What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?

by Mike Ratliff

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV)

The natural man cannot conceive of eternal life coming to anyone who does not “earn” or somehow “deserve” it. Jesus’ teaching set the record straight, but many today still do not regard what He said. Even preachers and religious leaders have bent the truth and twisted it in such a way so as to provide a way for professing believers to have a “work” they could point back to that marks them as having done that one thing that enables them to inherit eternal life. The Kingdom of God is not earned by people who somehow elevate themselves higher than others through their good works or their religiosity. No, our Lord used children as examples whom He referred to this way, “For to such belongs the kingdom of God.” 

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16 ESV)

Children do not belong automatically to the Kingdom but must come to Jesus and receive Him the same as adults, but what our Lord was saying is that no one can enter His Kingdom except by this same child-like faith, which is with humble trusting dependence, and the recognition of having achieved nothing of value or virtue in the sense of having “earned” or “deserved” salvation. This event in the Gospel of Mark is immediately followed by our Lord’s encounter with a rich young man who asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV)

This question is steeped in legalism. His mindset was such that he could only conceive of some religious deed that would guarantee him eternal life. What was our Lord’s response?

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 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.'” (Mark 10:18-19 ESV)

When I was a fairly new Christian, this question by our Lord puzzled me. However, now I understand that what He was doing was challenging the implications of ascribing to Him the title “good.” This is a title that fits only God completely so was he prepared to recognize the deity of our Lord? Then our Lord challenged him to compare his life with the standard of God’s Law. What was the young man’s response?

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10:20 ESV)

No one can make this claim in complete sincerity. This young man’s answer was superficial and untrue. Since he obviously believed this about himself, we should wonder why he came to Jesus to ask his question.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 ESV)

Our Lord was not making philanthropy or poverty a requirement for salvation. This command was for the intent of exposing the young man’s heart. He reveals that he is not blameless in his response to this command. If this young man had obeyed this command he would have given away or sold everything and come and followed our Lord. This would reveal a heart that loved God more than money and possessions.

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:22-25 ESV)

Through this encounter our Lord also revealed the legalistic bent in some of His disciples. Riches tend to breed self-sufficiency and a false sense of security, leading those who have them to imagine they do not need divine resources. This astonished the disciples. Our Lord reiterated the impossibility of the proud being saved by comparing the possibility of their salvation to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Without the divine gift of a child-like, humble faith there is no possibility of salvation. The disciples were still nonplussed.

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:26-31 ESV)

The key to this passage is found in v31. Instead of looking for “what must I do to inherit eternal life,” it is the inconspicuous, humble, obedient disciple (the last) who will receive the greatest honor (first). Those who are truly saved are in the Kingdom of God according to the will of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

Christians are saved not by having earned or deserved it, but according to the grace of God. The faith that believes is part of the gift of God for we are His workmanship unto good works. We will do those good works after God saves us, not as a prerequisite for earning it.

Soli Deo Gloria!

12 thoughts on “What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?

  1. This article is a direct answer to my something I was praying about a few hours ago.
    God bless you and thank you.


  2. Amen dear brother.
    None of us could or would ever be saved if it had been left up to us. It is and only can be fully of God, from start to finish. No questions, no doubt – absolutely of Him. It is only through the finihed work of Christ on the cross and through His blood, that we are made acceptable. That is the gift. Praise God that He has shown us this immense thing.
    Bless you


  3. Saved from legalism by God’s sovereign Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 is truly precious.

    Amen for this message.

    God bless you brother.


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  5. The encounter between the rich young ruler and Jesus is a favorite illustration of mine when I go out evangelizing. I use it to reveal to the person that I am talking to whether he has repented of his sin, counted the cost, and taken his cross and is following Christ.

    You will be amazed to find out that after explaining this passage to the person that he hasn’t repented of his sin, counted the cost or is a true disciple of Christ even after he has stated that he has broken God’s law, knows that he is a sinner, believes that Jesus is God, and believes that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone.

    I also tell them that if there is anything in their lives that they love or value more than Jesus whether it is their family, friends, job, or money like that rich young ruler they are not true disciples of Christ. I then continue to tell the person that it’s more than just acknowledging who Christ is and that he is the way to salvation. This is simply only head knowledge and the rich young ruler had that same head knowledge.

    The majority of the people that I have spoken to who claim to be Christians have told told me that that they have not repented after I have finished explaining this passage to them. That’s because they were only professing Christians and not true followers of Christ. Salvation is of the Lord and it’s by grace alone that we are saved. Even repentance is a gift of God. The passage clearly illustrates that the rich young ruler was no true follower of Christ despite the fact that he knew who Christ is and that He is the way to salvation because he walked away when Jesus revealed his sin of idolatry to him and he wasn’t willing to give up his riches to follow Christ.

    Sadly, this is the case for all professing Christians. Professing Christians have a head knowledge of who Christ is and that he is the way to salvation, but the salvation they believe that they have received is not from God because when put to the test they are no more a true disciple of Christ than the rich young ruler was. Great article Mike!


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