“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is actually a question that only the wise seem to ask these days… at least here in N. America. With our fast paced, get it while you can society, few people consider the ramifications of eternity until they get sick or have a near death experience or are about to be euthanized. Then all of a sudden the realization that no one lives forever may cause some great anxiety and for others they begin to search out “what’s next”. What happens when we die?
Do we end up in a hole in the ground or just ashes sprinkled wherever. Is that truly the end? Or is there life after death? Is heaven real … what about hell? We have all heard of these places. One sounds like a cool destination and the other very much not so. One sounds like life worth living for and the other reminds us only of our worst moments in this life. How does one determine which road they are currently on and to which place it leads?
Have you questioned what you must do to gain or inherit eternal life? It is so important to know the answer to that question that even rich young rulers have been found to ask it of Jesus. Let’s see what we can glean from His answer to one of them.
(18) A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (19) “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. (20) You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'” (21) “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (22) When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (23) When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. (24) Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! (25) Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (26) Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” (27) Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (28) Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” (29) “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God (30) will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke 18:18-30 (NIV)
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a really big question! And from this passage I’ve got good news and bad news with regards to this question. Do you like the good news or the bad news first?
The bad news is: there is nothing that you can DO to merit eternal life. Nothing! Jesus said that is impossible! In fact, everything that you attempt to do will in the end bring you face to face with your own mortality and the impending grave.
Jesus said with man it is impossible, not improbable, he didn’t even leave room for a maybe if. There is nothing you can do to merit eternal life. You have as much chance of doing it on your own as threading a camel through the eye of a needle.
The truth is, your best efforts will fail to measure up to the holiness that God insists upon to merit eternal life. “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful…” (Rev. 21:27) according to the Bible.
Like the rich young ruler, Jesus said, that just when you think you have done enough to attain it; the all searching eye of God will see the very flaw that utterly disqualifies you from reaching this place. This is very bad news is it not?
The good news is: There is nothing that you can do to merit eternal life because it has already been done for you by the one person who lived the perfect life, Jesus Christ. With man it is impossible to live a perfect life but with God this was not only possible but in fact accomplished perfectly.
The Teacher’s Commentary says, “Jesus went on to speak of the great cost to Him of what we so freely receive in (Luke 18:31-34). For God to do the “impossible,” and give us new life, Jesus had to die. But “the third day, He will rise again” (Luke 18:33, The Teacher’s Commentary).
Let’s look at our passage some more and see how I’ve arrived at the good news by understanding the bad news given the rich ruler who questioned Jesus.
First off, what do we know about the characters in this portion of HIStory? Well, we have the disciples who have been following Jesus for about 3 years when they meet up with a rich ruler who is wisely questioning end of life issues before the end of his days.
In fact, Matthew’s gospel indicates that this man is rich and showing signs of wisdom by the very fact that he is asking this question while he is still young. Though in the end he may go down in HIStory as one the few people who met up with Jesus and left in worse condition than when he arrived. But his willingness to even question his mortality and what comes next shows he had some wisdom.
Solomon says that seeking God is about the wisest thing one can do no matter what age they are at, but earlier is better. “(1) Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them…(6) Remember him–before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, (7) and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. …
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:1-2,6-7,13-14 (NIV)
Being a rich young ruler means one of two things. He’s either brilliant about making wealth or it may mean it was inherited wealth. If it was inherited, he may not know what one has to do to become wealthy because it was just given to him. All he had to do to receive his wealth is live long enough to inherit it or accept it from his rich father as a gift. Many people today receive wealth without working for it, or doing anything other than being born into the right family at the right time.
At the time of Christ, the Jewish belief was that if you were wealthy then clearly God had blessed you. Spirituality and material wealth seemed to go hand in hand whether it was inherited or earned. We even in our day hold to that warping of God’s word either openly or internally. And while it is true that everything we have comes from God, it is not necessarily a sign of greater spirituality or blessing.
As the bible says, God causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45). Both righteous and evil people can grow wealthy.
