"Good But Guilty"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2006 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Verse 13 of chapter 10: "And they brought young children to the Lord Jesus, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions" - and we end our reading at verse 22.
Let's bow in prayer now, and really pray and implore the Lord that He may move in our gathering tonight: Lord Jesus, we pray this evening that someone in this place may come to understand, perhaps for the first time ever, the love that You have towards them, the love that was expressed in such a complete and full way when You went to the cross to die for us, and shared Your most precious sinless blood, taking our sins and our sorrows and making them Your very own, bearing our burden to Calvary, suffering and dying alone. Lord, make them understand that, we pray, and draw them out in response by putting their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. This is something that we cannot make anyone do, it must come from Thy Spirit, and so we pray: do it Lord, now, for the glory of Your name we pray, Amen.
Many of you will have probably sung some of Charles Wesley's hymns, and if you're under the persuasion of that denomination which is called 'Methodist', you'll be familiar with not only Charles Wesley, but probably more so John Wesley. He is famed as the founder of Methodism, and he is probably - along with a man called George Whitefield - one of the greatest evangelists and Gospel preachers that has ever lived. He was born in a place called Epworth on June 28th 1703. His father was a man by the name of Samuel Wesley, he married John's mother Susanna. Susanna happened to be the twenty fifth child of a Dr. Samuel Annesley - imagine that! Twenty five children, or worse: twenty four brothers and sisters! She became the mother of nineteen - so she was a child of twenty five, but Susanna became the mother of nineteen children herself. Samuel Wesley, her husband, John's father, was a graduate of Oxford University, and he eventually became a minister in the Church of England - a very reputable man. But Susannah was the one who undertook responsibility of teaching all of her nineteen children the word of God, explaining to them God's commandments and God's law, and presenting to them the Christ of God who is the Saviour of the world. Eventually at the age of 10, John Wesley was taken from his mother's knee and instruction there, and was admitted to the Charterhouse School in London. Then after that he entered into Christ Church College in Oxford, and years later he was ordained himself as a Church of England minister in 1725. Then, because of his success, he was elected as a fellow of Lincoln College in the following year, and then he was given a Degree of the Master of Arts in 1727. After that he left the university, and he served his father in his particular church as a curate for two years. Then he returned to Oxford in 1729 to fulfil his functions as a fellow of the College.
It was that same year that he began a movement that was called, and is still called, 'Methodism' - that year was the rise of men who sought after God. It used to be called 'The Holy Club', 'The Enthusiasts', perhaps today we would call them 'The Bible Thumpers' - and there in that particular year of his life, he founded Methodism. It included Charles Wesley, it included George Whitefield, and the nickname was given to all its members: 'Methodists', because of their self-discipline and their methodical habits religiously. You would know right away from that biographical description that at this point in John's life, he was an extremely, deeply religious young man. He was trying as far as was in his being to follow after God as he knew best. After that year in that 'Holy Club', he gave himself more fervently to a strict and abstentious lifestyle. He even responded to missionary needs in Georgia in the United States of America, where he felt a certain burden for the Indian population there - the American Indians.
What I want you to note this evening, with such an esteemed biographical account that you've heard this evening of a man of God, we might think, a man who is truly following after God - he decided that he was going to go to the mission field himself. He was going to join the group that he aspired to and admired called the Moravian movement, and before commencing his missionary work with the Moravians, he was interviewed by a man called Mr Spangenberg. He was a Moravian minister, and the first question Mr Spangenberg asked John Wesley was this, listen carefully: 'Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?'. Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God? Now you might say: 'What on earth does that mean?', and you'd be right in thinking that, because John Wesley thought the same thing and he didn't know how to reply. Then he was asked the question more simply, and this is what I want to put to you tonight, Mr Spangenberg said this: 'Do you know Jesus Christ?' - that's what that previous question meant. Are you acquainted, are you related to Jesus Christ?
Now John Wesley replied in a way that many people today reply when they are asked such a question. He said: 'Well, I know He is the Saviour of the world'. I imagine that you know that tonight as well. Mr Spangenberg replied: 'Yes, that's true', but then he asked again persistently, 'But do you know that He, the Saviour of the world, has saved you?'. That's a different question, isn't it? It's a more personal question. So Wesley answered as many people answer today, maybe you're even answering now: 'I hope He has died to save me, I hope, I don't know for sure, but I hope it'. Now if I was to ask you this evening: do you know that Jesus has died for you, and Jesus has saved you? No matter how religious you might be, unless you know it, it's no good just hoping! You're not saved! You're not right with God!
