Jesus Said: Go Sell All That You Have and Follow Me

go sell everything

 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? (Luke 18:18-26)

Evangelicals would have us believe that the Christian gospel is mental assent to a set of theological propositions. “BELIEVE these things, and thou shalt live,” Evangelicals say. Believe the right doctrines, pray the right prayer, and bingo! you are saved and headed for Heaven when you die. Evangelicals preach up God’s grace and our inability to save ourselves through good works, yet Jesus, the man, myth, and legend seems to say something very different in the Biblical passage above. Nowhere in Jesus’ sermons/teachings do you find him preaching the gospel preached by modern Evangelicals. It was not until the Apostle Paul that we find a greater emphasis on “right” beliefs, as opposed to “right” living. James, taking issue with the Pauline gospel, said:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:14-20)

Pay close attention to how Evangelicals live and what they believe, and it’s hard not to conclude that they are following after Paul, not Jesus (or James). James was very clear: “faith without works is dead.” “Don’t tell me what you believe,” James said, “show me!”  While Evangelical pastors encourage congregants to do good works, it’s evident that the message is not getting through. The average Evangelical is Christian in name only, and certainly lives in contradiction to what Jesus and James said above. Worse yet, Evangelical preachers aren’t much better. Their time is spent at the golf course, at preachers’ conferences, coddling congregants, and making fat sheep fatter. If good works are the essence of the Christian gospel, is it not true, then, that most Evangelicals are not Christian?

In Luke 18, a ruler came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Evangelicals believe that preparing to meet God after death is THE most important thing any of us can do. Yet, few Evangelicals take the words of Christ seriously and follow in his steps. To the ruler’s question, Jesus replied, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.” In other words, gaining eternal life was contingent on keeping the law of God. When the ruler said that he had kept the commandments from his youth forward, Jesus replied, “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Wow, what a demand! The ruler was quite rich, and selling everything and giving it to the poor probably seemed too much of a buy-in. The Bible says, the rich man went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

Time and again in the gospels, Jesus demanded of people who wanted to be his disciples that they sell and forsake everything and follow him. This demand wasn’t optional. Inheriting eternal life hung in the balance. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus had few disciples. In the book of Acts we are told that after the death of Jesus, his followers gathered in an upper room to pray. All told, there were about 120 disciples. That’s it, after three years of public ministry. I suspect one reason for this is Jesus’ works-based gospel. Jesus demanded EVERYTHING from those who would follow him.

Two thousand years later, western Christianity has become little more than a cultural religion; one that is called on in times of trouble, and when children are born, young couples marry, and old people die. Imagine if Jesus came to the churches in your community and preached his gospel. Why, churches would empty out overnight. “Sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus? Are you nuts?” I can’t speak to Jesus’ mental state, but I do know he said this about the path to life eternal:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:12-14)

Jesus mentions good works, and then says the path to Heaven is a straight and narrow way, and few people find it. Billions of people claim to be Christians, yet few of them are walking the straight and narrow way. Why is that?

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2

Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

In the late 1980s, I came to the conclusion that good works were essential to salvation. Thinking this, of course, led me to do all sorts of things that caused personal harm and harm to my family. I took Jesus at his word when he said to sell everything and follow after him. Polly and I, along with our six children, lived in poverty for years because I really believed what Jesus said. We lived like the Beverly Hillbillies BEFORE they came to California. Imagine eight people living in a 12’x60′ wreck of a trailer, with one dinky bathroom. Our winter heat came from a Warm Morning Stove in the living room. My oldest sons have oh-so-fond memories of putting wood and coal in the stove. It would get so hot in the living room that we would open the front door and use it as a thermostat of sorts.

During our “poverty years,” I gave away money, cars, clothing, food, and sold countless personal possessions to help fund the church and help others. I so wanted to be a man who followed in Jesus’ footsteps, even to the place of crucifying my flesh for him. Of course, the problem I had with my flesh is that it kept coming back to life. Over and over again I denied self and followed Jesus and his teachings.

The years spent in poverty left a deep and lasting mark on our family. While there were many lifelong lessons learned during this time, none of us has any desire to relive the “good old days.”  Were there “good” days? Sure, we were happy, at least within that paradigm. It was all we knew, so it seems normal and right to us. It was only when we escaped the Evangelical bubble that we were able to see how crazy our lives were; how foolish we were when it came to money and our family. Today, if Jesus came to me and said, “sell everything and become my disciple,” I would reply, “first, you are dead, a figment of my imagination. And second, if you really are alive, why do you need me to fund your work on earth?  Get to work, Jesus! Time  for you to whip out your Hogwarts wand and work some magic. You da man, right?”

