Why Callest Thou Me Good?
Christ Did Not Deny His Own Deity
10:17 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?
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Some suggest that in 10:18 Christ says something like the following, expressed in a contemporary vernacular, "Why are you calling me good? Don't you know only God is good. You shouldn't call me good because then you're calling me God." This is obvious erroneous interpretation as it would contradict many passages where Jesus affirms His deity (Jn.14:9, 10:30, 8:58, Mt.11:27, etc.) We must read scripture carefully in order to understand subtleties of context that are very important in teaching us all that a passage communicates, or we’ll make the same mistakes that the "scholars" do who find fault with scripture.
We need to understand just what transpired between the Lord and the man in this passage. The man comes seeking help concerning the way of salvation, and of course only God gives the certain answer in this matter. The likelihood is that the man has heard many wonderful things about Jesus that convinced him he might get some enlightenment from this one who did the wonderful works of God. Yet it is unlikely that he would know any better than others just who Jesus really was and how truly qualified He was to provide the answer. The man probably thought of Jesus as a human worker of good things who might have unusual insight into truth. It is likely in this limited sense that he referred to Jesus as a good master (thinking of Jesus as a master of good things, not realizing the full implications of the term good). But the Lord would want this man to know just who it is he is asking about salvation since, in His foreknow- ledge, He knows the man will refuse to follow His counsel, which is the very counsel of God, rejection of which has very serious consequences. Thus, the question Why callest thou me good is intended to give the man cause to consider who it is he's talking to. If we just emphasize the word thou, we see that the question is, "Man, what is your reason for calling me good? Only God is good, so do you recognize the fact that you are asking God about salvation, or are you just using a title of respect?" In effect, the Lord says to this man, "Listen to the words of your own mouth and you'll get some wisdom about who it is you're talking to and who it is you are about to refuse to obey." Thus the Lord is affirming, not denying, His deity here.
All this is especially important because of what the Lord is about to tell this man to do concerning obedience in the next few verses. He is a rich man, and is about to be told to give away all his wealth to prove that he loves God more than wealth. We realize how impossible this would be for anyone to do unless he knew that the command came from God Himself. Otherwise, a man will simply say to himself that he doesn't really know who this man is that's telling him to give away all that he owns, and he's not about to consider such an extreme request. It's very important that the man realize that the one he is refusing to obey in a matter involving his own salvation is the author of salvation Himself. Thus the Lord gave this man cause to consider this in His answer to the question about salvation. In this man's case, he really was very serious about wanting to be obedient since he went away grieved that he was unable to comply. This passage plainly reveals that, even with the best of intentions, a man cannot overcome in his own strength the hold that material things of the world have over him. It is this subject that we now address further in the next few verses of this passage as the Lord answers the man's initial question on how to inherit eternal life.
2. Christ did not teach salvation by works: Here is His answer to the rich man's question.
10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do
10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from
10:21 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.
10:22 And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great
Previously, the reader has likely wondered why the author of New Testament salvation requires this man to give away all his wealth to be saved when we have never seen a requirement like this elsewhere in the New Testament. Now at this point the reader will likely be asking the more basic question of why the Lord is encouraging what seems to be an Old Testament method of salvation in telling the man that he needs to keep the law. Whole schools of theology have arisen from these words of our Lord in trying to account for His seeming reference here to salvation by works in keeping the law in the New Testament era. However, the Bible isn’t meant to be privately interpreted by theo- logians, but is meant to meet the practical needs of the common man who has always been its primary reader. Thus the straightforward interpretation based on common sense is always the right one.
Now we know Christ normally taught the New Testament need for the born‑again experience, as in the incident with Nicodemus in John chapter three. Why then did he depart from this teaching with the rich man? It’s obvious from a little study that the answer lies entirely in this man's faulty understanding of salvation, and the need to correct this. He seems to think of salvation in the Old Testament era as something earned by keeping the law, judging by the way he phrased his question in verse 17. He doesn't quite ask what the method of salvation is but offers his own slant on the method by asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Indeed, the supplementary parallel Matthew 19:16 verse shows us this even more pointedly by showing us that the man's request in complete amplified form was the question about what good thing he had to do to have eternal life, as if a man is capable of doing something good enough to earn salvation. Indeed, the man's thought in this matter is revealed to us in the answer given him by the Lord who knows the thoughts of our hearts. In effect, the Lord is saying to him, "All right, if you want to earn your own salvation, you must keep the law perfectly in your own strength." And that the man thought he could earn salvation is further indicated in his reply to the Lord about how well he felt he had done in keeping the law, and asking what more of this sort of thing he yet lacked to achieve salvation.
