“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18 ESV)
We know scripture consistently establishes God the Son in human flesh, so then, be careful not to get hung up on a shallowly construed contradiction that tries to rear it’s head here in the text. No, there is profound truth to unpack in how Christ responds to the rich young ruler; He gives us His take on human depravity.
The man on his knees calls Jesus a “good teacher”. Our Lord here, who is God clothed in human weakness, the Word made flesh, teaches us who alone is good. God is good by definition, and Jesus affirms that He alone is good. This rich young man obviously didn’t know he was staring at deity in the flesh and our Lord didn’t transfigure himself here like He did with the few disciples to prove it. Why not? Because Christ is teaching us that no man’s merit can do the impossible. He is drawing a distinction for us that would be good to remember: God is Holy and man is fallen. In the context of salvation, means to eternal life, Jesus asserts that “No one is good” except for God.
We read later on that Christ loved this self-righteous rich man! I find comfort in that. This man thought he could do something to receive eternal life; a thought I entertained for several years growing up in Christian youth groups where it was taught that a simple decision of my will earned me my ticket to heaven. The Lord never spoke this way. He pointed this ‘do gooder’ to the law, which He points us all to if we think we can earn eternal life by doing something for it. The law is our tutor which points to a necessary savior because everyone knows it can’t be wholly kept by sinful men. I’m glad the Maker of all things is merciful and sent His Son to be our substitute & champion!
In the end the response Jesus gives here should give us serious pause. God’s holiness shines in His words while man’s depravity is also highlighted. This, all in the context of eternal life. This text provided yet another glimpse of the consistent biblical truth that salvation belongs to The Lord and that man has nothing to contribute to it. To my delight it is so, for He is mighty to save and it is the Father’s will that all that is the Son’s should never be lost! Let us rest our hope in His ability, for with men it is impossible but not so with the Lord.
He alone is good. When we are shown grace, we are regenerated. Any goodness now in us is owed to Him, to His great name.