knew very little about the Kingdom of God, and would I come help her to understand. I took an elder with me, and we met her and some of her friends a few days later. We spent several hours ministering to them from the Scriptures concerning the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before leaving I gave her several study manuals concerning the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. The next time I saw her I asked if she had studied the manuals. Her response was, “I looked at them, but I already knew what they were about, so I gave them to my twelve year old daughter.” Those manuals could have helped her greatly. By prayerfully studying them her heart could have been enlightened to a greater revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and His will for her life, but she felt they were too elementary for her. That is the way it is for so many Christians. The most important message of all is too basic, too elementary!

As we progress in this message we will find that the Lordship of Jesus Christ involves much more than most Christians have experienced. Some just do not understand what it means for Jesus Christ to be Lord. They have been led to believe that what they have experienced is all that is necessary. They are saved and that makes Jesus their Lord. Others are aware, at least to some extent, that more is needed, but they are unwilling because the cost is too great.

Scriptural requirements for discipleship have been relegated by many churches to a place of far less importance than what God intended. For example, the Word says that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Christianity in general, though, has decided that it is not necessary to love the Lord that intensely. Often loyalty and dedication is directed more to the religious organization than it is to the Lord Himself.

In John 13:34 Jesus said, A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. And Romans 2:11 says, For there is no respect of persons with God. Do you think that the Lord really expects us to love one another in the same way that He loves us? Obviously, most Christians do not. Of course, you could argue that it’s impossible to love others the way He loves us. After all, He’s God, and we’re only human. That’s true! That kind of love is not inherent in human nature. But since He commands us to do it, there is a way to accomplish it. That kind of love can be obtained from the Lord. But how many of us are stirred enough to seek God until we find out how to do it? That’s the problem; most Christians are too lazy to do what is necessary to appropriate that kind of love from Him. Almost all Christians will say they want to grow spiritually in God, but very few are willing to do what is necessary to make it happen.

The young, rich ruler we read about in the Gospels was stirred enough to seek Jesus for some answers. In doing so, he faced a real dilemma. He had a difficult choice to make. And everyone who wishes to progress spiritually will face the same difficult decisions. The account of the young, rich ruler is found in three of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We will use the account given in Matthew’s Gospel primarily, with an occasional look at Mark’s account. They are not contradictory, but one will sometimes relate an aspect that the other does not.

Matthew 19:16-20 And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And He said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but One, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto Him, All these have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Mark, in his account, says that the young man “came running and kneeled” before the Lord. The young man felt a deep need for eternal life; he came running to Jesus. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had been dealing with him. He didn’t sheepishly come down the aisle to hold Jesus’ hand and whisper in His ear as some do today. He came running and knelt before Him in the presence of all those who were there. He was deeply concerned about the void in his life.

Kneeling before the Lord, the young, rich ruler asks, What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? That question reveals the religious nature of man: How can I earn eternal life? What can I do to deserve it? The young man had kept the commandments all his life and he still felt empty inside. Surely, there was something he could do to insure eternal life for himself. That kind of thinking is common to the nature of man, and it is one of the greatest hindrances to spiritual life in God. Effort to earn merits with God actually closes the door to His presence. Many churches today have the same attitude as the young, rich ruler. They are trying to earn favor with God, and it never succeeds. For by his grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.

The young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying, “Why do you call Me good? Only God is good.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Only God is good, and you are calling Me good. Are you saying that you know who I am? Do you have a revelation of Me?” Obviously, the young man wasn’t aware of the real identity of Jesus Christ, at least not to that extent. However, the Lord is revealing a very important truth here for our learning. Whatever you wish to receive from the Lord, it comes from a revelation-knowledge of Him. What we need more than anything else is to know the Lord, to really know him. To know Him is eternal life, and that is what the young man had said he wanted. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. John 17:3.

Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus saith unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

The young man had not been taught that he could have life here and now. When he asked what he must do to have eternal life, he was thinking of the age to come. (Many Christians are like that today. They haven’t been taught that they can begin experiencing divine life now. Life for them is a future fulfillment in heaven.) So Jesus tells the young man to keep the commandments, referring to the ten given to Moses on the Mount (Exodus 20:1-17). But the young man had kept those from his youth up and still felt that he lacked something.

Jesus knew what the young man lacked; he lacked a present reality of life. And if that was what he wanted, it would take more than keeping the Ten Commandments. If you just want to be religious, those commandments may be enough. But if you really want to experience life in God, more is necessary. You will need to forsake all to follow the Lord. We will discuss what that means later, but first let’s see what the Lord meant by saying, “If thou wilt be perfect….”

The Greek word for “perfect” is teloios, which means “completeness, of full age, perfect.” It means to reach the end of a final result of a process; for one to come to completion in respect to the will of God for his life. You could never be perfect according to the standards of man, even Jesus Christ failed at that. He didn’t measure up to their ideals for the Messiah; so they crucified Him. But you can become perfect according to the will of God for your life.

Perfection is a state of heart towards God. It can also be stated as a continual process of spiritual growth; that is, spiritual perfection is expandable. You may be perfect before God where you are right now, but if you do not progress in your spiritual growth your perfection will cease. For example, if a one-year-old in a state of perfection is still the same without any change at the age of six, it is no longer perfect.

