Is perfection in Jesus Christ possible? Is it possible to become a perfect man at all? And what is the requirement for having eternal life? Jesus answered all of these questions in this section of the Bible. And it is interesting for it flies in the face of much of what is taught as Christianity today.
We see a rich young man approach Jesus and ask the question, “What good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Verse 16) Jesus responded by saying, “Keep the commandments.” Now there are in excess of six hundred commandments in the Law of Moses, so the rich young man sought a more specific answer and asked, “Which?” Jesus again responded quoting six specific laws from the Old Testament including the need to love your neighbour.
Now what we see here is that Jesus is saying that if a person were to keep as a minimum these few laws they would receive the gift of eternal life. This is the minimum standard acceptable to God to be able to enter life. This is not commonly taught in the church today, but it is evident from Jesus own words that this is what is required as a minimum. There is life available to those who keep the laws of God.
But the rich young man went on further saying, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” (Verse 20) In the Mark version of this scripture (Mark 10:17-22) it says Jesus loved him for he had indeed done these things. So we see also that by keeping the law we have the love of God too. However the rich young man knew that there had to be more. He recognised there was still a lack in his life. He had wealth, he had achieved things in the world and it was evident that his lifestyle meant he had the love of God and the promise of eternal life. Yet he felt there had to be more for he asked, “What do I still lack?”
Jesus then showed there is a higher standard than the law. There is a better way, but it requires sacrifice. He said to the man, “If you would be perfect…” Jesus was now about to show the man and us too, the road to perfection in Jesus Christ. This is important and we must listen to what he says. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Here was the path to perfection in Jesus Christ. The rich young man though could not follow this path. For him, the loss of his possessions was too great a sacrifice and he went away sorrowful.
Is Jesus telling all of then to go sell what we have and give to the poor? No he isn’t. This was a specific message to that man, and it is also a message to all that seek the wealth of this world. If you put the value of possessions above your walk with Christ you will not achieve perfection in Jesus Christ. Indeed if you put anything above your walk with Christ you cannot achieve perfection in Jesus Christ.
The key to this section is in the last three words, “Come, follow me.” This is where perfection becomes possible. It is through following Jesus Christ that we can be transformed into his image and be truly perfected. There is no other way but to follow Christ. The rich young man would have eternal life, but he would not be able to conquer sin and the passions and desires of the flesh that lead to sin in his life. That is what perfection in Jesus Christ is all about, conquering the flesh to obey Christ. That is what it means to enter the kingdom of heaven, which we will see in the next section, for there is no sin in the kingdom of heaven. Without following Christ it is not possible.
Conquering sin is a major part of the New Covenant and a topic that will be discussed later. It is enough to know here though that Jesus said following him can perfect us, and that perfection is the removal of sin and the transformation of a person into the image of God.