“And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.” ~ Luke 18:18-23
A wealthy young ruler came to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to gain eternal life. And Jesus uses this opportunity as a teachable moment for the young ruler, his disciples and for us today.
This was the second time that someone had asked Jesus, “…what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” On the first occasion (Luke 10:25) Jesus responded with a direct answer:
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. ~ Luke 10:27-28
Clearly Jesus’ prescription for inheriting eternal life (which the Bible also, interchangeably, refers to as “Salvation” or “The Kingdom of God”) does not vary, but while He focused on the link between salvation and our attitude to our brother in the first instance (Luke 10:25-37), now Jesus focuses on the link between salvation and our attitude towards God.
How can we Inherit Eternal Life?
The prevailing philosophy among the Jews at the time was legalism: that Eternal life was inherited by those who followed every letter of the Law. However, as Jesus had earlier declared salvation was inherited by those who loved God and their brother.
Moreover, Jesus had spent much of His ministry teaching that it wasn’t the letter of the Law that was important; what was important was the spirit of the Law: i.e., that the Law had no relevance except in its expression of the love of God and your brother. Furthermore, Jesus explained that to inherit eternal life (to see the Kingdom of God) one must first be “born again”
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. ~ John 3:3
In other words eternal life does not come by what we do outwardly, but by what God does inwardly with our hearts/minds.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. ~ Galatians 6:14-16
What Jesus does in this passage is guide the rich young ruler (and us) into seeing two obstacles, between God and man, which hinder the inheritance of eternal life. Significantly, Jesus does this within the framework of the Law, thereby allowing us to have the true understanding of the real purpose of the Law.
Who can we get Eternal Life from?
Though Jesus does not spend a lot of time on it, the first obstacle is identifying the source of eternal life. So, Jesus began by asking the young man: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God”. Or, in other words, Jesus was asking him “Do you realize that I am God, the source of eternal life?” This is a key point, because, if the young man realized that Jesus was in fact God and not just another rabbi, then he would have made the first crucial step towards inheriting eternal life.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. ~ John 14:6
The sinful nature of mankind makes it impossible for us to be declared good (righteous) on our own. Therefore, an inescapable prerequisite to inheriting eternal life is recognizing the need for a Saviour and that Jesus ALONE is that Saviour. If we don’t know we need Salvation we won’t look for it. And, if we don’t know who provides Salvation then we won’t know who to get it from.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! ~ Romans 10:14-15
What is Eternal Life Worth?
Jesus then turned His attention to the second obstacle (between God an man) to salvation. And as Jesus continued to address the young man’s question, He went where the young ruler was most comfortable: the Law. Specifically, Jesus points to the five commandments that, from a legalistic viewpoint, are perhaps the easiest to comply with: “do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother”. The young man declares that he has indeed kept these commandments from his youth. (Notice that Jesus did not challenge the accuracy of his statement.) This was his comfort zone, he could legalistically verify his compliance with these commandments. If obeying these commandments were the key to inheriting eternal life, then he was set!
Now that he was feeling good about himself, it was the perfect time to “drop the bombshell”. Jesus confronts the young man about his standing with the tenth commandment—i.e., “thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). The confrontation takes the form of a challenge to the rich young ruler to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and THEN follow Jesus. Jesus could have just asked the young man whether or not he had a problem with covetousness. But that approach would have been easy to deflect without forcing the young man to look deeply into his own heart/soul.
To understand what Jesus was doing we first have to understand what it is to covet. In Biblical usage, to covet means to desire something/anything that God has not given to you whether it be a person, or an animal, or something material (Exodus 20:17, Micah 2:2). In other words, to covet is to deny the sufficiency of God’s provision. Therefore, covetousness elevates the material over the spiritual. Consequently, covetousness is the root of materialism (idolatry).
…no… covetous man, who is an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. ~ Ephesians 5:5
…covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience ~ Colossians 3:5-6
By definition an idol is something/anything that takes the rightful place of God in our lives. Therefore, since covetousness is idolatry, it clearly is an obstacle for Salvation; it makes it impossible to inherit eternal life.
Conversely, Jesus makes it clear that it is ONLY when covetousness is removed that the pathway to eternal life opens up:
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. ~ Matthew 19:29
In other words, Jesus asked the young man to relinquish his material to gain the Spiritual; to give up remuneration to get Salvation. The young man had to consider whether his wealth meant more to him than the chance to be saved. Did he value the temporal more than the eternal? Were his possessions an obstacle to Salvation? Was he covetous?
Jesus told two parables that help us understand why His challenge to the young man was crucial in answering the young man’s original question: “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
- “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
- Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)
In both parables, the men that found the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., Salvation) valued it so highly that they sold ALL they had to obtain it. So Jesus was really asking the rich young ruler: “How valuable is the Kingdom of Heaven to you?” “Is Salvation valuable enough for you to give up everything to get it?”
The implication of Jesus’ challenge to the young man is that Salvation was only available to those who valued it FAR above everything else. Conversely, if material things, money, possessions, popularity, power, pleasure, even people, are just as important as Salvation then it is not available to you. Salvation is so precious that one can have nothing else with it. For Salvation to come to our lives, it must displace everything from our lives. Jesus described salvation as a narrow gate one so narrow that you have to shed everything in your life to get through it.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. ~ Matthew 7:13-15
Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler also applies to each of us: rich or poor, young or old, powerful or powerless. If to gain Salvation meant losing everything we enjoy in life, would we still take it? When He challenged the young ruler (and to us) to give up all he had, Jesus had already given up everything (Isaiah 53:1-12, Philippians 2:5-11) He had in heaven AND was about to bear the burden of all our sins and sacrifice His life to provide us with the gift of Eternal Life.
That’s how much He valued Salvation!!!
The gift of Salvation didn’t come cheaply, it cost Him everything. Accordingly, this valuable gift is not available to those who don’t recognize its value. If Salvation means ANYTHING to us, it must be EVERYTHING to us. How much are you willing to lose just to get Salvation? How much is too much to lose to get Salvation? Are we more afraid of a life without God or a life without things? Can we be happy and secure with God and without things?
Eternal Life can’t be earned, it is a Priceless Gift from God
At the end of this encounter with Jesus, the rich young ruler was very sorrowful. Moreover, in the accounts of Matthew and Mark, we are told He went away grieved/sorrowful (Matthew 19:22, Mark 10:22). The rich young ruler recognized that his covetousness was what was preventing him from receiving eternal life. And, he understood that he was not yet in the place where he valued salvation above everything else.
But this was good news!!! At least he knew where he was and where he needed to go. He knew he would have to discard his legalistic approach to life and ask God to search his heart and renew his mind. That salvation is a relationship with God that transforms a way of life and NOT a way of life that earns a relationship with God.
Many, many people claim salvation without ever facing up to Jesus’ challenge, without ever evaluating how much salvation really meant to them. It is not sufficient to simply acknowledge God and live “good” lives. The rich young ruler did both but was still unsaved. We must come to the place where Salvation is more important to us than anything else in life, only then will we be in a position to receive the gift of eternal life, to enter into the Kingdom of God.
- Am I saved?
- Is salvation more important to me than anything else in my life?
- How should Salvation be presented? Is “pray this prayer after me…” enough?
- Is being “good” good enough?