Jesus’ Great Evangelistic Moment
One of Jesus’ most thought-provoking evangelistic moments is found in Mark 10. A man ran up to Jesus, fell to his knees before him, and said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What an amazing evangelistic opportunity, right? Jesus had a prime chance to share the gospel here, but he does something surprising instead. After asking the man a few questions, Jesus answered, “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” (Mark 10:21, ESV). The man didn’t do what Jesus told him to do. Instead, he turned his back on Jesus and walked away, sad—and Jesus let him leave.
This is an excerpt from The Discipleship Gospel (available in eBook and paperback). Get a discount by using code ‘TBP’ at checkout when you order here.
Wait a minute! What was that?! At first glance, it would seem that Jesus totally blew it. Rather than inviting this man to pray the sinner’s prayer, something the man would have no doubt done gladly, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions. What was Jesus doing? Was he advocating works-salvation? Was he adding a legalistic demand to the gospel? By today’s “pray-a-little-prayer” standards, it sure sounds like it. Things would have ended so much nicer and neater for us if Jesus had done this, but that’s not what he did. He called for more. Instead of getting a quick convert, Jesus let the man walk away, back to his large house full of “great possessions” (Mark 10:22).
In the midst of all this, we miss the fact that Jesus told the man exactly what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, just as he’d asked. Jesus told the man to get rid of everything that was more important to him, using the words “follow me.” How does one inherit eternal life? By following Jesus. Later in the same chapter, Peter says, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). As a result, Jesus assured him and the others that they would, indeed, inherit eternal life in the age to come. What must we do to be saved? According to Jesus, we must repent of our sin, believe in the gospel, and follow him.
People struggle to know what to do with Jesus’ encounter with the rich man in Mark 10 because they’re just not used to having the gospel so closely associated with the cost of discipleship. They’re used to hearing that salvation is free, that inheriting eternal life doesn’t cost a thing, and that entering God’s kingdom is as easy as praying a little prayer. The Bible teaches us that salvation is a gift, to be sure, but not that it’s free (Eph. 2:8-10). It cost Jesus his life, and if we follow Jesus, it might cost us our life, too.
Some Christians are so used to having their “ears tickled” by the false promises of non-discipleship gospels that they get gravely offended by anyone who suggests the gospel is calling us to do anything that isn’t easy, convenient, or comfortable (2 Tim. 4:3, NASB). Unfortunately, if Jesus said in churches today what he said to the rich, young ruler in his day, people in churches across America today would likely walk away from Jesus, just like the rich young ruler—that’s if they didn’t try to throw Jesus off a cliff, like those in the Nazareth synagogue (Mark 10:22; Luke 4:29).
If you’re going to be part of the solution, you must count the cost of preaching the cost of discipleship. Jesus never left the cost of discipleship in the fine print, as we can see from Mark 10. He made it the headline news. If you start calling people to follow Jesus when you preach the gospel, be prepared. It’s likely you’ll be peppered with questions insinuating you’re teaching works-salvation or that you are impinging on God’s grace. At worst, you might be accused of being a false teacher, especially by those who have been caught hook, line, and sinker by “gospels” like the forgiveness-only gospel. When we proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, as Jesus did, we must be unafraid to lovingly explain the cost of discipleship. Otherwise, we’re presenting the gospel more like a bait-and-switch, which Jesus never did.
1. The idea of inheriting eternal life is used interchangeably with the concepts of entering the kingdom of God and being saved by Jesus and his apostles (Mark 10:17, 23, 26).