Leaving All to Follow Christ - Part 1

(Part 1 of a sermon based on Luke 18:18-30)

In the three-year ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth He was asked by different people with different kind of questions. Some asked Him in order to test or to trap Him. Others, however, asked Him sincerely.

In our passage today, we can see a very sincere person asking our Lord Jesus what to do in order to obtain eternal life. Unlike the lawyer who put our Lord to the test by asking Him the same question (Luke 10:25), here Luke does not tell us that the man had such a motive to trap our Lord.

The question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is a very important question. The person who asks such a question is concerned not only of life in this world but also in the world to come. For the question itself pertains to our eternal comfort and salvation wherein God’s promise of abundant life in His presence is at stake.

In our passage, we are going to see that eternal life is for those who leave everything for the sake Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

What must you do to inherit eternal life? That’s the question I want to address as we look at our text. First, we will try to understand what it means by obtaining eternal life. Second, we will explore on the related theme of entering the kingdom of God. Third, we will wind up in discussing the encompassing theme of following Jesus Christ, the Lord and King in the kingdom of God.

Receiving Eternal Life (vv. 18-23)

What does it mean to inherit or to receive eternal life? What really is the essence of this man’s question? Maybe it is necessary to point out that the one asking our Lord is no ordinary person. Luke tells us that he is a ruler. Most probably the man was a respected leader in Jewish society, not necessarily a synagogue or religious leader because in Matthew’s account he was still young (Mt. 19:20). As noted earlier, his question is similar to the lawyer in Luke 10.

In essence, the ruler wants to be assured of his salvation in the final resurrection. Eternal life for him, in other words, is the essential covenant blessing that God promises in His Word, not only for this life but especially for the life to come.

So he is asking if there’s still something he needs to do in order to enjoy God’s blessings both in this life and the future life. So the question pertains to the kind of life God promises to all His covenant people, to all His children.

The answer this man got from Jesus does not immediately address his question. For the Lord made him realize something about what he said. He calls Jesus a “Good” Teacher. Before Jesus answered his question, he told the man that no one is good except God.

Why did Jesus point out to this man that no one is good except God alone? One possibility is that, before the ruler understands what he is asking, “Jesus wants [him] to focus on God and his will [first] so that he will be genuinely responsive to God.” The mention of the commandments supports this interpretation. Jesus wants the man to first realize who God is and what He demands from man.

Jesus is therefore asserting God’s absolute goodness and His righteous requirements in the face of his question on how to earn eternal life. In other words, the ruler must realize, first of all, that God is good and that He is holy. If he desires to obtain an inheritance from God, he has to remember that God is full of goodness and at the same time He desires perfect obedience to His law.

Friends, do you see the cost to inherit eternal life? First you have to acknowledge that it is God alone who is good and the source of all good things, including eternal life. Not us. Not our good works.

When Jesus mentioned about the commandments to love one’s neighbor, the ruler confidently said that he has kept all of these since his youth (v.21), which is equivalent to early teen years in our time. So this man is not only a respected leader, he is also a very pious person. He keeps the law of God.

However, when Jesus further tells him what else is lacking, something within him was exposed that disqualifies him from obtaining what he asks. Jesus commands him to sell everything he has and to give them to the poor. In doing this Jesus promises him of treasure in heaven. This treasure of course includes eternal life and other blessings both in this life and the life to come. Then Jesus wants him to follow Him.

What can we see from the Lord’s demand from this man? Why he has to sell everything he owns and give the proceeds to the poor? Does Jesus prescribe a new way to be saved? What does Jesus ask of the man when he told him to sell everything and give to the poor? Someone says, “The selling of all is intended to force the ruler to trust God and humbly rely on him.” In context, this is the fundamental issue that Luke wants to point out. Humble acceptance of one’s inability to earn God’s favor and confident trust in God alone to provide one’s need, both in this life and the life to come, is at the heart of what Jesus asked of the ruler.

Not everyone who wants to be saved and to follow Jesus was told to sell what he has. But everyone who wants to become a disciple of Christ is compelled to obey Christ and to trust God for his salvation. This may mean different things to different people. For a fraud tax collector like Zacchaeus, it shows in giving half of his possession to the poor and to return four times the things he earned from corruption. For an adulterer like the woman in John 8, it means to stop his adulterous relationship and to start obeying God. Salvation is from God. One has to trust Him in order to obtain eternal life.

At this point, Luke tells us that the man became very sad upon hearing our Lord’s demand. Reason? He was very rich. He was not ready to let go of his possessions and help the poor. In other words, he is not ready to come to God and to follow Christ. He wants to earn eternal life. But he does not want to do the first step to obtain it. He does not want to listen to the One who gives eternal life. For Jesus alone has the power to grant eternal life to those who ask for it. But what is eternal life? Jesus said in John 17:3 that it is to know the one true God and the one He sent to save the world, who is Jesus Christ.

The man seems to be admiring Christ of His perfect character yet He is not willing to listen to what Christ tells him to do. He cannot give up his earthly treasures for a heavenly one.
Bottom line: this man is still in the grip of his greed, not of God’s grace. His wealth still holds him. They bind him so tight he cannot take hold of God. He may have obeyed the other commandments. But he stumbled on one. James said it counts to nothing (2:10).

If he really wants to obtain eternal life by means of obeying the law, he has to obey everything perfectly. Otherwise, the law condemns him. Or he can simply humble himself before Christ and trust God for His salvation. No one can obtain eternal life apart from the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, no one can enter the kingdom of God apart from God’s saving grace.

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