What must I do to inherit eternal life?
In Mark 10:17-31, we see the story of a rich, young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ This was a young, successful man of influence humbling himself, kneeling on the ground before Jesus, acknowledging that on his own he wasn’t enough. He saw that all the commandments he was keeping and all the wealth and success he had achieved just wasn’t enough before God.
This man’s question revealed a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus, a misconception that is common today, too. He asked Jesus, ‘what must I DO to inherit eternal life?’ The beauty of the Gospel, is that it’s not about anything we ourselves could ever DO. If we were to try and receive eternal life in our own strength, we would have to ‘love the Lord with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourself’ (Mark 20:30-31). This is what Jesus refers to as the greatest commandment, the one that encompasses and sums up all the others. We would have to do this absolutely perfectly every single day, never putting a foot out of line, if we wanted to try and be completely perfect and blameless. Jesus puts it plainly later in verse 27 - ‘humanly speaking that is impossible’.
The Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard’ (Romans 3:23-24), and this rich young man saw that. In the eyes of the world he had it all, but on the inside he knew something was missing. He knew that on his own he wasn’t enough. While we have all fallen so short of God’s standard, the second part of this verse in Romans says that ‘God, in His grace, makes us right in His sight through Jesus’. Neither us, nor this rich man, can do anything to receive eternal life and be made right in God’s sight. We are only made right before Him if we believe and accept what Jesus did for us on the cross and choose to follow Him.
Further on in the passage, Jesus begins listing the Old Testament commandments to this man. Verse 19 says, ‘you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’ These commands are taken from the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus chapter 20 in the Old Testament. It’s interesting to notice that here, Jesus only references the ones that are about the way we treat other people. But let’s read some of the other commandments that Jesus doesn’t list to the rich man: