What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?
Key Verse 10:27
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’”
When mothers brought their children to be blessed by Jesus, the disciples chased them away. Now why would they do that? Because in those days, women and children were the most unimportant people on the planet. To the disciples’ eyes, they were not among the “first” of those who should occupy the Lord’s attention but among the “last”. But Jesus patiently taught them otherwise. In fact “Let the little children come to me” he said, “and do not hinder them” he said, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (14) The disciples still had it all wrong! They didn’t understand the character of the kingdom of God, to whom it belongs, and why it belongs to them. They didn’t understand that God cares nothing for who is important in this world, for who is famous, who is worthy, and who has power and authority. What God cares about is totally different. To God, Heaven may belongs even to the least and the most unimportant— when they come to Jesus by faith and ask for it by faith and receive it by faith. “I tell you the truth” he said, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (15)
The disciples were indeed in shock at Jesus’ teaching about whom the kingdom of God belongs to. And we cannot forget the many people who were right there and who also heard the same teaching and were shocked as well. “Heaven belongs to those who would receive it as little children”! What is he talking about? May people quietly thought about all that Jesus had been teaching that day. Except for one man among the crowd. He just couldn’t believe what he was hearing with his ears. And he just had to open his mouth and ask. It seems he was a rich man— in fact, a very rich man. It also seemed that he was a religious man. He may have raised an eyebrow or two at Jesus’ previous teachings about sin and influence. But now as Jesus was closing his sermon with a word or two about the kingdom of God, he was genuinely shaken. Fear came into his heart as he began to doubt his own salvation. So, suddenly, he pushes his way among the crowd and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. And he had a very simple question on his mind. But it wasn’t an ordinary question. It was a question of value and of serious consequences. It was a question which every human being should ask. And it is the kind of question which every human being should come to know the answer to. Se we need to listen to the conversation that went on between him and Jesus.
Read verse 17. “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Other gospels tell us that he was young and rich and even a ruler in his own community. We don’t know how he became rich at such a young age, whether he made his fortune on the internet or inherited his money from his dad. Whatever the case may be other young men must have envied him for his money. And young ladies wanted him for a husband. Shouldn’t a man like that be comfortably tucked in his mansion instead of following a crowd who followed an open air preacher? Shouldn’t he be the happiest young man in the land? It doesn’t seem that way! With everything he had, something seemed to have been missing in his life. And we give him credit that he was honest enough with himself to go looking for answers. He came to listen to Jesus. As he listened to Jesus’ words, he felt strange. Part of him resisted everything that Jesus was teaching. And part of him was drawn to all that Jesus said. Jesus’ words were not just words, they were words that sparked life in people’s hearts— made them think about God. His words convicted people. And so a struggle erupted in his heart. He could dismiss everything he was hearing as nonsense, and walk away, or he might try to think about Jesus’ words very personally. So he fought inwardly with every ounce of his being. He thought that what he was feeling was emotional against his better judgment. What he didn’t know was that the struggle inside his heart was a struggle that can go either way— a struggle to win his soul or to lose his soul. But in that fierce struggle, he decided to finally express what’s on his heart to the Lord: “Good teacher” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wanted to know how he could make it into heaven.
And it’s really amazing the way Jesus counseled this young man. Read verse 18: “Why do you call me good? No one is good— except God alone.” Jesus first made this man think about what he was saying. He addressed Jesus as “Good teacher”. Jesus should be grateful for such a polite and address. But Jesus didn’t. Why? Because this man didn’t understood the true meaning of the word “Good.” He actually thought that many could be thought of as “good”. He probably thought the religious leaders were “good”. Perhaps he thought that he himself was good. And when he looked at Jesus, he was certain that Jesus was also good. But it was his own standard of what is “good” and what is “not good”. His idea about “good” was based entirely on a human standard of “goodness”. And he really had no idea what God considers to be “good”. It was one of the best lessons any person can learn. Jesus rejected his respectful remark and confronted him with what “good” really is. Jesus told him that only God is truly “good”. And if God alone is good, then no one can measure up to God’s goodness. If only God is good, then even man’s best goodness is no good. What a great teaching Jesus gave him. Only God is good! The problem was that when he thought of himself as “good”, he was not able to see his own sin clearly. He did not mean to, but he had considered himself good as God. So Jesus helped him put the idea of “goodness” in its right perspective. The bible teaches us that “… No one who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:3) He should have believed it. Even if he was a “good” person, he should have cast off his idea of self-goodness for the God’s truth. Then he would have learned something wonderful— that everyone is a sinner, then everyone is in desperate need of God’s grace. He was a good man in his own eyes and others probably saw him this way too. But the reality was that he was a wretched man in the eyes of God. And so, he had a hole in his heart. He had a flaw in his faith. And he had no assurance in his own salvation.
Read verse 19. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” Jesus said nothing about the first four commandments, which deal with our relationship with God. Jesus asked him to consider only the last six commandments, which deal with a person’s relationship with another person. But why? The man clearly had no relationship with God. He could have believed that his relationship with God was “good” since he performed all his duties towards God well. But a person who doesn’t understand the difference between God’s “goodness” and his own wretched “goodness” will not understand anything in his relationship with God either. So Jesus asked him to consider something he could understand— something he was familiar with— God’s laws about what God expects of a person’s relationship with another person. “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” These are the laws Jesus wanted him to think about. In other words, how was his relationship with others! Did he fulfill his duty towards other people! Even one of these commandments— if he thought about them the way God wants us to think about them— such as “do not steal”— this was given not only to prevent us from stealing from each other, but meant for us to promote honesty with one another. So, was he always honest with others! Has he withheld something from them! Questions like this should make him think about the condition of his soul. It should make him see his own wretchedness and come to God for his forgiveness and mercy. If he had done that— why he would have really understood how Good is God and how great and his grace to him— which he can only receive through faith.
