How to Obtain Eternal Life

Reading from the Bible King James Version
Matthew 19: 16-22

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Would you take your Bibles please and turn with me to Matthew 19:16-22. We see a message entitled "How to Obtain Eternal Life." Beginning in Matthew 19:16 we read these words.

Matthew 19:16-22 (Scripture reading) +

16) And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17) And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18) He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19) Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20) The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21) Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22) But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Now, notice in Matthew 19:16 that the young man poses a question about Eternal Life, and he asked about how to obtain eternal life. This is the greatest question anyone could ever ask. For Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

So this is the most important question in the entire world. And so the question is how does one obtain salvation? How is one able to go to heaven? How do you get saved?

First, you must know what you want. This young man came to Jesus and said I want to obtain eternal life. He knew what he wanted and that's where it has to start. You won't come seeking something unless you know what you want, and this man wanted eternal life. He knew that he didn't have it. He had a lot of things, but he knew he didn't have that.

Matthew 19:22 tells us that he had great possessions. In Matthew 19:27 it says that he was also young, so he had vitality, and youth, and he had wealth. In Luke 18:18 it tells us that he was a ruler, so he had position, and he had authority. Most likely he was a ruler of the synagogue comparing it with Matthew 9:18.

He was a Jewish religious leader, he was devout, he was honest, he was young, he was wealthy, he was prominent, and he was influential. It was very rare that a young man would be a ruler in the synagogue. As far as the cultural environment of his day, he had everything, absolutely everything.

I believe that is why in Matthew 19:16 Jesus says, “And behold.” Behold means this is shocking, this is stunning, this is astonishing, this is alarming, this is amazing. Can you believe this; that this man who is a devout Jew, who is very religious, who is a ruler in the synagogue, who is very influential, and prominent is coming and admitting that he does not have eternal life? He had not found reality to put his soul at rest. He had not found peace and joy in his life, and a hope for the life to come. He was feeling in his heart the absence of all of this.

He knew that he was missing something. There was a restlessness in his heart; there was some anxiety in his soul; there was no fulfillment in his life. He knew what was missing; it was eternal life. He wasn't sensing God's peace, and God's hope, and the security of belonging to the Lord. He knew that he didn't have in his soul the life of God. By the way, in John's Gospel it uses the word zoe for eternal life. It is used some 34 times, and every time it means the life principle itself that makes you alive spiritually.

Eternal life is not just a long time of living, but eternal life is a quality of existence that which allows us to be alive to the world that God dwells in. It allows us to possess the very life of God, and that is a life that is unaffected by death because death only transfers us fully into that heavenly world. The rich young ruler knew he didn't have the life of God in his heart and in his life. He knew he didn't walk with God. He knew he had no assurance of heaven when he died. He did know that he went beyond what the Pharisees believed in their religious system. They were content with the rites and rituals of religion, but he was a seeker. He was seeking the right things.

Now, I hope that we can understand that eternal life is not just a long time of living, but eternal life is a quality of life and being alive to God. It is not just the quantity of life, but it's a quality of life. Before we were dead in trespasses and sins, before we were saved, but now we are alive in the Lord Jesus Christ, for those of us who are saved he has quickened us. So, this rich young ruler knew what he wanted; he knew what he did not have.

I believe that when we pray to share Christ in some way that we should try to get people to understand what they should want. We are trying to get others to see that they don't have eternal life, and that is their greatest need. So, first, he knew what he wanted; then second, he felt deeply the need.

Now, there are people that know they don't have eternal life, but they also feel that they have no need for it. Have you ever met them? I've met them. I'm sure you have as well. They know that they don't have eternal life, but they don't see any need for it. They know that they aren't saved, and they have no assurance of heaven when they die. They know that they are not alive to God, but they don't care to be alive to God. They know that they don't have any assurance of going to heaven at all, but they really aren't interested in it now. Oh, maybe they might be interested when they have 1 foot in the grave, and when they are 99 years of age and they are drawing their last breath. Sometimes we say; well, they aren’t desperate enough to want what they don't have.

But this man was. He not only knew what he wanted, but he felt a strong need for it. I think that there is urgency in this question when he says, “Master what good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). He just comes right out with the question. He isn't warming up to the question at all; he just blurts it out. There is urgency here, and if you look over at the end of Matthew 19:20 he goes through all that he's done and finally he says, “What lack I yet?” I sense there a certain amount of unfulfillment, a certain amount of frustration, a certain amount of anxiety. He is saying, I have been religious all my life, and yet there is still something missing in my life. It is the cry of the heart that needs to define what is missing. He is saying, I want this; I really want eternal life.

He knows what he doesn't have and he wants it very badly, because he has an empty place in his life. Oh he has lived a good life outwardly, he has avoided outward sins, he is moral, he is religious, and he keeps his religious duties to his church or to his religious organization. He has kept the standards of his religion all of his life, and yet he is still unsatisfied and he knows it is eternal life that he lacks. He wants to know now how to get it and so there's a real vacuum in his life, and he knows it. And that takes us to the third element in obtaining eternal life.

Thirdly, it is necessary to seek Eternal Life diligently. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God says, “if you seek me with all your heart, you will find me” (Jer. 29:13). So, there is a diligent seeker here. This young man is a diligent seeker, and we know that because in the parallel passage of Mark 10:17 it says, “there came one running.” There was urgency here. This man ran to the Lord. This is a religious man with integrity, and so it would not be very dignified to run, but he does run because he realized he needs to have what he doesn't possess now; eternal life. He really did want peace and joy in his heart by being right with God.