Many years later John Wesley was to write these words: 'I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God'. A man who was born into the church, baptised into the church, grew up in a home where his godly mother taught the Scriptures to him, he looked up to the example of his ministerial father, he was sent to the greatest ministerial training colleges in the land in Oxford University. He got all the achievements that a man could want in his particular age and era, he was even going to the mission field, sending all his money, living in poverty and starvation because there were those who needed to hear the Gospel - yet he could say: 'I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God'. How many are like him?
Maybe you're like him tonight? Well, it was at a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street in London on May 24th 1738, as he listened to the reading of Martin Luther's preface of his commentary on the epistle to the Romans, Wesley said he came to experience saving faith, true faith in God. He says that it happened to him as suddenly that he saw and understood that God receives men by faith, and not by works. I give you his own words describing the experience: 'I felt that my heart was strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation - and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death'. Hallelujah! Can you say that tonight? Have you had such an experience as John Wesley? Do you know that Jesus died to save you? Do you know Jesus Christ personally as your Saviour? Have you had what is called 'the conversion experience', where the light dawns on your mind and spirit, and you realise that yes, you are sinner, and yes, the loving Saviour died for you and took your shame - and all that is needed is for you to embrace Him in faith alone, and you receive there and then the assurance that your sins are forgiven, and that you're saved.
Now mark what I'm not asking you this evening: I'm not asking you 'are you religious', I'm asking you are you converted? Are you saved? That word 'saved' is a Bible word. Wesley was converted, Wesley was saved. He was religious at one point in his life and he wasn't saved, he had to be saved. He was good, there was no doubt about that, but although he was good he was guilty in the sight of God because he had never freely admitted and confessed his sins, he had never embraced the Christ of God that was sent to save him and died for him - and you know there's millions upon millions of people who call themselves Christians in this world, and they're exactly the same. They're good, but they're guilty! Guilty of rejecting Christ, guilty of rejecting the genuine Gospel that says you don't get into heaven because you're good, or because you're religious, or you're this denomination or that denomination; but you get into heaven because of Christ and Christ alone!
There are other people in the Bible who were good but guilty. There was a man in John chapter 3 called Nicodemus. He was a Rabbi, a member of the Sanhedrin - that is the religious council, as it were, of the day. The Bible says that he was so embarrassed at approaching the Lord Jesus that he came by night, nevertheless he came, and that's the important thing. He said to the Lord Jesus, basically: 'How are You doing these things that You're doing, these great miracles? We believe that You are come from God, because no man can do these things that you do except God is with him'. He recognised that much, that's probably as much as you recognise tonight - that this Gospel we preach is true, that Jesus is the true and only Saviour. The Lord Jesus explained to Nicodemus: 'Look, you need to know something, you've got some of the message, you understand there's something special about Me, Jesus Christ, and the power that is in Me is the power of God - but you must understand that you must be born again!'.
Now Nicodemus didn't understand, in fact Jesus went further: not only must you be born again, but except you're born again, you will never see the Kingdom of God. A religious man like Nicodemus! He was astounded, he did not understand, so Jesus began to explain it to him - and Jesus, as it were, very gently rebuked him, and said to Nicodemus: 'Are you a master in Israel and you do not know these things?'. Can I put that into modern day terms? Are you a religious person that has read the Old Testament back to front, and you don't understand that you need to be born again? You need to be converted! It's not enough to be good, because all of us, no matter how good or bad we are, are guilty in the eyes of a holy God.
Paul the apostle was a man that was good, but he was guilty. In Philippians 3 we read that he was an extremely religious Jew, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and touching the law - that is, the commandments of God - he claimed he was blameless! That's some claim to make, but yet in 1 Timothy chapter 1 and verse 15 he says these words: 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I', Paul the apostle, the Pharisee of the Pharisees, the one who was blameless in keeping the law, 'of whom I am chief'. He was good, but he was guilty in the sight of God.
Now another, tonight, that I want to show you who was good but guilty is this young man that we read about from Mark's Gospel chapter 10. Here's the first thing that I want to show you from his story, and it's this: he thought that men could be good. He thought that men could be good enough in the eyes of God to inherit eternal life. Now I want you to look at this man very carefully: he's a young man, he is a self-assured, successful young man, if ever there was one. Matthew's Gospel says of him that he had great wealth, that's why we commonly know him as 'the rich young ruler'. Luke's Gospel identifies him as a ruler, he was in charge of other men, he was probably looked up to in the community in which he lived. Therefore he was rich, and he was a ruler, he was an affluent young man and he was a powerful young man. Now, what do most young people today seek after and thirst after? In fact, more than just young people: it is power and it is wealth - wealth and power! Political power, business power, and the wealth that is accrued through that power, the status, the influence that you have. Here is a man at the very threshold of his young life, and it's all at his feet.
