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What can I do to have eternal life?

July 10, 2011

There was a story in Mark 10 where Jesus had this talk with a young man. The story can have several meanings, if interpreted wrongly. Let’s look at it together.

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?”

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.’
20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

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.”
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.”

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.”

My initial thoughts on this were:

  • We have to follow the Ten commandments, and give away our money to the poor to be saved
  • Rich people cannot be saved (as indicated by “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle..”)
  • God can do anything, even those that we consider impossible

That does not get very far, doesn’t it. The last point does not even connect to the other two, or to the story. The first two bothered me so much, not because I do not want to give up my money, but because Jesus made that the point. Why is money something to give away? Apparently I am not the only one who have this question; the disciples also asked the same. I asked God about this hesitation for several days, and as always, He answers.

What Jesus wanted to say in that story is:

  • There is nothing we can do to be saved.
    Giving up money is just one example Jesus used because He knows how much difficult that is.
  • Only God can save us.
    We need to realize that it is impossible to save ourselves. Nothing we do will ever be good enough. Having this helplessness is the only way to see that God has offered us salvation, through Jesus Christ. It is impossible for us, but not for God.
It is interesting for me to see how this message from 2000 years ago is still applicable to the world today. People nowadays look at money as the source of power, esteem, and comfort (like a child’s security blanket). It is true to some extent, but pursuing it as our top goal only gives short-term joy, if not more stress than ever. Being rich makes one feels self-sufficient, unable to see his/her actual need.
Instead of watching us being helpless, God extends His grace through Jesus Christ, so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). It is a gift that cannot be repaid by any means of good deeds. It is meant to be received by humble hearts.

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