The following is extracted from a sermon I preached at Faith Community Church of the Nazarene in Ashland City, TN on August 1, 2010.

“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22 NRSV)

The rich young ruler is distinctive in the New Testament as being one of just a few authority figures who demonstrate a legitimate interest and concern in the afterlife. The nature of his question to Jesus indicates that he had prior knowledge that Jesus was offering eternal life to those who followed him. Although there are those who question the ruler’s sincerity, he genuinely seems to want to know how he can gain salvation. Jesus’ answer treats the question sincerely; our Lord responds by quoting the Ten Commandments.

As sincere as the rich young ruler might be, his response shows his misguidedness. “All these things I have kept since my youth,” he says, displaying a certainty that he has the ability to live a righteous life on his own. Although I don’t believe it to be arrogance, the young ruler displays a sort of boastfulness in his own piety, as if to say, “Look how long I’ve been keeping the commandments!” He’s misguided because he thinks that simply doing the commandments is the way to a relationship with God. As someone who grew up in Judaism, and has brought the Gospel to the Jewish people, let me make something clear: it is not about doing the commandments.

What was this one thing, the thing that Jesus told the young ruler he lacked?

He was lacking a heart that was truly, wholly and completely consecrated to God. Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him was a test of where the young ruler’s allegiance truly lay; it was a call for him to make a commitment to the Lord, and to sacrifice his wealth for his faith. Understand that Jesus’ command to the young man is not a call for all people in all times to give up all they own, but it was God’s will for this ruler. He went away sad because the cost of following Jesus, the cost of eternal life, was a commitment to renouncing everything that the young ruler believed was important in this world. His commitment ultimately was not to the Lord; he chose to draw comfort and security from his possessions rather than his God.

From the beginning, God has always asked for a commitment from His people. All too often this commitment looked insane to those who did not follow the Lord. To ancient Israel, this commitment was capture in the form of a prayer or more accurately a creed, which survives even in modern Judaism today:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

What God sought from Israel, and what He continues to seek today, is that His people consecrate themselves to Him. Even as He prepared to come down upon Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow” …” (Exodus 19:10)

Consecrate them … what does that mean? Consecrate means to dedicate something or someone to a specific purpose, to set them apart for a particular purpose. In Hebrew the word for “consecration” might also be translated as “sanctification”; a word that means a great deal to the Church of The Nazarene. It means not just set apart for a specific purpose, but for a holy purpose. There are many ways we might express the same thought: purify, dedicate, sanctify, purify, make holy. All of these get at the same idea, which is that God desires that his people be dedicated to Him and Him alone, that they might serve and glorify only Him.

This concept of God’s people dedicating themselves to His purposes can be seen not only at Mount Sinai, but years later when Joshua has assumed leadership and was about to direct the children of Israel in the conquest of Land. Israel had spent 40 years wandering around the wilderness, drifting in the desert. They were now on the edge of the land that God had promised; they could see it. It was right across the Jordan River, but the Jordan was at flood stage. There were no bridges. There were no boats. There was no safe place to ford the Jordan because of that flood stage, and yet they were at the edge and God was saying to them, “This is your land. I am going to take you in.”

Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” They are right on the edge of the land. They are ready to grasp the promise that they have been carrying around in their hearts for hundreds of years and then Joshua says to all the people; not just the leaders, but all the people and says to them, “Consecrate yourselves.” It’s a word to everyone. What I find interesting here is that he is going around and talking to people and he is not saying “Hey, guys, we’re gonna fight tomorrow. Time to sharpen your swords and polish up your shields because we are going into battle.” Now that would be a pretty logical thing for Joshua to say, but he doesn’t go there. Instead, there is this issue of consecration … “consecrate yourselves, because God is going to do some amazing things among you.” And of course, God did do wonders: he caused the waters of the Jordan to pile up so that the Israelites could cross on dry land.

To consecrate oneself to the Lord is an intentional act of will. It is a decision to commit oneself fully, to dedicate all of one’s life to God. I can hear someone now objecting, “oh but Pastor Chad, there’s a huge difference in commitment between someone who is in ministry and little old me.” I agree that there is a difference when it comes to the specific nature of the commitment that God asks of someone who has a call on their life; I disagree that there is a difference in the matter of being asked to commit. I think the only difference that remains is really quite small, and can be summed up in one very simple word: “yes.”

In holiness doctrine the key role of the Christian – any Christian – is surrender to the work of God. It is the surrender of our right to say “no” to God, and a request that God would give us the power to say “yes.” We cannot say, “yes” on our own, but we can relinquish our “no.” Increasing and deepening levels of surrender are what make the listener receptive to God’s ongoing works of grace. Total consecration is simply the point of Spirit-empowered, total surrender. Whatever God may ask of the consecrated believer, the decision has been made in advance … “yes.”

The Church today is being crippled, and the work of the building the Kingdom brought to a standstill, by those who profess to be Christians and yet have a consecration which goes only skin deep, a shallow consecration which allows them to say, “I believe in Jesus, and I know he forgives my sins,” and yet not turn away from that sin! Such superficial consecration requires no change in our lives, and does not ask that we become set apart from the world around us. There are many who call themselves Christians today – perhaps even within this church – who have bought this hook, line, and sinker without any grasp of how counterfeit it truly is.

The rich young ruler sought only an outward form of consecration. While his desire to gain eternal life may have been genuine, he mistook the outward display of consecration to God – following the commandments – for consecration itself. For him, it was simply about following a list of rules. When presented with God’s terms, when asked to commit his whole life to God, he backed away.

Each one of us is called upon to be consecrated to God, personally set apart and dedicated for service just for the Creator of the universe itself. What an amazing privilege! God desires that we be ready for Him. For ancient Israel such consecration involved ritual: a ceremonial cleansing, washing themselves and their clothing. The Israelites lived in a place where water was scarce, so they didn’t bathe every day; bathing and washing your clothes was a pretty big deal to them. Their rituals of consecration were symbolic moments of a start in a new direction, into a new stage of life even. This can be seen much later, in the New Testament, where Scripture speaks of cleansing and water and putting on new clothes as a symbol of living a new life. This was all part of the Israelite mindset. God’s people would symbolically wash in the anticipation that something was going to be different; something was going to change.

Mister Wesley believed that communal acts of love and service were central to holiness, that holiness was not merely a private prayer closet faith. A church that has consecrated itself truly to God embraces the call to be a community of faith, to acts of service, to works of love, and to mutual support and activity. The consecrated church is a witness to the lost of God’s mercy and grace, it is a wellspring of ministry and hope to the poor and the broken. The church that practices these things fills the community it is a part of with the love of God. And love is the end goal of holiness – “love which governs the heart and life, which runs through all our emotions, words, and actions.”

We are at a major moment in the life of our church. Here we stand, on the banks of our own Jordan. God has been faithful to us in the past, just as He was faithful to the Israelites. God has been with this congregation through some very difficult, rough times in the lives of our people, just as He was with Israel in their wanderings through the desert. This church must keep its focus upon the scriptures, upon the power of God, upon serving Jesus Christ. Are we ready to consecrate ourselves, to dedicate ourselves fully and completely to the work of the Lord? Are we ready for a start into a new direction, a start into a new stage of life for Faith Community? Are we ready to relinquish all of our “no’s,” all the reasons we keep coming up with to stop from consecrating ourselves completely to the Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to give God a resounding “yes?”