This question has occupied the minds of men since the beginning of time. What shall I do to inherit eternal life? In years gone by men sought elixirs and tonics to extend life, they sought the mythical fountain of youth to try to attain eternal life. Today they look to medicine and some even seek to freeze their bodies cryogenically in the hope that at some future time a cure for the disease that killed them will be found and they can be resurrected, healed and able to continue their life.
Despite all of this searching man has not found the answer to this age old question. And yet Jesus provided the answer and the method of achieving this goal when He answered the question of a rich ruler in this section of scripture.
Receiving Eternal Life
The ruler asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (verse 18) The man clearly recognised that Jesus had the ability to answer this question. He knew that the hand of God was with Jesus and He could provide this elusive answer.
Jesus said to him firstly, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Verse 19) Jesus first showed his humility and subjection to the Father. He recognised that God the Father is the head and master of all, including himself. Jesus did not ever claim to be on equal footing with the Father but was subject to Him even though Jesus too was God the Word who came in the flesh.
Then he goes on to tell the ruler, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” (Verse 20) In this he is saying that if you keep the commandments of God, which was the law given to Moses, you will receive eternal life. So there is eternal life to be had by keeping the law. Those who keep the law will be rewarded with eternal life.
Is there more?
But we see the ruler respond to Jesus saying, “All these I have observed from my youth.” (Verse 21) In the version of this story in Mark 10:21 it says that looking upon him Jesus loved him. The Lord does love those who keep the laws of God. Those who are sincere in living in obedience to God’s law will receive a blessing.
But there is more. Jesus went on to say to the man, “And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Verse 22) If the man was keeping the law of God and Jesus loved him, why did he say he was still lacking something?
The answer to this lies in the version of this story in Matthew 19:21 where he prefaced this comment. He said, “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.”
In this scripture Jesus has moved beyond merely receiving eternal life. He is talking about being perfect in the sight of God. He is showing that eternal life is achievable through following the law, but if he wanted to be perfect in the eyes of God, the man needed to divest himself of all his earthly possessions and follow Jesus.
Why did he need to sell up his goods? The answer came from the man himself. It says, “But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich.” (Verse 23) It was clear from the way this man’s countenance fell and his sadness that his wealth was standing between himself and God. His money meant more to him than finding the perfection he dearly sought.
It is the same for all of us. In this case wealth was an issue, but if you love anything more than the Lord and it can stand in the way of your full and complete devotion to the Lord, then the same rule would apply. Get rid of it and go follow Jesus.
The key to perfection was not in the man getting rid of his wealth. That was only to remove his stumbling stone for it was getting in the way. Instead, the key to finding perfection is in following Jesus. If you want to be perfect in the sight of God you will not achieve that through merely keeping the law. Yes you will have the right to enter eternal life, but the law cannot make you perfect.
Within the law is the constant reminder of sin as is described in Hebrews 10. But perfection means to be without sin, just as Christ was without sin. So if you seek perfection, and Jesus is telling us here that perfection is on offer and available to mankind, you must do so through following Jesus as it cannot be found in keeping the law.
That is why the Bible says in so many places that we are justified, or made righteous, by faith and not by works of law for no man will be justified in the sight of God by works of law. (see Romans 3:20-28) It is more important then to follow Jesus if you seek perfection, that is, to be freed from sin. For we also know that no sinner shall see God as it says in 1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”
So let us come to Jesus and seek to follow him. Let us ensure nothing stands between us and the Lord that could takes us away from a full and sincere devotion to Christ. And let us follow Jesus and seek the way of perfection that is on offer to those who obey his word.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng www.sxc.hu/ taken by Jefferson Noguera)