“’All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’” (Matthew 19:20).

The story of the rich young ruler is one of the saddest stories in the gospels. It is a true soul’s tragedy. He is sincere, but his sincerity lacks the force to lift him over the bar. He wishes to have some great thing asked of him, but finds the sharp test that Christ imposes too much. The truest way to draw sincere souls is not to flatter or make entrance easy by dropping the standard or hiding the requirements, but to call out all their energy by setting before them the lofty ideal. Easy-going disciples are easily made—and lost. Faithful souls are most surely won by calling for entire surrender.

The young man’s words indicated astonishment at being deferred to these old, well-worn commandments, and there was a touch of impatience in the reply: “All these I have kept.” The law failed to accomplish one of its chief purposes in the young man; it had not taught him his sinfulness. He had never gone below the surface of the commandments or below the surface of his acts, or he would not have answered so carelessly. He had yet learned that the height of “goodness” is reached not by adding some strange new performances to the threadbare precepts of everyday duty but by digging deep in these and bottoming the fabric of our lives.

Still he was not at rest, although he had, as he fancied, kept all the commandments. “What do I still lack?” was his honest acknowledgement of the hungry void within which no amount of outward obedience could ever fill. He was right in believing that the reason for that conscious void was something lacking in his conduct. When Christ reveals our heart, how close we are to the kingdom!

Adapted from In His Presence