What must you do to inherit eternal life?

What must you do to inherit eternal life?

Matthew 19:16

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?

It Isn’t What You Do

When a rich young man came up to Jesus to ask Him what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life, he asked the wrong question. It is never what we can do, but what Jesus has done. Could any of us ever do enough good deeds to save ourselves since even our best works are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6)? If it were up to us, then all of us would be hopelessly lost. Jesus mildly rebuked the man by telling him that none are good but God (Matt 19:17). One man a friend and I witnessed to considered himself not just a good person but, in his words, “a great person.” I told him that this is contrary to what the Bible teaches, that none of us are good (Rom 3:10), that every one of us fall exceedingly short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), and that all we have coming to us is what we’ve earned: death (Rom 6:23). He still didn’t humble himself and thought that he was good enough to go to heaven. When I told him that Jesus said that none are good but God, he refused to even listen.

Self-righteous Justification

Jesus told the rich young man what he must do, since he was focused on doing good deeds to receive eternal life.  Jesus told him about the commandments, and then, bragging to Jesus, the young man said, “All of these I have kept” (Matt 19:2). But could he or any of us really keep the commandments? I would ask this young man, “Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever looked at a woman with lust? Because Jesus equated this with adultery of the heart (Matt 5:28). Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever hated anyone? Because hating someone is equated with murdering someone in your heart (Matt 5:22).” Then I would remind him that all liars, all the sexually immoral, and all murderers will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). Would he still consider himself a good person? Would he still think that he kept all the commandments? Breaking even one of them is like breaking them all (James 2:10). So much for being a good person or justifying one’s self by doing good deeds.

Idolatry of the Heart

Jesus, seeing that He was getting nowhere with this self-righteous man, told him that “if you want to be perfect, go and sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor and then follow Me” (Matt 19:21), to which the young man went away sorrowful since his money was his god. Apparently, he didn’t feel so good about himself anymore. Jesus used the law to humble the man and break his pride of self-righteousness. Doing good is not ever going to be enough for anyone to inherit eternal life. Here is the only work that a person can do to save themselves: to believe in the One Who the Father has sent (John 6:29). There is no other way to eternal life except to believe in the Son of God (John 3:16).

A Closing Prayer

Oh Holy Father, none of us will ever do enough good or be good enough to inherit eternal life. It isn’t ever what we do, but about what Jesus has done, and what He has done on the cross is the only way that we can be saved. Help me to remember that we can never save ourselves, but only by believing in Jesus Christ by repenting and trusting in Him. In Jesus’ name I pray to remember this.


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