4 Traits You Have in Common with the Rich, Young Ruler

Posted on June 15, 2022


By David Ettinger

A Familiar Account
Even if you are only an occasional Bible reader, you are familiar with the story of the rich, young ruler; it appears in three of the Gospels (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-21; and Luke 18:18-30).

And though you may read this account as something foreign to your own circumstances, you’d be surprise how much you actually have in common with this young man.

Let’s look at four characteristics you may share with him.

1. What’s in it For Me?
The young Israelite asked Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). The question was not as simple as it appears.

Surely one who believed he upheld the Mosaic Law flawlessly already considered his place in Heaven a given. Rather, it is more likely the ruler was asking Jesus to secure a place for him in His future kingdom.

The apostles John and James requested the same thing.[1] Their thinking was: “What’s in it for me?”

Jesus replied. “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). In proclaiming God the Father as being the only good One, was Jesus saying He Himself was not good? Hardly.


Jesus wanted the ruler to consider what was meant by the word “good.”

According to the Jews, anyone who did righteous acts and followed the Mosaic Law was “good.” However, humanity’s conception of good and God’s are two different things.

Jesus was saying to the young man, “Only God is good, and God is perfect. If you want to be good, then you must be perfect.”

Perfection, of course, is impossible for human beings, and Jesus wanted the young ruler to see his lack of perfection and, therefore, his need for redemption. He wanted the ruler to stop seeking his own advancement, and to come to Christ in humility.

2. Self-Justification
Jesus then steered the conversation to the ruler’s actions by reciting to him several of the Ten Commandments.[2]

The ruler confidently asserted that he had kept all of them since he was a boy. He was a self-justifier of his own goodness. He failed to understand that striving to live by the commandments was one thing, but executing them perfectly was impossible.

In love, Jesus sought to show the rich, young ruler the great flaw of his thinking and the shallowness of his heart.

“Go,” Jesus told him, “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

If the man’s heart was aligned with Jesus’, he would have understood the importance of these two difficult commands: selling all he had, and following Jesus. However, the ruler believed he was the epitome of goodness; he felt justified that he did not need to change in any way.

3. Earning God’s Favor
Jesus had reached down into the very recesses of the young man’s heart and exposed it as superficial and wanting.

No doubt this was a man who gave generously to the poor and treated his servants kindly, but these were all surface-level actions intended to earn God’s favor by works.

Jesus desired something far more substantial than good deeds and bold talk: He wanted a broken heart willing to confess Him as Lord and Savior and to follow Him into death itself.

Instead, the rich Israelite believed he had earned God’s favor by his good deeds.

4.  Stubborn Soul
The rich, young ruler could not – or would not – obey God; he was far too proud and allowed his stubborn soul to have its way with him.

He looked at Jesus, then at His wealth. He had to decide; the future of his soul was at stake: Jesus or his wealth, what would it be? He tragically chose the fleeting riches of materialism over the eternal bliss of Christ.

What About You?
What differentiates you from the rich, young ruler is that you have accepted Jesus into your heart and are saved. Yet, you may share some of these four characteristics with the young Israelite.

First, do you serve Christ for His sake or for yours? Do you have a “What’s in it for me” attitude? If so, ask God to change your heart that you might “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Second, are you a self-justifier? Do you act in ways contrary to God’s Word – rudeness, bad language, looking down on others ­– but tell yourself you are fine because you have been redeemed? If so, ask God to allow you to “in humility value others above [yourself]” (Philippians 2:3).

Third, do you try to earn God’s favor by good works? If you are doing good works as an outpouring of your love for Christ, great! But if you are trying to “earn points” with God, pray that He will show you “how to live in order to please” Him (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

Fourth, do you have a stubborn soul? When someone points out to you obvious sin in your life, do you get angry and refuse to accept correction? If so, ask God to give you “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:7).

May the convicting account of the rich, young ruler help transform you more and more into the image of God!

[1] Mark 10:35-37

[2] Mark 10:19