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

by Mike Ratliff

17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17 (NKJV) 

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.”

13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 (NKJV) 

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 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17 (NKJV) 

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 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” Mark 10:18-19 (NKJV) 

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 answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Mark 10:20 (NKJV) 

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 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Mark 10:21 (NKJV) 

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 he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches 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 (NKJV) 

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 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?”
27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
28 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall 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. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:26-31 (NKJV) 

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 He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His 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 of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 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 (NKJV) 

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!

7 thoughts on “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

  1. So many get confused and think that children are all saved. The Scripture is clear – we are evil in the womb and all deserve God’s wrath. It’s childlike faith, not the faith of children, that we are told we must have! As you noted – it’s that faith God gives which takes Him as truth without guile.

    He is good and gracious towards sinners, that we would bring Him honor and glory.


  2. Good article. You said, “Children do not belong automatically to the kingdom but must come to Jesus and receive Him the same as adults.” Do you see anywhere in the scripture where that “age of accountability” may be indicated, where an infant, toddler, or young child reaches a point where that decision must be made – and are they received into His kingdom if they should pass before that age ?? I know, tough question, but I don’t have a good answer for grieving parents who ask that and I thought maybe you could help. Thanks.


  3. All the Israelites under 20 were allowed to enter the promised land under Joshua, while the “adults” perished (Numbers 32). Some people take this to mean that there is an age of accountability.


  4. The adults in that case refused to keep the covenants with God loving their unbelief more than obedience to God. The Children had not grown up in Egypt, but had grown up in the wilderness so they were not contaminated by the world system there. Look at the history of Israel and you will see that those who did enter still contained people who were unbelievers.


  5. People mistakenly perceive children as being “innocent before the Lord” because they’ve heard this erroneous doctrine being taught instead of children being guilty before God due to their sin nature. It doesn’t take deeds, it just takes a sin nature, which everyone is born with, for us to be “children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3) Scripture teaches “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10) in contrast to “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:3) It gives no exception for those underage to reach an “age of accountability,” a man-made phrase who can’t tolerate God’s doctrine of election. How, then, could Romans 9:11,13 be explained, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls;…As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”? Paul explained it – “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy…” (Romans 9:15)

    It is quite a dangerous leap to form a doctrine of innocence based on God allowing young people to enter the promised land. God killed MANY YOUNG children. Did he spare the children from the flood? No. From Sodom and Gomorrah? No. He did not declare them innocent and unworthy of death.

    Parents would be wise to realize they are not raising an innocent child. They are raising a sinner in need of a Savior.


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