And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:16-26

I used to use clipboards, pens and checklists on paper. I would note things to be accomplished, drawing boxes for check marks upon task completion. Yes, I was, and am, a nerd. While I didn’t have thick glasses and ‘high-water’ pants, I played the part well then, and still do today, with my checklist in an app, and checking items with my finger.

In this story, I see this man holding some sort of clipboard (made of stone, akin to the Flintstones). It’s gripped in one of his hands with a stylus in the other, looking at Jesus waiting to ‘check the box’ as the ‘to do’ list is recited. Unlike some of my co-workers, slapping their foreheads as I arrived with my clipboard, Jesus looked at this man and knew his heart and where his identity lay (v. 21). In his day, wealth was seen as a blessing from God for good behavior. But Jesus’ answer racked his world.

Jesus knew what was amiss. I’m certain the man’s clothing showed him as wealthy, having the ‘markers.’ Jesus didn’t judge him: he saw him with compassion. The one thing remaining was surrender. For him, it meant surrendering his wealth identity for Christ identity. Sadly, his wealth identity was too strong for him: he couldn’t let it go and walked away.

I had a similar experience several years ago. While I didn’t have the joy of a face-to-face experience with Jesus, my Holy Spirit encounter was just as real. My wife and I were on a short-term mission trip to Czech, and we were speaking with Czech teenagers about our identities. Starting a few years previous, I’d been in a class that challenged my nationalistic identity and I’d been wrestling with it ever since. During this conversation with these teenagers, it was as if the Holy Spirit’s arm rested on my shoulder, and whispered in my ear, ‘that’s you.’ My stare into space wasn’t a thought-filled look, but rather these words washing over my soul. Does this sound familiar? Is it happening now? If so, surrender your identity! If not, perhaps consider your life, where your dedications and passions lie, and see if it isn’t true for you, too. If your identity is firmly in Jesus, praise God! If not, surrender and love the wonderful world of souls around you with different eyes, those of Jesus.

By Rich Obrecht