Jesus confronted the rich young ruler from the start with this truth: only God is good (19:16-17). This means that no man is good in the absolute sense in which God is good (See Rom. 3:12). Man is totally bound by his sin and he can’t obey the law completely because he’s a slave to his evil desires and inclinations. He is utterly in need of God for salvation. To present oneself as righteous before God is to be deceived. The rich young ruler was deceived about his standing before God.
One of the points of the passage is that man is not good enough to be saved, or to inherit the kingdom or have eternal life, because we all sin by breaking God’s laws. For some, the enslavement is riches, for others, popularity, or pride. But, each of us before faith comes to our hearts is under bondage to sin. Only the life of Jesus was good enough to become the perfect sin payment for our sins and make a way for our forgiveness (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:16-21).
Do we inherit the kingdom when we sacrifice and follow Jesus while on earth? This is what Jesus tells the ruler. Jesus is not saying that abandonment and commitment is expected from us in order for us to enter the kingdom. Initial salvation is received by faith, and not works. It is important to understand, however, that many do teach that because the young ruler was unwilling to surrender his riches he could not be saved or be forgiven by God. The problem, they say, is that God demands complete surrender and commitment to his Lordship before God can save an individual, something the young man was unwilling to do. However, Christ’s words, in part, were rhetorical, intended for reflection. In leading the rich young ruler to reflect on his love of possessions Jesus was hoping to lead him to confront his sinfulness and need for God. He trusted in his own goodness and righteousness, not in God (See Luke 18:9-14).
Yet, Jesus did tell the young man that by keeping the commandments he could “enter life” (19:17). What did he mean? Who can really follow the ways of God? The Apostle Paul later in his letters taught that the ability to keep the commandments and experience the life of God would come through the enablement that God's Spirit would give those who came to faith in Christ (See Romans 8; Galatians 5:16-18). However, are keeping the commandements the basis for us to have eternal life? What did Jesus mean by telling the rich young ruler that in order to "enter life" he had to keep the commandments? How, then, do we inherit the kingdom? How do we get eternal life? (Conclusion tomorrow)