I suspect I am not alone when it comes to being deeply affected by Jesus’ gospel. Long before I became an atheist, I was quite estranged from Christianity as a whole. I read passages of Scripture like the ones above, took them seriously, and did my best to implement them in my life. Why is it that most Christians didn’t do the same? Didn’t they want to be True Christians®?  Why was I different from so many other Christians and pastors? That, my friend, I will leave for another day. Suffice it to say, that subject has been a frequent topic of discussion in counseling.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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10 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, you seem to be an “all-in” type of guy. You don’t do things halfway. That can be an asset (and yes, it can be a detriment). Maybe look at it that way if it helps?

    I wonder why early Christian leaders selected 4 gospels that conflict with Paul’s epistles (and the epistles written in Paul’s name) to cobble together into their rulebook? Why not pare down the writings to books that agreed and offered a single message? Or maybe the early leaders didn’t consider that later readers would try to take everything so literally. Maybe they wanted to encourage discussion, but it seems they were intent on determining orthodoxy v. heresy. Maybe I am overthinking it.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    ” I read passages of Scripture like the ones above, took them seriously, and did my best to implement them in my life. Why is it that most Christians didn’t do the same? Didn’t they want to be True Christians®? Why was I different from so many other Christians and pastors? ”

    Some of God’s chosen snacks/preachers, are already trained-up by life experiences at a very young age. They are trained in self-harm particularly through the harm they endure as little ones. Christianity is designed to harm self and others and naturally attracts those already well along that path, boozers and maladapts, survivors of all kinds of hardship. Christianity rolls out the piano/organ and sings songs of ‘love’ while laying out its lessons of harm. Most people are not “all-in” types as ObstacleChick aptly uses the term: They are content to Sunday- listen to all the scripture and to feel terrible and then relieved and washed up for a new week of life and sin. They are good church-goers and would not think of giving up more cash than is fairly comfortable. Bruce, I suspect liked to feel how much hurt his Joy could fill him with, how much love he could stomach as he suffered lack with his loved ones. Praise Jesus for his mercy. He knew every hair on every head all through those days and sustained the sacrificial family doing His work… (Gag me with a spoon.) What if, as Jewel says, God was just one of us on a bus trying to make his way home…

    Reply
  3. Brian

    OOPS! Sorry, maybe it was Joan Osborne…

    Reply
  4. Avril

    Bruce what you have written about here is one of many reasons I finally walked away from the *faith*. I was gullible & wanting to please *gawd*. I believed what those who had supposed authority over me told me & got sucked in. I was so willing to lay down my life for the brethren…sacrifice til it hurt..yet looked around & saw others only looking out for themselves. I also saw so many living double lives. It took me a while to see for most of the people involved in it- religion was just a charade. It was about being a member…tribalism & Fire insurance for the afterlife. Meh…bad memories. But I am very glad to have escaped the indoctrination & the toxic thinking. Sure there are some good things in the Bible, but there are far more horrible things in it. Good Riddance Religion!!