In the first chapter of Genesis the Lord’s work at the end of each day was good; for that day it was perfect. Each day the work was expanded, and at each stage perfection was maintained. However, if at the end of the second day there had been no expansion of work, only the accomplishments of the first day remained, then perfection would have ceased. The first day’s work is only perfect at the end of the first day. So it is with your spiritual growth. You may not be perfect compared to the final stage of completion that God has in mind for you, but you may be perfect according to where you should be in your spiritual progress for right now. However, if you are not changing and growing spiritually, your perfection ceases and you become like the young, rich ruler in our text.

The young, rich ruler knew that he lacked something, and Jesus knew what that something was. The young man was very religious, for he had kept the commandments, but there was no spiritual growth. Religiosity does not bring change; it does not promote spiritual growth. It will not draw you closer to God. Do you know the difference between being religious and being spiritual? You are religious when you are trying to be perfected through self-discipline. The Pharisees, with their rules and regulations to govern their flesh-nature, were very religious but they did not know the Lord. Rules and regulations will not bring change to your flesh-nature; they only create hypocrisy. God alone is able to change your nature, and that takes place as you expose yourself to the presence of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).

So Jesus said to the young man, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me. When the young man heard that, he walked away. He didn’t want to be that perfect. He was like many Christians. He wanted to honor the Lord and keep his other gods, too. It is amazing how many Christians are conning themselves into believing they are walking with God, serving the Lord, while at the same time appeasing their other gods. That is a very common problem. The Israelites in the Old Testament did the same thing. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods… (II Kings 17:33).

Matthew 19:23-24 Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.

There are several points of interest concerning the Lord’s requirement of the young, rich ruler. Two will be sufficient. First, our trust must be in the Lord, not in our possessions. He alone is to be our security. When a Christian’s security is in his wealth, he is serving two masters. And his trust in mammon will result in a rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Matthew 6:24-25.

It is human nature to trust primarily in your own assets and abilities. The world tells you to be self-confident, to believe in yourself. But the Word tells us that we should not depend upon our own understanding, the wisdom of the flesh, but we should totally trust the Lord in all things. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7. The “evil” is the evil of trusting in yourself. When the paths of a Christian are directed by his own assets and abilities, then he is the lord over his life rather than Jesus Christ.

Second, the Lord has redeemed us. He has purchased us with His own blood (Acts 20:28). That means we are His possession. He owns us, along with all our possessions. When you truly accept Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are relinquishing all rights to yourself and to everything you have. As your Lord, He has all rights to your life. You may not be required to sell all your possessions and give to the poor like the rich ruler, but you will have to acknowledge that they are no longer yours. They are His, and He can do whatever He wants with them. If He wants to give them to someone else, He can do it. He has the right; they belong to Him. If He wants you to become His steward over what was once yours by possession, He can do that, too. But they’re not yours; they are His. And your responsibility is greater as a steward over them than when you were the sole possessor.

The same is true for your life. You belong to Him. He can do whatever He wants with your life. Can you trust Him enough to let Him be your Lord? Can you relinquish all rights to yourself? Can you say, “I have only one right, the right to give up all my rights to the Lord Jesus Christ. All that I am and all that I have belongs solely to Him. I know my life will only have meaning and purpose when He has complete authority over me”?

How many Christians have really accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord? How many have really relinquished all their rights to Him? Not many! Most of them want to call Him “Lord” and continue to control their own lives. They seem to think that since they give Him honor of being called Lord that He is obligated to bless their lives according to the dictates of their own hearts. What about you? Will you put all your possessions and your own life under His Lordship? Will you say, “Lord, all I have and all I am are Yours. Do what you want”? The rich ruler couldn’t do that. He couldn’t relinquish ownership.

Matthew 19:25-26 When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The disciples were astonished, saying, “With these requirements, who can be saved?” Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” You can’t do it, only God can. If you think you can give the Lord all rights to yourself, you are in for a rude awakening. You don’t have that kind of dedication in your nature. You can’t do it!

Let’s look at just a few of the things that the Lord requires of us. In Mark 12:30, Jesus says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. You can’t do that! With men it is impossible! In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. You can’t do it! It’s impossible! No matter how hard you try, you can’t do it. Can you hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6)? Can you worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24)? Can you love your fellow Christians as the Lord has loved you (John 13:34)? No, you can’t! The ability to do these things is not in human nature; with men it is impossible. You can’t do it, only God can.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9. That is a very familiar passage of Scripture to every Christian. The majority can probably quote it by heart. Even so, the majority are still trying to please God with their works, according to their own fleshly wisdom. You can’t do it! The first step to accomplishing anything that the Lord sets before you is to accept the fact that you can’t do it, only God can. The Lord will not require anything of you that you are able to do. Whatever it is, it will require a miracle. He will have to accomplish it through you, which means you will have to appropriate Him in your life. God’s objective is to change you, to make you the miracle. He wants to invade your life. He wants to dwell in you and function through you (II Corinthians 6:16). So in order to get you to appropriate more of Him in your life, He sets things before you that you can’t do. And this is how you change. This is how your human nature gives way to His nature. May the Lord God bring us all to the realization that we can’t do it, only He can. Then, and only then, will we begin to progress in the Lord.

Copyright © 1997 by Henry DuBose