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Can Rich People Be Saved?

I once read this quote, but I can’t recall the author;

It’s often the rich, the educated and the religious who miss the call to truly follow Jesus, because it’s an offense to their sensibilities.

And the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul confirms it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Next week I’ll blog on why “educated people” are so reluctant to follow Jesus. But today let’s consider why so many rich people are.

Jesus had these and other jarring words to say specifically about rich people. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to 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 man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ disciples were stunned by that statement. Jesus went on to make sure they understood that “With God all things are possible,“ meaning not all rich people are excluded from heaven. But that’s not much comfort to wealthy people.

The question often asked is this. “Do you mean God has already judged and condemned rich people, simply for being wealthy?” No. I don’t think Jesus is being judgmental at all. He’s simply making this observation. Not all rich people obviously, but many, perhaps most rich people don’t feel the need for God. Their choices of how they‘ve chosen to use their wealth and influence reveal that they already have their god. Their love for those things show who and what they really loved. They’ve judged themselves.

Wealth gives the illusion of security and self-reliance that the poor simply do not have. The poor need God desperately to literally provide their daily bread, to pay their bills, heal their marriages, addictions and care for their children. They have no one else to turn to. James makes a similar observation, Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5 Has God chosen to save people because they are poor? I don’t think so. Again, I think James is simply making an observation that the poor are more likely to receive the gospel because they have learned to be dependent on God, not their own resources.

For over 40 years, I’ve presented the gospel to many rich, educated and religious people. Some have truly been transformed and born-again, but not many. And many who claim to be Christians still appear to love their wealth and lifestyle more than Jesus, or others. I think I know why. I was once the proverbial rich young ruler. Once presented with the claims of Christ, it took me an agonizing six months to surrender my life to him. (And I’m still working on it!) I spent most of that time desperately trying to find Plan B, a less intrusive, less costly way to follow Jesus than actually obeying him, depending on him and trying to live like him.

I understood that essentially what Jesus was asking me to do was sign a blank check with my life and trust him to fill in any amount he wanted of my life and wealth. That scared the wits out of me! I was sure God was going to mess up my life and ask more of me than I wanted to give him, not just financially. But I knew if I belonged to God, I had no right to hold back any part of my life. I was sure my friends, even my Christian friends, would think I’ve lost my mind! But what I actually lost after surrendering my life to Jesus was most of my fear of loss. (Truth be told, even after salvation there have been too many times in my life when I found myself awake at 2:00am, afraid over finances, or wanting some new nice toy I didn’t need, and ashamed that I was because these gods I thought long dead were still tempting me.)

God gave this prediction and warning to Israel before they entered into the Promised Land that still applies today. “Otherwise when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have has multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord….. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’” Deut. 8:12-14,17.

Many of the smart, powerful, rich men I’ve taught the Bible to over the years have quietly drifted away not because God had rejected them because of their wealth, but because it was clear by how they used their wealth and lived their life to honor themselves that they had already chosen their god. “You cannot serve both God and money.” The price of following Jesus was simply too high, or it felt foolish to them. “It’s harder for a rich man…” And Jesus tells us why in his explanation of the Parable of the Seed.

“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Luke 8:14

Some think this group of people are still saved, but they just never matured in their faith. Maybe, but I don’t. Truly born-again believers, in-dwelt by Holy Spirit of the living God always mature and are fruitful unless it’s a death-bed event, like the thief on the cross. And I believe it’s the ultimate act of a fool take that chance and believe any differently! A faith that doesn’t radically change one’s life, is a counterfeit faith.

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