From the looks of things, when he comes to Jesus, he has many of good things going for him.
HE WAS A RELIGIOUS MAN. When Jesus told him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life: " 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER' " (v19), he answered by saying that he had been practicing these things since his youth. He had been taught the word of God and trained to obey it in these areas. Obviously he wasn't perfect at it. If you would have asked him, he probably would have said such, just as the majority of people would. But he was trying to do what was right. But in spite of this, there was still something missing. We are not told why he came to Jesus, but it seems to me that it was because he felt that there was still something missing in his life. There was still something that seemed to be missing to him. He still did not know if he had eternal life, and he wanted the answer to what he needed to do.
HE WAS EAGER. It is encouraging to see how he approaches Jesus. He didn't just walk up to Jesus. He ran up to Jesus. He wanted an answer to his question, and he wanted it quickly…
HE ALSO DISPLAYED SOME HUMILITY BEFORE JESUS. He knew that he did not have the answer to the question he asked Jesus, so he came to the One who he believed would have the answer. And when he got to Jesus, verse 17 tells us that the rich young ruler fell before Jesus. This would have been unusual with the difference in social status and dress between him and Jesus. Here the rich and powerful man falling down before the poor and lowly.
HE WAS YOUNG. He may have many years to work on all of these things. Just think, if he had risen to the position where he is at so early in his life, this man shows a lot of promise of being able to grow in all of these things and being a great servant of God.
HE WAS RICH AND HAD INFLUENCE. He had a lot of resources to use for the kingdom if he would dedicate it to the Lord, and because he was wealthy, many may have looked up to him at that time. He could have used his influence for kingdom work.
I think it is safe to say that if we met this young man, we would see him as a great candidate for the gospel and for the kingdom. He is a religious, young man who could have made a difference in the kingdom. I think he would fit in pretty well amongst the people of God today.
BUT HE MISSED EVERYTHING!
He had some major issues and sin that got in the way of this happening. When Jesus says that this young man only lacked one thing, it may be easy to be tempted to think that this man was "pretty close" to being kingdom material. This one thing that kept him from choosing to follow Christ was a big thing. Surgery was required. He had to cut away his stuff.
His allegiances are divided, but in a sense, not divided. He was trying to serve both God and wealth, but was failing. The "one thing" he was missing was that he was an idolater. He was missing the fact that it is impossible to serve both God and his possessions. He was in reality serving money while wearing the "I am a religious person" mask. The same mask you and I can be guilty of wearing!
We need to keep in mind what Jesus says after His encounter with this young man:
"And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "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." 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
If Jesus said to you, I want you to go and sell ALL that you have, then I want you to come and follow me,” would there be some things that you own that you would be unwilling to part with? This is an important question. It may serve us well at times to take the command that was given to the rich young ruler as a command to us so that our devotions can really be tested!
Please consider a few more passages about the dangers of wealth and possessions:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24)
"And he said to them, 'Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'" (Luke 12:15)
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:32-34)