Did Jesus’ words convict his heart? Read verse 20. “‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’” How could he say this? No one could be that bold. But he did! He was sure that he had been good, and had kept God’s laws. The ten commandments command human beings to love God and to love each other. But to love God is more than going to the temple and praying three times a day, more than reciting Bible verses, and more than living a holy life. To love another person is more than giving a poor man a meal or solving a problem among friends or inviting people over for dinner. Loving God is impossible, if God does not touch our heart with his own love, because only God can make us love him. But we have to admit “Lord I cannot love you on my own— I fall short of loving you”. And loving my neighbor is also impossible, if God himself doesn’t help us love our neighbor. But we have to admit “Lord I cannot love anyone the way you want me to love them, unless you put your love in my heart.” This man didn’t know any of this. His idea of love was mechanical, traditional, superficial, half hearted and wretched. In his pride he just imagined that he loved God. He just imagined that he loved his neighbor. He had only loved his family and a few friends— that’s all— and no one else, when God asks him for much much more. He did not know this. He did not know that he was spiritually invalid and impaired. He really didn’t know what he was saying to Jesus! What he was saying was ridiculous.
Maybe Jesus should shake his head and consider this man hopeless. But Jesus— the Good Shepherd— couldn’t abandon him, because the man was earnestly looking for salvation. So, Jesus showed him the only way of salvation. Read verse 21. “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” It seems as if Jesus was saying that you could earn salvation with your good deeds. It seems as if salvation could be bought by distributing your money around. But in reality, Jesus was saying only one thing. He was teaching the young man that the way of salvation is the way of faith. The way of faith is the way of salvation! That is remarkable. Faith which depends on God and not on one’s resources— whether these resources are our wealth or ability or services or anything which comes from us. The Faith willing to acknowledge that my selfishness is sin— and I must be rid of it— at any cost. The Faith which willing to acknowledge the love of God for me in spite of the depth of my sin and wickedness. That’s faith! Jesus led him to faith. Jesus guided him to witness the love of God— that love which can welcome a selfish and self righteous man like himself regardless of his wretched spiritual condition. Jesus led him to open his eyes to faith— the faith that can which can strengthen me to actually love others not with words but at heart and in deed— to love those who are underprivileged and unfortunate all around me. Jesus helped him see that faith is a treasure worth having in heaven, and not like the worthless treasures people hoard around them here on earth. Jesus helped him see that faith— is to follow Jesus— and to depend on God alone. Faith! Faith alone is the way of salvation. It’s like telling this young man— “you need to throw off everything that binds you to this world, and then take hold of nothing but faith”.
Of course even if this man gave up all his wealth, it would not help him go to heaven. Even if he gave it all up and followed Jesus, it would not guarantee the salvation of his soul. Jesus did not give him a formula to be saved. Jesus gave him a challenge of faith. If he would put his faith in Jesus— his eyes would open— and his heart would understand— and his mind would know the goodness of God— and he would understand the greatness of God’s love and mercy to rescue a sinful man like him— not because he was “good” but because God is “Good”— and because his grace and mercy are a priceless treasure that outweigh anything we have or can ever do in life. People in their ignorance chase after useless things of life that become their false salvation, and which give them an illusion of self-goodness and which blinds them to where they will go without Jesus. Therefore faith in Jesus is everything. To those who want to have the assurance of salvation faith in Jesus is the way.
Read verse 22,23. “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” He understood what Jesus was saying. But he had no guts. In the world, he was a man of courage as he built his empire of wealth. But in truth he was a coward who had become a slave of his own wealth and ability. He could not let go of what he had gotten used to. He could not let go of what he had grown to depend on. When Jesus said that it was hard for the rich to enter heaven, it had nothing to do with wealth. But it had everything to do with what men choose to put their trust in. Many are like this young man. When they learn how to depend on things of this world, it is hard for them to let go and then depend only on God. They may have all kinds of reasons for that. But in truth it is cowardly when we have no courage to trust God by faith. If anything is holding us back from following Jesus by faith, we need to cut it off. You need to have the courage to cut the things that keep you away from Jesus off. You need to be brave enough to trust God and to depend only on him. At this moment, when we review this discourse between Jesus and the young man, we see that life and death hung in the balance. But he did not take life. It was his own decision.
Look at verses 24-31. The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words. Looks like the way they thought was not much different from this young man’s thinking. When Jesus talked about how important it was for us to depend on God rather than on what we have achieved for ourselves the disciples panicked, and said: “Who then can be saved?” They still did not understand the truth of God’s goodness and man’s utter wretchedness. They measured salvation not as the gift of God but as the works of one’s own hand. To their eyes, if this man could not go to heaven, good as he was, then who stood a chance! Read verse 27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all thing are possible with God.” Jesus really wanted them to give up on their own goodness and embrace God’s goodness and grace and mercy. What Jesus said looked to the cross where Jesus would ultimately become the salvation of all who trust in him. It was impossible for us to save ourselves. So God prepared the way of salvation through the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Faith in Jesus— particularly in who Jesus is and in what he has accomplished in and through the cross— is the only way of salvation for everyone. When someone asks you “What can I do to inherit eternal life”? you might say: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then guide them to the gospel and to faith in Jesus. Amen.