We can see from the encounter that he had with the Lord Jesus that he was a self-confident young man. He was a very determined man, that's probably how he got his power and how he got his wealth, but nevertheless we see that in this regard of spiritual matters he saw Jesus, he knew he had a spiritual question, and he saw what he wanted, so he went! Now we have to commend this young man, because as he came to the Lord Jesus it says that he flung himself at the feet of Christ in a reverent manner. Here is a young man who had both manners and morals. I hope that you're beginning to see the picture that I'm painting tonight: this is a young man that we probably would call today 'an achiever'. During the 80s you probably would have called him a 'yuppie' - he is an exemplary upstanding citizen, that you could point to your little child or grandchild and say: 'Do you see that young man? If you grow up like him, I'll be pleased, I'll be proud of you, son'. But more than that, here was a young man who was not ignorant of spiritual need - he knew that there was something missing within him, he had a need in his life and he felt it!
Evidently, like many people in Palestine of his day, he had either heard or been personally listening to the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw and recognised One greater than himself. He was dazzled, he was amazed and impressed by the wisdom of the words of the Lord Jesus, by the power that the Lord Jesus Christ had, by the riches that were not earthly but heavenly, and that contented this Man and Prophet and Teacher and Rabbi. He was absolutely astounded at the moral excellence that this Man portrayed before men. He was probably intrigued by the teaching that we read in verse 13 down to 16, where the Lord Jesus took the children on His knee and said: 'Look, if you're going to enter into the Kingdom of God, you're going to have to be as simple and as humble as this little child'. He probably stood with his jaw hitting his boots, saying: 'Wow! What a Teacher! What words, what spiritual thoughts and philosophies!'.
Therefore this man could wait no longer, he felt that he saw in Christ what he wanted, and in verse 17 we read that he went and he knelt down to Him, and he asked the Lord Jesus: 'Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?'. Can you see him? I want you to notice this: the New Testament is written in Greek, and there are different tenses in the Greek language than we have in the English language, they are more detailed and deep and specific. We know that this phrase 'What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' is in what is called the Aorist tense, and that means something to be done once and for all that needs not to be repeated or added to. So what this young man was asking for from the Lord Jesus, and expecting to receive from Jesus, was that the Lord Jesus would take out some kind of spiritual, legal pen and write a description of a great deed that this young man should do so he could be sure that it would settle things with God once and for all. Feed the poor, go on a pilgrimage, memorise the whole of the book of Genesis, something like that - he felt that the Lord Jesus was going to say to him: 'Go away and do this, and this will sort out any spiritual problems that you have'.
Here's the other thing that I want you to notice: by asking this question, this young man was inferring that he was able to do, and expected to be able to do whatever the Lord Jesus asked him. Can you see this? It's as if he was saying: 'Lord, I know I can do whatever is required of me by You'. This was a young man who was so successful that he felt his own ability to do whatever was required of him. Probably his reasoning in the back of his mind was: 'Well, I've always been able to do whatever has been asked of me'. How do we know that? Well, we know it in the answer that the Lord Jesus Christ gave him. If you look at it in verse 18, you see that it was like an electric shock, it's like a pail of cold water in his face. Jesus said to him: 'Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God'.
Now why did the Lord Jesus say this? This is one of the most confusing verses in the Bible. Well, please remember this first of all: this young man did not know what we know - that the Lord Jesus Christ is God of very God, He is God's Son. This young man did not know that, so he wasn't asking a question to do with this; and the Lord Jesus, I believe, was not trying to teach him this fact. I believe what is in the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ here is that by calling the Lord Jesus 'a good man', this young man was betraying the fact that he had faith in the goodness of humanity, that it could rise morally to the highest heights without God. What do I mean? Well, the rabbis did not, even in this day, allow you to call them 'good'. It was their line that 'There is none good but God'. So here is a young man that sees in this Man every epitome of righteousness and morality, and power and dignity, and majesty that he could imagine - and he comes running to His feet, and he says: 'Good Master' - and the Lord Jesus checks him: 'There is none good but God'.
