Revelations from the Word

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What must I do to have eternal life?

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"Now behold, one came and said to Him, Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? So He said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to Him, Which ones? Jesus said, You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and your mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The young man said to Him, All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack? Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:16-22).

The question of the 'rich young man' was about what he had to do well, to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered him that only God was good, meaning that He alone was able to give eternal life. The crowd had already asked Jesus, "What must we do in order to carry out the works of God?" (John 6:28), and Jesus had replied, "What God requires, is that you believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). No man can do the works of God if God has not beforehand carried out His work in this man, and this work consists of attracting men to Jesus (John 6:44).

Jesus progressively led the rich young man to consider that, in spite of all he was doing, he could never obtain eternal life. By his works, he could never buy his salvation, for "the one who does work receives payment not by grace but as what he is owed" (Romans 4:4). If salvation could be bought, it would no longer be a work of divine grace! That is why Jesus said to the rich young man, "If you want to be perfect…" effectively saying to him, "if you want to obtain eternal life, be like God!". Jesus led the rich young man to leave behind "doing" for "being", which God wants, in order "to be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

Then the disciples asked this question, "Who can be saved?" (Matthew 19:25), and Jesus answered, "With men that is impossible, but with God everything is possible" (Matthew 19:26). No man can be saved by doing something for God. We do not enter the Kingdom of God by our own works and our earthly riches (Matthew 19:23-24), but by letting God recreate us in His image, "We are His handiwork, having been created in Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 2:10). That is why Jesus said to the young man, "If you want to be perfect, that is to say born again… abandon everything that is dear to you… come and follow Me! to receive eternal life".