17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ ” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”
There are people who want eternal life, but do not understand the costs. There are other people who distort the Gospel and declare there is nothing you have to do to have eternal life: never mind that the Bible says to confess, repent, be baptized, and live faithfully. It’s probably true that there are more people who think they are going to heaven than those who think they are going to hell. With just about every person being eulogized, the comment is “he’s in a better place”. If you know the Bible, you know statistically it can not be true. Jesus said the way is broad, and many, not few, are going that way the leads to destruction. So most people are lost, but most people like to imagine they will die and go to a better place.
The rich young ruler who approached Jesus had an understanding that there were requirements to getting eternal life. Though misguided, he was not entirely off track. There is something you have to do to inherit eternal life. The problem is that fleshly men want to offer God what God does not desire. The Bible is riddled with men attempting to bring to God what He did not ask for. It began with Cain. It was seen with Saul excusing himself for not slaughtering all of the animals explaining that he would offer them to God in a sacrifice. The prophet told Saul that God wants obedience over sacrifice, 1 Sam 15:22. So the young ruler wasn’t entirely off base to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus replied to the young ruler what the Commandments were, and the Jesus intentionally only mentioned from the last six of the 10 from Exodus 20. The last six commandments had to do with the relationship with his fellow man. And the man exclaimed he had kept them all from his youth. What Jesus did not point out was the first four commandments which had to do with worshiping only God and having no other god. This, I believe, was the weakness of the young man. And his riches represented the god or idol in this man’s heart. The 10 commandments, as I say, have to do with commandments towards God and commandments towards our conduct towards men. And we know that Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love one’s fellow man, and he added “upon these the law and prophets depend.” So a man might love his fellow man and keep all of the commandments related from his youth. But the same man can love his false idol more than the true God.
Jesus loved the young man. Jesus could see a spark of something good in the man. But the man was conflicted the way James says is possible, when one is double-minded who believes but isn’t willing to give up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus said to the young man “one thing you lack”. Now Jesus did not say, “you lack faith”, though true. Jesus did not say, “you love money more than God”, though true. But what Jesus said what the man lacked was to give up his riches and follow Him. A lot of modern preachers would say Jesus was demanding too much. A lot of modern teachers would say this requirement has no modern equivalent and that no one is expected to set all of his riches aside to follow Jesus. But it’s not true. In fact, there isn’t one person going to heaven who hasn’t put aside and left behind his idol so that he could follow Jesus. The Hebrews writer said that to run the race to eternal life you have to lay aside “every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and run the race with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus”, Heb. 12:1ff. So to answer the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Lay aside your idols and follow Jesus.
Do you think there is nothing you have to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said if you want to be His disciple, you have to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.” For the rich young ruler, denial of self was going to be an impossibility as long as he had a cent of his riches, and Jesus knew it. Jesus told the man the only thing that would save the young man. And it is for each of us to ask, “have I denied myself and have I taken up the cross to follow Jesus?” The cross is the instrument of death, hence death to selfishness is required to be Jesus’ disciple. Putting God first is necessary to inherit eternal life.