Of course, we know that the Lord Jesus Christ is God, but I believe what the Lord was teaching was that in mere humanity - that's all he regarded Christ as, a mere teacher, a mere master and Rabbi - in mere humanity there is not the goodness of God. Do you see this tonight, my friend? The Lord Jesus turned the tables on him, and told him what he could do in order to inherit eternal life. He starts recounting the commandments to him in verse 19: 'You know the commandments, Don't commit adultery, do not steal, do not kill, do not bear false witness' - that means lying - 'do not defraud', steal or cheat, 'honour thy father and thy mother'. 'And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth'.
Now we're beginning to get a picture of the psychology of this young man just now. He has called the Lord Jesus, who he thinks is only a good man, 'Good Master'. He comes and asks Him this question: 'What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?', and then after the Lord recites to him these commandments, he says: 'All these have I observed from my youth up'. Now here's the question: had he? Could he observe them and had he? Well, I believe that he assessed his heart honestly, and he believed in his heart of hearts that he had done this from his youth up, from his bar mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13 thereabouts. He believed that he'd tried his best, that's what he's saying, to keep these commandments. I can imagine his heart started to beat even faster, more rapidly, the adrenalin flowed through his system with excitement, because do you know what was happening now in his psyche? He was beginning to reason: 'Jesus is now asking something of me that I can do, and that I have already done!'.
This is how the religious mindset thinks: 'I must have made it! I've kept these commandments!'. Now probably he had kept them externally, just like the apostle Paul said he was blameless in the law, he hadn't committed adultery on his wife, he hadn't, literally, stolen from his youth - but what he had ignored was what Paul came into contact with in Romans chapter 7, that he realised in all his years as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and as a man who didn't break the law, blameless in the law, that there was something within him, a law of sin that he couldn't check, that the law couldn't kill, that overcame the external laws. Things like hate, things like lust, he talks in Romans 7 about covetousness, internal things. This is the common mistake people make in our land who are religious: 'I've never killed, I've never cheated, I have never stolen, I have never committed adultery' - what is your heart like, my friend!? Only you and God knows.
It's easy to keep the external rules when there hides in the heart all sorts of sin and iniquity. What about your temper? What about your passions and your fantasies? What about the grudges that you hold towards others? He knows your heart, and I believe in verse 21 that because of that the Lord saw in this young man both earnestness and ignorance, and He looked down upon him with compassionate eyes, and the Bible says: 'He beheld him, and He loved him'. He didn't love him because of his ignorance, I think the sense is that He pitied him. Peter must have told Mark the look that was on the Saviour's face that day - do you see the loving eye contact between the Saviour and that young man, the pity, the compassion as He looked at him? I can almost, please forgive me saying this, but I can almost imagine the Saviour sighing as He loves him. It's as if, in that look, He's saying: 'You don't see it, do you? You don't see it, that I have come not to give you external righteousness to the law, I've come to change your heart. You can't see past yourself to see Me'. 'It's all about Me', the Lord Jesus is saying.
Now please note this: the Saviour didn't condemn him, the Saviour didn't send him away, the Saviour told him what he needed to do. He said: 'One thing you lack: go away and sell all your possessions, and give the money to the poor'. Is that what you've got to do to be saved? No, it's not, that's not what Jesus is saying. Why did He tell him to sell all his wealth and give it away? Because despite his outward religiosity, his wealth was the god of his heart! He had conveniently ignored the first commandment, which says: 'You shall have no other gods before Me'. In his heart, his wealth, his materialism occupied the place that God should have in his life.
My friend this evening, can I tell you that the Lord Jesus Christ loves you? He loves you with a passion that you could not imagine, because He died and bled in agony and in all the torments of hell on the cross for you - but this is the question that I must ask you in the light of Calvary: what do you love more than Him? What is it that's taking His place in your heart? What is it that is preventing you, like this young man, becoming like a little child, and stripping yourself of whatever it is that prevents you getting into the Kingdom of God? What is stopping you being saved this evening? You've to put away your gods, for Jesus Christ will have no other gods before Him - and if your god is your possessions, you must put it away; if your god is your position, you must put it away; if your god is your power, you must put it away; if your god is a person, you must put him or her away; if your god is a passion, you must quench it and put it away!
