Date:    8/31/03

Text:     Luke 18:18-30

Title:     Do You Want Eternal Life?

Theme: Eternal life is not an achievement of man, but a gift from God to be received.



            Many of us have been asked, “Do you want to receive God's gift of eternal life?” When we were young and healthy, we felt invincible. Sickness and death belonged to others. Eternal life seemed distant, impractical and unrealistic.

In 1995, my father died. In 1997, my mom died. As we siblings walked away from mom’s funeral service, we expressed this sentiment: Next time when we come together like this, it will be for the funeral of one of us. Suddenly, one of us will be next in line. Since then, eternal life has become a much more meaningful and personal reality. When we or our loved ones are seriously sick, eternal life begins to take on a new meaning.

            This morning I want to talk to you about eternal life. In the Bible, especially in today’s passage, eternal life is not limited to the life beyond this life. Eternal life, salvation and entering God's kingdom, are clustered together.

            Today’s passage begins with a government official asking Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You probably have also asked this or similar questions: how can I have eternal life? So, let us explore the answer to this question.

I.          Man attempts to earn eternal life through his merits.

            In vs.18, “And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He calls Jesus the good teacher. He was thinking that he could earn eternal life by doing something. If Jesus would give him a list, then he could begin working on them; a very practical person.

            Jesus'' response, 19, “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” This meant that since only God is good, and you called me good, are you serious about this? Are you willing to listen to and obey me as you would obey God?

            Since you want to know what you must do to inherit eternal life,  v20, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” Please note that Jesus had rearranged part of the order of the 10 commandments by placing honoring parents last. Do not commit adultery means faithfulness and loyalty to one’s family. And the last item listed is: honor your parents, again, loyalty to the family. Jesus began and ended with loyalty to the family. Clearly, loyalty to the family is the focal point. He told this ruler, if you want eternal life, then you must be loyal to your family. There is also the respect for other’s life, property and reputation.

            According to the Jewish tradition, only Abraham, Moses and Aaron were considered as having completely kept the commandments. In v21, “And he (the ruler) said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” He was putting himself on the same par as Abraham, Moses and Aaron. This was unheard of in that culture. He was a man of self-confidence and self righteous.

            To him, eternal life, our status with God, entering God's kingdom, could be earned. Don’t we feel the same? Sometimes I hear this in a funeral service: he/she is just a good person. He must be in heaven now. Pollsters in this country have asked, “how do you know you will go to heaven when you die?” Many replied; I have been a pretty good person; doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes. I have my shares of mistakes, but overall, I am a decent person. I am a good family man. I am ethical and moral, most of the time. I think I can go to heaven. We suppose that eternal life and salvation can be acquired by our wealth and good behavior.

II.         Man fails to earn eternal life through his merits.

            Jesus'' response to the ruler must come as a surprise. Vs 22, “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus told him that he lacked one thing. He still needed to do one thing. What is it? Sell all that you have, and come, follow me. To the 1st century Middle East listener, this simply means: selling your possession, family possession, leave them behind. In addition, leave your family behind, and follow me.

            To the ruler, he has no problem with loyalty to his family. He has been doing that since youth. But here, Jesus wants him to place his loyalty to him beyond his loyalty to the family possession and family members. It is a demand of radical obedience.

            This “lacking one thing” is an important theme in Jesus teaching. In the narrative of Mary and Martha, Jesus told Martha that she lacked one thing. What was lacking? To put loyalty to Jesus above all else. Here, the ruler lacks the placing of loyalty to Jesus beyond his loyalty to the family.

            In the OT, Abraham left Ur, his country. He left his possession, family possession behind. His loyalty to God was above his possessions. Then on Mount Moriah, he was ready to sacrifice his only beloved son in obedience to God. He placed his loyalty to God above his loyalty to his family members.

            So what was Jesus' requirement for eternal life? Loyalty to him must be above loyalty to family and all else. When the ruler heard this, vs.23, “he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” He knew he couldn’t do this. he couldn’t put loyalty to Jesus above his loyalty to family and possessions. He had called Jesus ‘good’, but he wasn’t ready to listen and obey him. It was painful, because he loved his wealth. He was painful also because he realized he could not earn or buy his way into God's kingdom. He could not exchange salvation with his wealth and good behavior.

People with wealth know the power of money. Many in HK and Taiwan know that with money you can have a second family in China. The Chinese merchants in Almaty know that money can buy their way out of a traffic ticket. Money can buy them out of jail and other troubles. Chinese have a saying that money can even cause the ghost to push the cart for you.