But the Lord answers this way only to show the man how helpless he is in earning salvation, and how faulty his understanding of salvation is. Even in the Old Testament era, salvation was never earned, but bestowed on the basis of the grace of God through faith by man. In Old Testament times, as in our day, God evaluated man on the basis of the heart's condition, and after the giving of Mosaic law, the heart's attitude toward the law was crucial. But no one ever earned his own salvation, because no man could ever keep the law perfectly in his own strength, and the Lord is showing this man that he can't either. In this example in Mark, the Lord is showing this man that he, despite his good intent, has not kept the law perfectly. The Lord recognizes the man's excellent desire to keep the law in the notation of verse 21 that, Jesus beholding him loved him, in response to the man's statement that he had kept the law very well. But the Lord lets the man know that, if he really were a perfect keeper of the law, he could not be a rich man. Christ tells us elsewhere (Mt.22:39), that perfect fulfillment of the law (spirit of the law) requires loving your neighbor as yourself, and you do not love your neighbor as yourself when you are rich and your neighbor has needs. Thus the man is given the opportunity to become a perfect keeper of the law by giving away his wealth, and he subsequently refuses, proving he too cannot keep the law perfectly himself, and thus cannot earn his salvation. He is even given the unique opportunity to become a perfect keeper of the law in the knowledge that God Himself is the one offering him the opportunity (Why callest thou me good, only God is good). But this is only to show the New Testament reader just how impossible earning of salvation is (i.e. Even with loving permission by God Himself to try, we can't do it). It is necessary to show this man his inadequacy in keeping the law to clarify to him the way of salvation by Christ. We learn this here as part of a general teaching of the New Testament on Messiah Christ's role in superseding the law as the focus of faith in the New Testament era. That is, His salvation power granted to us, is the means by which we fulfill the spirit of the law.
In this incident the Lord is taking this man from where he is in his understanding of salvation to where he needs to be. The Lord is not requiring that this man keep the law perfectly, but is simply showing him that this is not the way to salvation since it is quite impossible. If the man had just been willing to show some evidence of a greater trust in God (there is none good but one, that is, God) than he had in earthly riches, he could have begun to learn the futility of his earthly works‑based salvation philosophy, and thus would have been ready to learn the path to salvation by Christ. And he would undoubtedly have learned that God would allow him to use his wealth to the glory of God as he saw fit himself. Unfortunately, the man could only see the loss of all his worldly goods and could not comply. His wealth had a hold on him that he could not break, showing us his inability to fulfill the law himself to earn his salvation. This passage in Mark simply shows how the Lord deals with lost men individually according to their understanding before He takes them on to where they need to be. Unlike Nicodemus, this man wasn’t ready for the direct approach, needing to see an example of his inadequacy in earning salvation. (For further proof that Christ did not teach works salvation, see essay 18c).
But we still have one last question concerning the seemingly unique doctrinal nature of the passage in Mark, and to this we now turn.
3. Christ did not teach that rich men can’t be saved
10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.
10:24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
10:26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?
Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are
The Lord says rich men come to trust in riches, and it is impossible for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom, so impossible it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Salvation requires trust in God above all else, and a man who trusts in riches in preference to trusting God is depending on riches for everything, a very foolish thing regarding salvation. The disciples are dismayed, for they well know all men store some riches (money in excess of needs) that they trust in for a measure of security, and are not readily willing to give up. But in studying this passage, we find that the Lord is teaching a basic lesson on the impossibility of earning our salvation, using the example of the hold of riches upon a man to illustrate this. If someone is just a rich man striving in his own strength to keep the law to earn heaven, his riches will make this impossible. And that’s just one type of hindrance that makes it impossible for anyone to keep the law perfectly himself, and thus earn his salvation. Other human weaknesses will do the same thing. Thus, the Lord is teaching that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it would be for a man to earn his own salvation, using the example of the trap of riches to illustrate how impossible this is, even for men having the best of intentions.
Of course, the answer to such problems that hinder salvation is given in verse 27 in the declaration of the Lord that things that are impossible in man's strength, are readily accomplished in God's strength. God saves rich men, as well as poor, and gives to all power to let loose of whatever riches they have to the glory of God. Thus many rich and poorer men experiencing God’s salvation power have become, not only cheerful, but even hilarious, givers of what they have of riches out of love to God.
Clearly, it's not that a rich man has no way to attain heaven. Rather, no rich man in his own strength can earn heaven due to the impossible hold of riches over him without God’s power at work in his life. With that power in his life, he will trust God first and foremost, and riches will be one more opportunity to serve and glorify God. With the power of God at work, things impossible to do in human strength become routine, and we begin to see camels passing through the eye of a needle every day. That is, we see rich men giving away most of their wealth to God's glory, something impossible to do until God's power touches them. Indeed, the disciples, in thinking of those little riches they were trusting in for a little security, still needed to learn that salvation produces such zeal to serve the Lord that they will soon be anxious to use everything they have to the glory of God, and will count it all joy.