Why did Jesus say, 'No one is good but God alone' if He is God?

Mark 10:17-31 records Jesus' interaction with a rich young ruler. The man said to Jesus, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). Jesus started His response with, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18). Was Jesus denying that He is God? Why would He say this if He is God? It is clear from the rest of His conversation with this man that Jesus' response was used to point out the true condition of the man's heart and the reality that Jesus is divine.

Jesus went on to say that to have eternal life, the man had to obey the commandments. The man told Jesus that he had kept all of these commands since childhood. Jesus had slowed the man down before, asking him to think through the implications of "good." Yet the man still seemed to believe himself righteous.

The third statement of Jesus surfaced the hard truth. Jesus told him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). In response, the man left sadly, unable to give up his possessions to follow Christ. Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples the difficulty those with wealth have in accepting Christ. When we believe all our needs are met—materially or that we are "good" people or that we can follow a law or a formula to gain eternal life—we fail to recognize our need for a Savior and come to Jesus.

This passage as a whole was not about Jesus making some false distinction between Himself and God, but rather about pointing out some of the barriers that keep people from becoming followers of Christ.

The quote "No one is good except God alone" also likely alluded to Psalm 14:3 where it is written, "there is none who does good, not even one." This shows that Jesus used Scripture to answer the man's first question from Psalms as well as from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The man sought to receive eternal life from the Law; Jesus called the man to faith in Himself for salvation.

The apostles would emphasize this contrast between the law and salvation by faith repeatedly in the New Testament. Ephesians 2:8-9 states, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." John 1:17 teaches, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

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