I think we’d all agree that we’ve seen those who are of the devil flaunting riches at times. But this young ruler seemed to think he was pretty righteous. He claimed to have lived and walked out the ten commands since he was a boy. Yet somehow he missed the mark and was in danger of forfeiting eternal life according to Jesus. How is this possible for one who obviously knew the laws of Moses?
If I’m wrong on the inherited model for this man, then he found other righteous ways to become wealthy and wanted to make sure that he did everything necessary to receive eternal life. The passage seems to indicate that he was a good man. Jesus doesn’t say, you deceive yourself that you have kept all these commandments since childhood to him. Jesus doesn’t even address his claim on that front.
The man likely could honestly say that he had not committed adultery or murder, neither had he stolen nor lied about his neighbours, and he likely had honored his parents. So he’s passed at least five out of ten commandments. If that’s all it took to receive eternal life, then he’d done what it takes. But these were only five of the ten commands, the rest of which deal expressively with our relationship with Almighty God and those made in His image.
It seems to me that Jesus conveniently left those five commandments out as he questioned the man’s intent because Jesus knew that it would only take one question to determine conclusively that the man had come up short on those remaining commandments. The truth be known the rich young ruler couldn’t even get a passing grade on the first two commands.
The first one being, “You shall have no other gods before Me (cf. Ex. 20:3). Jesus said to the rich young man you lack one thing, give your wealth away then come follow me. If he was to pass command one, he would have to do as God told him. But this was too much for the rich young man and we are told that he became very sad because he was very wealthy according to our Lord. Instead of God on the throne of his life he had placed his wealth there. Some people place their families there, other’s their spouse…the truth is God often gets second fiddle.
Sometimes it is to wooden or stone objects which is the rest of that first command. “(4) “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (5) You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” Exodus 20:4-5 (NIV). Idolatry comes in many forms some of them physical others immaterial but either way God is against them. While this rich man likely hadn’t made stone images to bow down to he had put his comfort and lifestyle first and foremost. He would not give that up temporarily even if it meant the fires of hell for eternity.
Maybe he did better with commandment number 2. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (cf Ex. 20). We really can’t say as we only have what he says in this passage to go by. But it’s much tougher than you think, “not to take the Lords name in vain”. Especially in our day and age when foul language is heard everywhere. Still, let’s give the rich young man the benefit of the doubt on this one. After-all he managed to correctly identify Jesus as God, though I’m not so sure he realized it at the time.
You see when Jesus asked him “why do you call me good teacher” and then informed him that “only God is good” He was informing the young man that he had come to the right place to have this question answered. The rich young man had taken God’s name and given it the respect God deserves. But do you think he knew it or not? …Not so sure on that one…
It’s more likely this man did ok with commandment number 3. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (cf. ex. 20:8) This man’s walk seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the commands according to our text today. I suspect he was a very observant Jew perhaps part of the Sanhedrin itself. They were the Jewish men who ruled over the Jews.
Riches are certainly not a barrier to religiosity. In fact, these days it helps to be rich enough to afford to keep up the appearance of a holy Sabbath. But the things you aren’t supposed to do on the day of rest are a pretty big temptation aren’t they. And Jesus even caught the Pharisee’s on that one as we saw a few weeks ago. So I have my doubts that this rich young ruler did better than they did in that regard.
The last command was also omitted by the Lord when helping this young man to take stock. 10. “Thou shall not covet” (cf. Ex. 20:17). Anything, ever? Ya, right! Show me any rich man that has never coveted and I’ll believe that this man got a passing grade on that commandment.
Personally, after nearly 30 years as a Christian I would doubt that this rich young ruler had kept any of the commandments perfectly but Jesus didn’t argue that he had lied or deceived himself on at least the five Jesus mentioned.
The real issue was what object the rich man was relying on to save him. What was his object of his faith? What was he relying on to make the passing grade?
The rich man’s object of faith was in what he could DO to inherit eternal life. That was his question. He wanted a step by step plan so he could get it done in time or at least know that he had it covered. Money was no object.
The truth is he didn’t recognize that all he had was, in fact, from God his heavenly Father and it was given to him in the first place. He thought he had done something to righteously earn it or was born privileged by God and inherited his birth right. Whereas Jesus said all you need to do is “follow me” and he would have received eternal life.
