Jesus confusing words – Luke 18:19, Why do you call me good?

Straight Talk

The Question:

Jesus says in Luke 18:19 “’Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’” This way Jesus said that he is not God. Or am I mistaken? I read the Bible quite often but I cannot understand how Jesus could say such a thing denying himself. I would be thankful if you could explain it to me. Thanks!

– JH from Unknown City

The Answer
Part 1: The Challenge Question

The Challenge Question (Part 1)

That’s a very legitimate question. Luke 18:19 is one of those passages that on the surface can be a little confusing and I bet there are many others out there that have wondered the same thing you have. By the way, the incident is also found in Mark 10:17-18 and it is worth reading both if you are in Bible study.

To really understand the passage you have to back up to the question that prompted his answer. Jesus was approached by a rich young ruler who “questioned Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” The sense of the story taken as a whole indicates he was seeking justification for his life. By calling him “Good Teacher” the man was using flattery, kind of brown nosing him. Jesus knew it and challenged him immediately.

Jesus was not denying that he was good nor was he denying that he was God. Rather, he was saying something like this: “Why are you calling me good? Have you determined this for yourself or have others told you about me? Do you understand who I really am? Are you calling me God?” Jesus was probing the man for a deeper response and challenging him to think more seriously about his identity. He was the Messiah of Israel but did the rich young ruler recognize him?

The incident shows how deeply interested Jesus was (and still is) in every individual person and the condition of their soul. In this case he saw the self-satisfied love of wealth the man was saddled with. The Lord hoped his probes would produce a change of heart. Do you think the man understood who invited him to “come, follow Me”? (Verse 22) Probably not, because he left with great sadness since he was so rich.

Jesus always put his finger on the real issue. It’s easy to read the story and shake our head at the young man for being so foolish. It’s a better idea to ask ourselves: if Jesus invited us to come follow him, is there anything in our heart that would prevent us from saying yes?