“What Must I do to Inherit Eternal Life?”

  And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “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.”  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Why does the rich young man fall short of Jesus’ standards? Is it his wealth alone? No. In fact, what Jesus teaches us by this encounter is the practical meaning of justification and repentance.
Justification. The rich young man is evidently quite pleased with himself.  His intention to justify himself is loaded into a single phrase: ‘good deed.’ The rich young man uses this phrase to make evident that salvation is the result of good deeds. Since he has a whole list of his good deeds, he fully expects Jesus to praise him and confirm him as a child of God.  After all, he has kept these commandments.So when he asks Jesus for a  checklist of salvation, he is confident he will pass the Ten Commandments test: Not a murderer, not a thief, not a liar, not disrespectful, etc. 

However, Jesus knows the young man better than he knows himself. He knows the young man’s heart. At the onset, Jesus  chastises the young man by calling into question his use of the word ‘good.’  Jesus takes control and claims the exclusive right to justify man. When Jesus says “There is only one who is good,” He is referring to the Father. No man can do enough good deeds to earn the title ‘good.’ Salvation only comes from above, as a free gift of the father.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17) 
We are justified, deemed right in the sight of God, only by His grace.
“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)

If salvation then is a free gift, how can we expect to be justified, to be set right in the eyes of God? Jesus tells us in his message to the young man. Jesus calls out the young man on his two unconfessed sins: idolatry and pride. He is guilty of idolatry. Jesus knows that the young man has placed an idol above his Father in heaven, his Creator, i.e. his wealth. He is also guilty of pride, because the young man seeks to justify himself by declaring that his good deeds have earned him a place in God’s book of life!

 But Jesus in his love and desire to save sinners, tells the young man how to be saved. The answer, to give up all he has and follow him, is a call to repentance.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)

The young man must repent by acknowledging his unconfessed sins, and by turning away from his sins of pride and idolatry. How? By taking action and eliminating the source of his twin sins: his riches. What Jesus prescribes is the cure for his unsaved state, but it is not without a medicine bitter to those in love with the world. When Jesus calls the young man (or any of us) to follow him, he is  sending the subtle message that the narrow way that Jesus blazes for each of us will not be easy.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.(Matthew 16:24)

 The young man is not prepared for the narrow way, cannot face up to his sins, is unwilling to repent. His self-procalimed faith and righteousness are insincere and, without the proof of his repentance, false.
What can each of us learn about repentance from the rich young man’s encounter?
1. Repentance means that we know that God desires us to acknowledge our sinful nature.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51) 
2. Repentance requires a deep examination of ourselves, to allow God to reveal the inner truth of our wretched lives in sin.
“and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”(Psalm 51)
3. Repentance means confession of our sins before God
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:19)
4. Repentance means a turning away from our sins
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”(John 8:11)
5. Repentance means that we will produce good works as evidence of our new life in Christ

 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.(Luke 3:8)

 Let us then be mindful that repentance goes hand in hand with belief. Repentance is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a change of heart, and a change of life. The rich young man learned that our eternal life rests on our belief in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and on our true and complete repentance. 

  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”(Mark 1:15)

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Thank you for writing this one! It is so important to realize that just believing that Jesus is our savior does not mean that one is saved. Take a look at James 2:14-26.

    -What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.-

    “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). Are these demons also saved? They believe. Doesn’t that make them children of God? No!

    Your life should change when you become a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Your habits and thoughts and actions should change to reflect that you belong to Christ. This may not happen immediately, it may come gradually. But if there is no difference between your old behavior and your new behavior, then perhaps you should take a moment to examine yourself.

    Ephesians 4:20-24
    -You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.-

    How I wish someone would have helped me understand this at a younger age! How many bad decisions and heartbreaks might I have avoided (causing)? I was taught that if you said the “sinner’s prayer” and believed it, you were saved. Presto! I prayed that prayer no less than 5 times in my life. Probably more. I know I did it when I was 5, 11, 14, 16 and 31. I was “saved” at least 5 times! (there are more times, but I don’t remember them specifically) So, was I saved just because I recited that prayer? Why then did I feel the need to keep “getting saved”?
    Because I was not saved.


    Where was my “new self”? Why was I still so comfortable in my “old self”? I just claimed salvation and went on living any way I pleased. How insulting I was to claim the precious blood of Jesus and continue living like the devil. My heart hurts to think how I took the gift of salvation for granted. How I just trampled it beneath my feet. What a horrible witness I must have been.

    I didn’t understand what salvation meant. I didn’t understand what repentance meant. Therefore, I didn’t understand the need for it. It is so important that this is taught to people! It is chilling to think of all of the children today who are taught the magical “sinner’s prayer” and who go on believing that they are saved without having ever learned or expressed true repentance.

    To me, this is the most chilling passage in the Bible:

    Matthew 7:21-23
    – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’-


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