Must I give away all my possessions to be saved?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Hi. I have a personal question. I’m struggling with salvation. I read a post about leaving everything behind. Do we have to leave our families and possessions behind to be saved? I’m still grieving over the deaths of my grandmothers. I couldn’t imagine leaving my mom behind. Discipleship is so hard and I just feel like I’m going to hell for everything. I feel like I can’t even work to provide for my family or enjoy entertainment. It’s like you can’t have any assurance and if I’m not obedient I’m going to hell. I feel like there’s so much to do.

(Note to reader: I went back and forth a few times with this seeker before the final response, but I have only included the final response.)

Question: Thanks. But being a Christian makes me anxious. Those verses about selling all possessions and letting the dead bury the dead just make me think I can’t have any material things or love my family. I just want to work and provide. It seems like I have to do so much to ensure I’m saved and everything is a sin. You can’t do this or do that. When do I know if I have enough good works or obedience to make sure I’m in heaven?

Question: I guess I’m wondering do I have to sell all of my possessions or leave my family behind to be saved?  I feel like I can’t even listen to music or watch TV. This just makes me anxious and I keep worrying. It is very debilitating.  If I don’t go to church enough or read the Bible enough, then I’m not really saved. I feel like it’s all on me to maintain salvation. I read your articles, but that’s how I’m processing it.

Answer: Hello again, friend. Don’t you have a pastor or Christian friend you can talk to about this? I can address the logical (hermeneutical) problems with your thinking... but I’m picking up a strong emotional component in your question. I am not your pastor, and I am not prepared to deal with that type of problem through email. If these emotional problems continue, please talk to someone face-to-face.

That being said, you are interpreting Jesus’ teaching to the rich young ruler in Mark 10 wrongly. He is not telling us to give away everything we own or we won’t inherit eternal life. He is establishing a dichotomy: you may follow him or you may follow yourself. Don’t lose that string as we unpack everything else.

Consider the following passage of Scripture

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:6–9, NIV, emphases mine).

Do you think that Jesus was teaching us to cut off our hands and/or our feet — and pluck out our eyes as a bonus? Or do you think he’s using hyperbole (exaggerated language) to make a point about something else? The second is the only reasonable answer.

He is doing the same thing in the teachings that bother you. He does not want you to give away everything you own. You couldn’t live if you did that! He is making the point that having Jesus as Lord means that nothing else can be Lord... not your possessions or even the people in your family.

Look at this next verse. In Luke 14:25-27, Jesus is not teaching us to “hate” our families — and ourselves! He is teaching us that being a “disciple” means to choose him over them — to crucify those old relationships! ... but metaphorically.

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–27, NIV, emphasis mine).

The following passage is a great example of a dichotomy. In Philippians 3:8, the apostle Paul is comparing two things: knowing the Lord Jesus Christ... and everything else. Now, Paul had a lot of “everything else” going for him. He was trained as a Pharisee and was a reputation among the Jews. But he “threw that all away” ... but only in a sense. Remember, he used his knowledge of Judaism to argue for Christ... so he didn’t throw it away totally. But that’s not what he was claiming in this verse.

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8, NIV)

Philippians 3:8 has only two things in view: Christ and non-Christ. All the other elements in the verse exist to set up this dichotomy. Since these elements are not the teachings per se, the thing you cannot do is treat them as if they are... which is what you are doing with the idea of giving all your possessions away. That is simply not what Jesus was teaching in Mark 10:17-31.

The story about the rich young ruler has many elements, but one main dichotomy: either Jesus is Lord or you are lord. Choose one. The details Jesus uses to set up this lesson are just that — setups. Remember "plucking out your eye?" Do you think he wants you to literally pluck out your eye? No! That’s ridiculous! But he does not want you to literally give everything away, either. What he wants is to be your Lord... and if "stuff" is your lord, it just won't happen.

Jesus taught that very effectively using the rich young ruler as an example. Millions of us have learned from the rich man’s disappointment. But Jesus was not teaching us to give everything away. That’s just part of the setup for the main lesson. Discipleship is giving Jesus your all... and very few of us do that. The details of how we do this will vary with the individual, but I’m convinced that this teaching is more about our attitude than our actions.

Joel Ryan wrote a very good article on this on Click here to see that article. May you find comfort in the God of all comforts.


(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: TBA ).

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