One Thing You Lack


What is the essence of Christianity? If we boil it down and reduce it to its bare essentials, what does it really mean? Jesus once singled out the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” as the great commandment. All aspects of our service to the Lord should be seen as expressions of our devotion to him.

The gospels record an encounter between Jesus and a young man that illustrates the principle. Reading from Mark 10:17-22, we see that this young man approached Jesus with one of the most important questions that anyone could ask. “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was seeking the right thing. The man’s question reflected a desire to know what was needed for him to find heaven. He manifested a proper attitude, as one who was humble enough to seek help, and who was willing to risk his reputation and position as a ruler of the Jews. He understood that there was something that he had to do in order to be saved. And he went to the one he regarded as the Good Teacher, the one who would give him an infallibly right answer.

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” It was essential for this young man to acknowledge that if he truly believed Jesus to be the Good Teacher, then he must also believe Jesus to be God, for that is who he claimed to be. He must be prepared to accept any answer the Good Teacher would give as having divine authority.

When Jesus responded that he should keep the commandments as he had learned them, the man said, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” There is no reason to doubt the young man’s sincerity and moral character. From his youth he had remembered his Creator and had sought to live righteously in his dealings with others. But Jesus already knew the man’s mind and what troubled him. In compassion he said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

It is only when we see this rich young man’s reaction that we come to understand what Jesus already knew—this man was too attached to his material possessions. “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” His careful keeping of the commandments meant nothing because he lacked “one thing”—a wholehearted love for God. He may have done well with those commandments Jesus named, but he failed to keep the first commandment in the list, to have no other god but the one true God. He had made his wealth his god, and when confronted with it, he was unwilling to forsake that god.

Is it possible that, in our efforts to follow God’s commandments, we sometimes lose sight of the most fundamental thing he expects of us? Do we sometimes allow even the blessings of this life to cause us to value this life more than the life to come? Truly loving God means we must give up anything that stands between us and full allegiance to him. If we lack this one thing, we have missed the very essence of true discipleship.

Dan Petty