A rich young ruler came to Jesus with an important question: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”
Depending on what religious background you come from, there could be different answers.
Some religions reject the very idea of “eternal life” and believe your spirit will live on in some form or another and that reincarnation depends on how you lived in the present life.
Other religions believe you inherit eternal life by the good deeds you do in this life.
Christianity is unique in stating there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life, but that it is a free gift given by faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet, when we look at this young man’s encounter with Jesus, the answer Jesus gave seems to imply we do inherit eternal life by what we do.
Jesus told him “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Is Jesus saying that we are saved by obeying the commandments? What about the verses that declare we are saved by grace and not by our own efforts?
When the young man asked Jesus exactly what commandments he should keep, Jesus recited six of the ten commandments. The young man informed Jesus that he had kept all these commandments all his life, but then asked, “What do I still lack?”
The rich young ruler was confident of his goodness. Still, he apparently recognized that something was missing. He had been honest and truthful. He had kept himself pure from sinful deeds. So what did he lack?
Jesus saw that this young man was leading a selfish life. He had not cheated anyone, but he had also not been willing to share his riches to help others. He lacked the love of God for others.
Jesus was pointing out the one area where the man did not fulfill the Law. If inheriting eternal life meant giving up his wealth, he was not willing to do that. His love of wealth became the obstacle to his following Jesus. His love of money prevented him from obeying the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
Today many look at this story and say that only applied to this young man because Jesus knew the young man’s heart was focused on money. He would never ask us to sell all we have and give to the poor.
Probably not. But I think the lesson for us is to examine our own heart. Is there anything we want to hold on for ourselves and not surrender to the Lord. Maybe it is our money. Are we generous with the financial blessings we have been given? Do we spend it all on ourselves or reach out to the needy in our community? Maybe it is our time. Are we willing to turn off the TV and spend some time in prayer and God’s Word. Or give up that nap we had planned and go visit someone who is lonely and in need of encouragement. Maybe it is our talent. Do we seek how we can use the God-given abilities to not enjoy ourselves but to help someone else? Bake that cake for a neighbor, knit a scarf for the homeless, play music to the elderly in the nursing homes.
Eternal life is a gift from God. But we need to make sure that there is nothing that stands between us and a love for God that puts Him first, others second and then ourselves.
Is there anything I lack? Lord, show me.