All my Christian life I have been told that all the answers, advice and counsel I need to live a godly life can be found in the Bible.
And I was taught correctly. In fact, the Bible undoubtedly has more answers than I will ever have questions, and no person on earth will ever grow in their walk with God to the point where His Word no longer has anything to teach them. God loves us too much to leave us hanging and wondering what to do next, and so He gave us His Word, which remains active and living, still able to cut deep into our soul and spirit and judge the thoughts and attitudes of our heart (Hebrews 4:12).
But while the Bible does give us the guidelines and answers we need to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:4), it also gives us room to make up our own minds regarding our response to God’s counsel. In this way, the Bible is a bit like the owners manual for your car: It tells you what you need to do to make things run in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, but it doesn’t make you obey its advice.
Because God has blessed each of us with the gift of free will, we all have the capacity to obey or disobey His guidance, and in this way we take an active part in writing what Paul Harvey calls, ‘The Rest of the Story.”
I find it interesting the number of places in Scripture where an encounter with God ends and we are left hanging in mid-stride, one foot in the air, not knowing where the next step will come down, wondering, ‘What happened next? What is the rest of the story?” Though we may never know how the story turned out, we can learn from the unwritten endings and see what they teach us about the direction we should go when we find ourselves in a similar situation.
Below are the five passages that I want us to look at.
Notice that they are in the order of our encounter with God, and all of them are stories without endings, allowing us the freedom and responsibility to react in accordance with God’s Word.
- Revelation—The Question: Who is God? (The Rich Young Ruler; Matthew 19:16-22)
- Repentance—The Response: We must value God’s values (Jonah)
- Restoration—The Result: We continue living in God’s house (The Elder Son; Luke 15:25-32)
- Righteousness—The Choice: We must each choose God’s ways (Hosea 14:9)
- Resurrection—The Realization: God is greater than our expectations (Mark 16:8)
The first story without an ending is found in Matthew 19:16-22.
It tells us about a conversation between a rich young man and Jesus regarding salvation.
A sincere young man approaches Jesus and asks a question appropriate to his religious upbringing: ‘What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” But the answer Jesus gives challenges the previous way of thinking by showing us that salvation does not come through the things we do, the duties we perform, or the possessions we have accumulated, but through a relationship with God our Savior. It was a common thought in Jesus’ day that if a sincerely devout Jew was also rich, then it was obvious that God was blessing his life. This is why, when Jesus told His disciples that it was hard for the rich to get saved (v. 23), the disciples responded, ‘Who then can be saved?” (v. 25). If those most obviously blessed by God, the rich, had a hard time getting into heaven, what about us, the poor, who seem to be lacking God’s approval? What hope is there for us?
The answer Jesus provides to the rich young ruler reveals to us that salvation comes through following Him.
The question we must all ask is: ‘Who is God?” If God is your Lord, then follow Him, live for Him, release all your possessions to Him and, if necessary, die for Him. The rich young man knew that this was the challenge of Jesus, and he walked away sad because he was more attached to his possessions than he was to God. Although it is impossible for people to earn or buy their way into heaven, it is not impossible for the rich to have a righteous relationship with God, as evidenced by the lives of Abraham in the Old Testament and Joseph of Arimathea in the New Testament, among many others.
This story of the rich young man has no ending because although he walked away sad, we don’t know if he ever returned.
Jesus gave the man a revelation of Himself and of God, and brought him to the point of having to decide who God was going to be in his life.
The rich young man is the forerunner of the many people who heard the gospel early in their lives, decided not to pay the price to make Jesus Lord of all, and lived for themselves.
Jesus couldn’t make a decision for the young man—just as our family or friends can’t make a decision for us—so Jesus had no other choice but to let him walk away.
The rich young man came to the same point everyone must come to in his or her relationship with God: When God is revealed to you, what is your response? Scripture tells us this man walked away.
I would hope that one day later he returned to God, fulfilling the hope of Paul for all of us, ‘that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Our first story without an ending finds a man coming face to face with a revelation of God, and then walking away.
What is your response?
If you have encountered God and have not made a decision to give all that you have to follow Him, it is still not too late. If God has confronted you in a particular area of your life and you have yet to respond, what are you waiting for? He has already invited you to come and follow Him.