And the same is true for you and me, all we have to do to inherit eternal life is recognize that there is nothing that we can DO but accept it as a gift from our Heavenly Father.
It is not something to be bartered for, nor can we acquire the skill or have enough effort, not even all the riches in the world can pay for it, we must simply receive it with open hands. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are; the ground is level in that regard.
In fact, Jesus told the rich young man that he could give everything he had to the poor and then he would be in a better position to follow Jesus.
Jesus was basically saying to him if you had nothing, because you gave it all away as God directed, it would be easier for you to recognize that there was nothing you could do or give to inherit eternal life.
If we are wealthy, the best thing we can do is hold it with open hands ready to, use it as God directs since it was His in the first place and will be His in the end.
From this passage we can see that the rich young man was clearly old enough to have lived with wealth long enough to know that he didn’t want what appeared to him to be a reversal of fortunes. He could see this “good teacher” was living what appeared to be from hand to mouth. Jesus didn’t appear to have any fixed address. Jesus sure didn’t look like He lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous. And so the rich young man went away sad.
“(24) Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! (25) Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Luke 18:24-25 (NIV).
This whole eye of a needle camel comment gets many different interpretations so let me read to you as I close what The Life Application Commentary says as I found it clarifies it. “Some commentators have suggested that the “needle” may refer to a certain gate in the wall of Jerusalem, a gate that was too low for camels to get through without removing everything from their backs. The Greek word, however, refers to a needle used with thread. Furthermore, the Needle’s Eye Gate didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. It was put in later when the city was rebuilt after its destruction by the Romans. Jesus’ image, therefore, was for hyperbolic effect. The camel, the largest animal in Palestine, could get through the eye of a sewing needle easier than a rich person could get into God’s kingdom. These are indeed sobering words for those whose money and possessions are extremely important to them. Those very things cannot give eternal life and may, in fact, cause a person to miss eternal life just as they caused this young man to miss being with Jesus” (Life Application Bible Commentary – Luke.)
So “what must you do to inherit eternal life?” Do you need to sell everything you own and give it to the poor? Likely not. Do you need to walk around dressed like a prophet? No that wouldn’t do it either. Do you need to follow Jesus? Definitely! For he knows the way to the Father’s house, and he has prepared a way for you and me and everyone who chooses to follow Him.
Will praying a prayer be enough to do it? No! You must choose this day whom you will worship. If it is Jesus Christ than you can rest assured that He has done what it takes so you can inherit eternal life. He offers to share that with you, so in reality all you need to do is accept His free gift and follow Him.
Dig deeper into HIStory
- What do you think of “the American dream”?
- How would you cope if you lost everything you own?
- What happens when we die?
- Do we end up in a hole in the ground or just ashes sprinkled wherever. Is that truly the end?
- Is there life after death? Is heaven real … what about hell?
- If you knew that the doctor was coming to euthanize you in two days what must you do to be prepared?
Read today’s passage in two or more versions: Luke 18:18-30
- Who are the main characters in today’s passage? (Luke 18:18, 26,28)
- What was the really big question directed at Jesus? (Luke 18:18)
- How did Jesus respond in verse 19? Why? (Matthew 5:20, 48)
- Did Jesus endorse the Ten Commandments as required to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:20; see also Exodus 20:1-17; Luke 10:26-28; Rom. 3:20; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 3:10-13; )
- How did the rich young man respond to Jesus in verse 21? Was he honest or self deceived?
- What was the one thing that remained to be done stood in the way of heaven for this man according to Jesus? (Luke 18:22-25) (See also Exodus 20:3-5; Matthew 6:19-20; Luke 12:15; Luke 16:9; Luke 18:14; Job 31:24-28)
- Can a camel ever fit through an eye of a needle? (Luke 18:24-25) Does that mean those with great wealth have forfeited eternal life? (Luke 18:27)
- How did those listening respond to Jesus strong words ? (Luke 18:23, 26, 28)
- What must you do to inherit eternal life?
- What does it mean to follow Jesus? (Luke 18:22; Matthew 16:24-26; Matthew 10:37-39; 1Cor. 11:1; 1 Thes. 1:6)