By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
Two guys came to Jesus on different occasions and asked the same question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 and Luke 18:18).
Jesus taught in indirect ways, often answering a question with another query. To the lawyer who first came to test him, Jesus asked, “’What is written in the Law?’” (Luke 10:26) and the lawyer gave a correct response. Then, the questioner sought to justify himself with his famous line, “And who is my neighbor?” which prompted Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the parable, it was Jesus who questioned the lawyer as to which was a neighbor to the injured man, and he grudgingly replied, “The one who showed mercy toward him” (Luke 10:36).
The second person who asked the same question is known as the Rich Young Ruler. Perhaps similar to students who try to glad-hand their instructor, he prefaced his statement with the identifier, “Good Teacher.”
The response from Jesus was a bit different, but again he used a question: “’Why do you call me good?’” and followed with a short listing of commandments from the Law.
The young man who’d been a devoted adherent of “thou shalt nots” was happy to say he followed all those. But as he does for us, Jesus pinpointed his greatest area of need. “’Sell…give to the poor…come, follow me’” (Luke 18:22), and the Bible says the man went away sad because he was extremely rich. His commandment to us may not involve selling everything, yet we are to place everything, beyond even our possessions, at his disposal.
There are several words in the short questions of these men that should be examined. An inheritance means first of all that there is nothing I can DO to receive it – it’s a gift of heritage, contrasted to something I earn by keeping laws.
The books of Hebrews and Galatians explain that we become children of God as a result of being adopted into his family. The other consideration is that in order for us to inherit anything, someone must die. Jesus through his death and resurrection provided the way for us to move from spiritual death to inherited life.
Eternal life usually is thought of as endless, but in Jesus’ answer we find also the concept of life as a principle. As a result of sin in the Garden of Eden, humans became alienated from spiritual life of God. However, through faith in Jesus we again become partakers – not in the future, but now – in life the way it was intended.
My favorite statement by Jesus is a prayer, and clarifies the answer to the two men as well to us. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). To know indicates a relationship of intimacy; the same word used to explain the relationship between a man and woman. People who marry become close enough that they ‘rub off’ and become like the one they love.
The answer to, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” is move closer toward Christ and become more like him. Eternal life does not concern how long we’ll live, but indicates a quality of living which brings complete satisfaction.