Obtaining Eternal Life

One day a young man approached Jesus and asked a question of utmost importance. “What good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life?” The question reflects the popular view held by mankind throughout the world, and no doubt throughout the history of the world. That eternal life can be earned by doing good works is articulated in various ways among religious people. However, the Bible clearly teaches that eternal life or salvation cannot be obtained by doing good works or keeping commandments. Not only is eternal life a gift so too are the faith and repentance necessary to receive it. Among other clear passages in the Bible is Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Perhaps, more pertinent to the answer Jesus gave to the young man’s inquiry is Galatians 2:16, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Given the clear teaching of the Bible, this passage which reports the afore mentioned question and Jesus’s response to it poses a problem (Mat. 19:13-22). Jesus answered him, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Obviously, Jesus was not saying that a person could obtain eternal life by keeping the law. Perhaps Jesus’ intent was to point out the man’s inability to keep the law, and therefore, his inability to secure eternal life through keeping it (see Gal 3:10-11). God did not give the law so people could gain eternal life by keeping it, but to show man’s sinfulness and his need for Christ (Gal 3:19-25). However, since the young man claimed to have kept the law from his youth, Jesus pointed out his need another way. Jesus demanded he sell what he had, and give to the poor. It was his possessions that prevented him from trusting God, and committing his life to following Christ. It was his attitude toward his wealth that kept him from entering the kingdom of God.