“’All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Luke 18:21–22, NIV84)
The original question — “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” — is a genuinely fair question. Jesus respected the young man’s honest question with a list of requirements on the second table of the law. Do not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Do not kill. All the commandments Jesus referenced are commandments of how we should treat people. To these, the young man said, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” He had worked diligently to keep outwardly obedient to the second table of the law. Jesus, who alone can peer into the heart of a man, said to the young man wanting to know what he could do to ensure that he inherited eternal life: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The young man was now faced with the content of the first table of the law. Jesus now forced him to face the one thing he lacked — a faithful relationship with God. He had kept his life externally obedient. But what about the inside? What about where the heart is? Jesus challenged the rich young man to give his possessions to the poor and come follow Him. He received the same call as the disciples. He was called to leave what he had and follow Jesus wherever He might lead. With this invitation Jesus answered the young man’s original question. Jesus was saying that in order to inherit eternal life, you must believe He is God. You must believe that all you have is a gift from Him. You must believe that if Jesus calls you to leave behind all, you are to follow Him. That’s what must be done. The response from the rich young man should have been the same as that of the disciples who dropped their nets and followed Him. But that wasn’t the case. The young man went away sad because he was too tied to what he thought were his possessions.
What about you and me? Are our hearts in the right place to inherit eternal life? Do we understand that it is not about external obedience, but rather internal faith in Him who loves, saves and redeems?