Question: Jesus was asked about eternal life. "Now behold, one came and said to Him, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?'" This is a clear and direct question to the Lord Himself. It was a great occasion to explain His personal viewpoint. "So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments'" (See Matthew 19:16-17; Mark 10:17-19; Luke 18:18-20). We have three different witnesses in the Bible from three different evangelists on the same topic; all of them give us the same words. Jesus gave the answer: "Keep the commandments." He could have said: "Do you believe in me? Then you are fine." But He gave another answer. I know what to do to be saved. I need to obey the commandments.
Answer: This man asks an important question: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Though he was a moral person, yet he was anxious and uncertain about the future. He felt that he still lacked something, and came to Jesus for assurance and direction.
Knowing the man’s heart, Jesus’ purpose is to make him realize his inordinate trust in riches and love for money, and therefore his lack of trust in God.
Jesus’ answer is unexpected: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Immediately, the Lord begins to deal with this man’s problem. He taught of himself as “good” and found no difficulty to address this “rabbi” by the same title - for this young Jew did not know that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus underlines the truth that only God is good, and by implication that all people, including the most religious, are not good.
Then Jesus tells him: “…But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” and then lists several commandments in the second table of the Law. "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother’ and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." One of the purposes of the Law is to teach us the way to eternal life: “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Not least because the Law serves as a mirror that reveals our sinfulness, and therefore we feel the need for a Saviour. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
To this, the young man naively answers: “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Did he really keep the commandments impeccably? The best answer a believer can give would be, “Yes, Lord, by your grace I keep the commandments. Yet not perfectly. Constantly I need your mercy because I often sin!” This man thought he kept all the commandments always. Undoubtedly, he was outwardly a very moral man and strict in his religion, just as Saul was before his conversion: “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” His moral pride was blinding him to the reality of his sinful and greedy heart. Clearly, Jesus had to put his finger straight on the wound, and without directly mentioning them, Jesus applies the first and last of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me…You shall not covet.” Jesus told him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Why did Jesus ask him to do something that He does not usually require of all His followers? Undoubtedly, Jesus set before him the ultimate choice between serving one master or another to expose the condition of his heart. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). This man's god was mammon; his heart was covetous. Would he continue to trust in his many possessions and riches; or would he forsake his idol and follow the Lord? Sadly, this young man persisted in the wrong way, went away back to his possessions and left Him who is the Life that he desired. How tragic!
What can we conclude? The Lord himself explains the significance of this story. First of all, He reveals our sinful tendency to trust in riches rather than God. “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, 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.” This problem is not limited to the rich, for poor people can be equally covetous. Understanding this sinful tendency in all people, the apostles exclaim: “Who then can be saved?” To this, Jesus makes a statement that applies to all of us: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Sinful man cannot attain salvation by their works. Salvation is the work of the omnipotent God. It is ironic that some wrest the words of Jesus, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” and come to the very opposite conclusion, supposing that they can merit eternal life by the works of the Law.
Secondly, Jesus offers great comfort and hope to His true disciples. They believe in Him, and what was previously impossible becomes real. Why? Because God does the impossible and changes their heart. The apostles were a case in point. They had left everything and followed Him, and Jesus promises them and all who follow Him, great rewards and eternal life.
Is there evidence that the camel has, by the power of God, passed through the eye of the needle? Do you love God more than money and the things of this world? Are you following the Lord Jesus?
Or perhaps, not knowing the grace of God, is the camel still struggling to pass through the tiny hole? The law, and your imperfect outward obedience to it, cannot achieve what God alone can do.
Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A