Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

by Mike Ratliff

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?” (Mark 10:17 NASB)

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 the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” 

13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16 NASB)

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?

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?” (Mark 10:17 NASB)

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?

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.'” (Mark 10:18-19 NASB)

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?

20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” (Mark 10:20 NASB)

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.

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.” (Mark 10:21 NASB)

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.

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!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:22-25 NASB)

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.

26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “ Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “ With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” 29 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 farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (Mark 10:26-31 NASB)

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.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 NASB)

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!

5 thoughts on “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

  1. Good message Mike ! So many confuse this truth with the Epistle of James – post conversion works (fruit of the Spirit). James 2:18, “…..and I will show thee my faith by my works.”


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