“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 ESV)
Today we continue reading the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus seeking how to obtain eternal life. Jesus did not give this man a direct answer but instead conversed with him in order to expose the status of his heart.
Jesus’ response to Him is quite interesting. He tells him there is only one who is good, which seems off-topic. But Jesus was obviously referring to God. In other words He was telling this young man that, despite what he thought, he could not be good enough to enter heaven. Jesus was exposing the flaws in his thinking.
But Jesus does give the man an answer to his question. He tells him to keep the commandments. This is true. If someone does keep all the commandments, that person will enter heaven. Jesus already told us this during His Sermon on the Mount which we studied earlier. If one can live a perfect life then he can enter heaven [Matthew 5:48].
Notice the man’s response. It’s actually quite humorous. He asks “Which ones?” as if he didn’t need to comply with all of God’s commands.
Sadly, many people think they can pick and choose which of God’s commands they’ll follow. And worse, they think that God is okay with that. They think that they need to be honest (to a point) but that they can marry someone of the same-sex. They think they should not murder but that it’s okay to lust. But the standard for heaven is following 100% of God’s commands 100% of the time.
Jesus plays along with this man and mentions only the last six of the Ten Commandments – the ones that deal with interpersonal relationships. Jesus does not mention the first four which deal with one’s relationship with God. Those are harder to follow. Jesus is giving this guy a lot of rope.
The man’s next reply, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”, tells us a lot. It tells us that he thought he was a pretty good guy. He had done a pretty good job of keeping God’s commandments (at least in his own mind). But as hard as he tried he knew he was missing something but he didn’t know what it was. If only he could figure out what to “do” his eternity would be set.
This man is like all of us. We think we can earn our way to heaven by our behavior. But everything we do is sin anyway [Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:18]. Doing things (or not doing them) for the sake of getting into heaven is selfishness and is therefore sin.
The problem is that we don’t understand that God’s law was never meant to be a means to heaven. God’s law was meant to point out our sinfulness [Romans 7:7]. It was meant to show us how far short of God’s perfect standard we are and the impossibility of ever being “good enough” to get into heaven.
Since there is nothing we can “do” to stamp our ticket to eternal life, how does one get into heaven? Jesus will give us the answer tomorrow.
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