This was this young man's great decision. 'What did he do?', you might say. What did he do as the loving eyes of the Saviour were piercing down into his very soul upon him? The eyes of Christ were upon him in love, the word of Christ was in his ears and in his heart, what would he do? Look at verse 22: 'And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions'. Do you know how that verse 22 should be translated? 'At this the man's face fell'. Matthew uses the same word in his gospel to describe the sky becoming overcast before the storm approaches. This young man's countenance that had been radiant, that had been insatiable after spiritual truth - he had such a spiritual optimism, such an aspiration, but gradually it darkened and darkened and darkened until his great decision became a great refusal. From that moment on, as far as we know, all that young man could remember about that encounter with Christ was what might have been, but never was.
How sad are all men without Christ this evening. True life is in Christ, do you realise that? How sad, especially, are those people who are religious - do you know why? Because they never reach their goal! They never achieve what their religion sets down, because it sets up at that height the unachievable for mere humanity - only Christ can give that by His grace. Jesus used the incident with this young man to teach the power of wealth. Wealth was specific to this young man, but I'm asking you tonight: what is it that's specific to you? What is it that is hindering you coming to the Lord Jesus? He thought that men could be good on their own, but do you know what the truth of God's word is tonight that you need to see? Christ wasn't looking for his goodness, but He was looking for his badness. Christ wanted this man's badness - what I mean is this: your goodness isn't good enough, and neither was this man's, and what God wants is for us to admit that our badness in His eyes is filth, but our goodness is as well. Isaiah says that 'our righteousnesses are like filthy rags' in the sight of God. The Jews made the mistake in Jesus day, but people are still making it today - they came to Jesus in John 6 and said: 'What must we do to work the works of God?'. Jesus said: 'The work of God is that you believe in the One who God has sent'.
Humanists need to know that evolution will not save us. Equally religionists need to know that you cannot save yourself. The only thing that can save you is God's revelation, and that is God's Son. At this man, this religious good man's best moment, do you know what he did? He had a superficial view of the Saviour. He saw Him as a mere moral man, when He was God the Son. That's all religion can do for you, that what religions are saying about Christ today: 'He's just another good prophet, a son of God' - but it takes the revelation of who He really is, to see Him as God of very God, my Lord and my God, Thomas said.
Not only had he a superficial view of the Saviour, he had a superficial view of God's salvation. He didn't realise that he couldn't get to heaven on his own steam, but as the little chorus says: 'There was none other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in'. My friend, if you could get to heaven on your own, with your own righteousness, and your own religiosity, and your own neighbourliness, and whatever else you have to be a credit, you think, in the eyes of God - what was the point of Jesus going to Calvary? My God is a sadistic God if He would let His Son go all the way to Calvary, if you could get there your own way! But there He was nailed to that tree, there He took the spear in His side, there He bore that crown of thorns, there He let the spittle run, and there He allowed His Father to pour upon Him the iniquity of us all - and He went through your hell that you might go free. He did it because you couldn't do it, he completed the work because what is impossible with men is possible with God.
The disciples heard this, and they said: 'Who then can be saved?'. Jesus says: 'Those who recognise they can't save themselves!' - God can save those! My friend, He looks down in love on you this very moment - what will you do? Isn't it amazing that of all the people who came to the feet of Jesus, this man was probably the best, morally speaking, in a religious sense - yet this man was the only one who went away worse than when he came. Isn't that tragic? This man walked out of the sunshine into the storm, because he wanted salvation on his own terms. That's not an option, even if you're good you're guilty, and you need God's grace, and you need it now.
Let's bow our heads. Has the Lord been speaking to your heart? Now listen, please, if He is whispering into your soul, and this has been a stumbling block to you - your own goodness - 'I don't need to be saved, or at least I don't need to be saved yet. I'm as good as the next man, I'm better than some of these Christians' - you probably are! But if you're not cleansed in a spiritual sense, you're guilty because you're rejecting Christ's gift - the only one He's giving, the only one He died for. Now friend, listen, all you must do tonight is from your heart just now, say: 'Lord, I'm a sinner, I confess I am. I am guilty, and I thank you that the Lord Jesus died for my guilt and took it as His own. I trust that that was enough to save me, and that's the only work that can take my sin away. I ask the risen Saviour to save me now and take me as His own child'. Will you do that now? That's all that's required, faith not in yourself but in the Saviour.
I'll be at the door tonight to speak to anyone who would like to inquire, I'll have booklets, we'll be praying for upstairs - but please do not go without trusting the Lord Jesus.
Our Father, whoever in this place needs Your Son as their Saviour, only Thy grace can help. Meet them, we pray, by the Spirit, with that quickening power. May they to the bosom of Christ, who loves them and looks upon them in compassion tonight, may they fly. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Good But Guilty" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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