    Reply
  5. davey crockett

    Attending Midwestern college for one semester was the beginning of my coming out of the fog. I was raised Evangelical United Brethren. But EUB gave way to a Methodist merge and an unhappy me looking for something better which took me to baptist. The pastor was a 4W, believed in the mark of Cain, dynamic in the pulpit taking other church’s people, pushing his perfect college. He never once talked honestly or openly about this school. Just watch your attitude he would say. If the secular colleges are considered liberal, Midwestern was the canning jar with the lid screwed on too tight. We were expected to squeal on each other and give till nothing was left of time money sleep or self or family. Any issue you had was because your relationship with Jesus was not right. There was no humanity in that school and church (Emmanuel).
    So I found another Malonite pastor who seemed a bit better and more open. And I was wrong again. My point is that as time moved on (10+ years) I realized that my home and life was going nowhere. I started to look and think and realized there was no humanity in the ideals that were being pushed.
    Evangelicals say they are following the Jesus example but they are selectively. Jesus did not draw a wage, no health insurance, no home, no car, no family to support (could he have sent a dime to his parents while giving all to his ministry?), no wife, and so forth. And after 3 years his life was done. Maybe one can give all when the end is known. But we don’t have that luxury of knowing. Does anyone know somebody who is willing to live this way and cash themselves in at the 3 year point. I don’t think so. I wanted a home, a specific vocation, a wife, a retirement, children and their well being. There is a humanity factor here.
    Evangelicals tend to have one way vision in the way they see and interpret. Some will say I do not have faith but that is not true. Everyone of us knows churches and ministries and even a Midwestern Baptist College that had lots of faith but are history. My faith is in education and sound advice and risk management and my own heart and the safety of counselors and friends.
    I recently found good support for myself in a book by Robert Fulghum titled ‘What On Earth Have I done’. Short pithy 2-3 pagers on various themes. Somebody asked him what the next book would be and he replied Jesus jokes. As we all know there aren’t any in the Bible. But yet Jesus was a person as we are. The Bible tells us so. He ate, wept, got angry and bled. And he must have laughed. He must have experienced the whole of human emotions as we do. To see him in any other way means his humanity is incomplete. That moved me. Robert made me see what is missing in the Bible as well as the Evangelical outlook. An outlook that shrouds the body and the mind in black. An outlook that ‘is too serious to underwrite humor”. And Jesus’ humanity.
    Jesus’ issue with money and wealth I don’t get. He himself said the poor will always be with us. So why command us to give it away and become another poor person, makes no sense unless you know your time is near. Food for another day.
    To Bruce, thank you for being there and talking openly about so many things. It feels good to come out of the spiritual closet. Sorry for the length. Color me free to be human and myself.

    Reply
  6. davey crockett

    In my previous post, my reference to no humanity means there is no allowance for what shouldn’t or should be humanly done. With Midwestern there was no allowance for necessary sleep or money or self. Whatever they say, do. If you question or think, you have poor faith.
    With the Evangelical selective following, it’s what was not talked about. The issue is not the money but how will that person live if his life is long or he has people who depend on his money. It’s assumed money love was his issue, not things or people in his humanity. I find Jesus’ opinion of him distasteful and assuming.
    If faith is all there is to solve these issues then there are many passages that have to be removed that talk about the counsel of the wise and the builder who does not consider the cost of a project before building it, to name two.
    Fulghum’s thought on Jesus’ humanity is big to me in several ways. Just as the money issue is seen so narrowly, so is Jesus life, painted in only one color of perfection and soberness. How can someone be in every way like us and so lacking in details of his humanity in such a revered book. Obviously the apostles did.

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  8. Roy

    Context is king. If you take Scripture out of context, you run the risk of walking down the path that leads away from the Gospel. In this pericope, Jesus answers the rich ruler’s direct question. “What good thing must I do to enter the kingdom.” He asked a law question, and was given a law answer. The man did not want the Gospel message; he saw heaven as something he had to earn, and not a free gift from a gracious Savior.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Which gospel? Jesus’s? Paul’s? James’s? Peter’s? The Old Testament? Of course, you demand systematic theology and peculiar sectarian interpretations determine meaning. You choose to attempt to harmonize the conflicting passages of Scripture. Good luck with that, Unbelievers such as myself are under no obligation to play by your rules. I read and interpret. I let each book of the Bible stand on its own.

      I can make just as big of a case for works-based salvation as grace-alone salvation. There are thousands of Christian sects, each with their version of “truth.” They all appeal to the Bible for justification and grounding. I’ve concluded, after 50 years studying the Bible, they are all right!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  9. davey crockett

    Perhaps it is a law question. But how do you know the man did not want the gospel. Bible does not say that. Why do you assume he was working his way to heaven. Bible does not say that. This is judging thru the Jesus filter. If heaven is a free gift then why ask the man to give away his money. Looks like works to me.
    In all my years of church going, not one preacher ever considered other possible reasons for the man’s sorrow. It’s always because he was wealthy and loved his money. Maybe he was one of those who had other reasons that made giving his wealth away a sorrowful task. Maybe he was willing to risk heaven because of what he was committed to do here in this life for those he was responsible for. Maybe he was selfless in that if he gave his wealth away there were some here that would suffer. He maybe was not a Heaven for me, pain for them kind of guy.
    The reality is that the man asked a question and Jesus gave an answer that gave him sorrow. And the scripture makes it a point to point out his wealth and then puts a negative spin on him. Thoughts beyond this about works and love of money and that wealth is evil are assumption. And my assumptions are no worse or bigger than these others.

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