Yet, this ruler’s story tells us that our status before God, our salvation or eternal life cannot be bought or exchanged with our merits. When we come to eternal life, self confidence, self-righteousness, money and power have no place whatsoever.

I know you are a good person. You are moral and ethical. But are you lacking one thing? Have you placed your loyalty to Jesus above your loyalty to your family and possessions? Have you placed your loyalty to Jesus above your study, career and relationships? Wealth, Career, Family and Relationships can all be obstacles to Jesus'' call to follow him.

III.       Eternal life is to be received as a gift.

            1.         Impossible for men to enter God's kingdom.

V24-25, “Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus was sad because this ruler was unable to put loyalty to Jesus above his loyalty to his family. So he told the listeners the parable of the Camel and the needle. In Palestine, the camel is the largest animal. It is impossible for the camel to go through the eye of a needle. Likewise, it is also impossible for a rich man to leave his resources and follow Christ.

The bystanders asked, v26, “Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” if the rich people, with all their resources, cannot enter God's kingdom, how can we, with so little resources enter?” vs27, “But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

            It is impossible for man to place his loyalty to God, to Jesus above all else. It is difficult or impossible for some of us to place loyalty to Jesus beyond our careers and relationships. It is impossible for me to enter into God's kingdom, to earn salvation and eternal life with my merits; but it is possible with God. Loyalty to God beyond our loyalty to family and possessions is impossible from human perspective. But it is possible with God. God is powerful to do the impossible.

            As we follow this story, then the question naturally turns to: has anyone ever met such demands? Has anyone actually experienced God's power?

2.                  The impossible demand is made possible because of God's work of grace.

At this point, Peter, representing the disciples jumped in, v28, “And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” Peter is saying, look, we have left our possessions and families, and have followed you.” Look, “we have experienced the impossible. Because of the miracle of God's grace, we have placed our loyalty to Jesus above loyalty to our family and possessions.” A commentator said, “Their following of Jesus was the only reason they were able to leave everything behind.

            Then Jesus responded to them. Vs 29-30, “And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Jesus says, Amen. You are right. Then he further explained, “in the OT, as God's faithful, you are to leave your  neighbor’s wife alone, but now, there are times, you may have to leave your wife. In the old, you are to honor your parents, but now, you may have to leave your family. To the 1st century listeners, this is utterly impossible. No one can do this. But Jesus' teaching is that, with God, this is possible. It is God's miracle of grace, that enables us to put loyalty to Him above all else.

            Peter and the disciples experienced this power, this work of grace. Throughout the church history, countless individuals had also experienced this. I think of some Jewish Christians. When they decide to follow Christ, their families would perform a funeral service to signify their death and termination of the family tie. It was God's grace that enables such Christians to place their loyalty to Jesus above their family relationships. I think of a family in Almaty. For them to follow Jesus, they have to risk being laughed at and may be even ostracized by their relatives. Yet, by God's grace, their loyalty to Jesus is above their family bonds.

            And you know what? As God works that miracle in us, enabling us to place our loyalty to him above family and possessions, we’ll also receive eternal life. With this, the teaching has come a full circle. It begins with the question: what must I do to inherit, to earn eternal life?  The answer: Nothing. All you have to do is to receive God's work of grace, that which will enable you to follow him and place him above all. Then eternal life, salvation, will be given to you. It is a gift.


            The disciples in that 1st century were given the grace to respond to the new demand of  radical obedience. They broke their cultural norm and placed obedience to Jesus higher than loyalty to family and property. Jesus responded and confirmed that they will receive eternal life.

How can I have eternal life? We too, have been presented the standards: our loyalty to Jesus must be above our loyalty to material possessions and even our families. Like that ruler, it is impossible for us to meet this standard. None of us can by our own efforts and merits earn eternal life. Salvation is not and cannot be an achievement of man, but to be a work of God. How so?

            You see, even as Jesus was saying that to man it is impossible, but to God it is possible, he was pointing to his obedience to God. Philippians 2:8, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”  He alone was able to put loyalty to God above all else. He fully responded to that demand of radical obedience. Because he was totally obedient to God, and when we receive him, accept his work of salvation and follow him, God considers his righteousness as ours, as if we have met the requirement. And he gives us the gift of eternal life. It is through his work of grace, that we not only have eternal life, but also the strength to put our loyalty to him above our family, our career and our possession.

            Do you want to receive God's gift of eternal life? To receive this eternal life is to receive God's grace. The grace that through Jesus'' death, my sins are forgiven; the grace that Jesus' total obedience to God was counted as mine; the grace that will enable me to respond to his demand for radical obedience.