Now, if the Lord would have approached him by saying, how would you like to have peace, and joy, and happiness, and love, then he would have him on the hook right then and there, because he felt a deep psychological need. But please note that this is a very self-centered young man at this point. He is coming for something that will satisfy his heart. Now that is not wrong; it is just incomplete.

We see his urgency and we see his eagerness. He rushed down the aisle before there was an aisle. He ran to Jesus long before Just as I am (hymn) was ever written. He is in a hurry. In fact, Mark 10:17 says the Lord was walking down the road, and no doubt there was a crowd around him as always there was, but this man runs right through the crowd. He is not embarrassed by the fact that everybody probably knew who he was. He is not embarrassed to confess publicly and openly that he doesn't have eternal life. He is not embarrassed to get down on his knees before Jesus. Mark 10:17 says, “he kneeled to him” and so now he is in a position of humility before the Lord. This takes some kind of man to do this. It takes a man of integrity to do this as he is stepping down off his high horse, if you will, and so there's something special about this young man. He is very serious. He wants eternal life so badly, so eagerly that he doesn't care if he loses face before all these people who know him so well and think he's already a spiritual giant. This man really looks like he's ready to be saved. So, on the surface this young ruler in Matthew 19:16 looks like a great prospect to the disciples. That brings us to the fourth element of obtaining eternal life.

Fourthly, he came to the right source. There are lots of folks looking for eternal life, but they're looking in the wrong place. Why do you think Satan has so many counterfeit religions all over the face of the earth? It's so that people will go chasing the wrong thing. That’s what happens so many times and it's so tragic. In 1 John 5:11 it says, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” 1 John 5:20 says, “... that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” Jesus is not only the source of eternal life, he is that eternal life. The Bible says in 1 John 5:12, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”

This man came to the right source. No doubt he had heard of the power of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus, because he comes and he calls him Master. He acknowledges Jesus as a teacher of divine truth. In Matthew 19:16 he calls him “good,” this means good on the inside; good in nature. In other words what he is saying is, I know you're pure, I know you're good, I know you're moral, I know you're upright. I also know you teach divine truth and you know the secret of getting eternal life.

I don't think that he necessarily thought Jesus was God at this point. He may not have particularly thought Jesus as being even the Messiah. He just had been struck with the power of Jesus’ teaching and the power of Jesus' life, and he simply says that surely this teacher knows the secret of eternal life, and he can tell me what it is. He basically just calls Jesus a good teacher, and so he came to the right source even though he didn't know who Jesus really was. He certainly came to the right place for Acts 4:12 says, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And so, he came to the right source for eternal life.

Fifthly, he asked the right question. Notice the end of Matthew 19:16 where it says, “...what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” A lot of people have criticized him for asking that question because they say he is works oriented. He is saying; What shall I do? He is emphasizing the do. Well, of course he his works oriented. That was his whole system back then; the religious system and culture he was raised in. And of course you have to do something in order to be saved. You have to believe, and so the question is a fair question I believe. He didn't say; how can I be more religious? He didn't say; how can I be more moral? He didn't say; how can I get more self-respect? He didn't say any of those things. He said; I want eternal life, what do I have to do to get it? This question isn't much different than the question in John 6:28 where the people said to Jesus; “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” But even to that question Jesus in John 6:29 said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” And so, the question is not offensive to me at all. He is simply saying; what do I have to do to have eternal life? It is a good question and it is a fair question. He is asking how can I have eternal life?

This young man is really something, and notice what Jesus says to him in Matthew 19:17 Jesus says; “Why callest thou me good?” Jesus says, why are you asking me? Do you think I have some secret that you have never heard of? Do you think I have some insight? What are you asking me for? And then He says; “... there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

Jesus said if you want eternal life just keep the Commandments. You know what they are. You don't need to ask me. Jesus is saying, you know the law of God, you know of the revelation of God, you’re a ruler in the synagogue; you know the word of God. It’s all there, just go out and keep it all.

Why did Jesus say that to this young man? It is because there is something missing here. This man is coming to Jesus because he feels frustration, unfulfillment, and he feels anxiety. He wants joy, and love, and peace, and hope. Now, that is not a good enough reason to come to Christ. It is incomplete. It is not wrong; it is just incomplete. If we go around the world offering people happiness, and joy, and peace, it would be very easy to get people to respond to the gospel. All we have to do is find all the people that are psychologically incomplete and if you offer them all the answers to their anxieties through Christ they will take Christ to get those things. But that is not a complete understanding of salvation. In order for person to have eternal life, in order for a person to be saved, in order for a person to be redeemed, he must see himself as a sinner. He must see his sin as an affront to a holy God.

Jesus tells him to go out and keep all the Commandments. You say nobody can do that. That is right! Nobody can and that is what our Lord wanted this man to see. He wanted him to see that he was a sinner. He wanted him to come to Him seeing his desperate condition as a sinner. That is why he told him to go out and keep all the Commandments. You see the problem with this man is that by the time you get to the end of Matthew 19:16, there was something that has not been mentioned at all yet, and that is sin. He has not acknowledged his sin. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”

We cannot bring people to Christ simply and only on the basis of psychological needs. There must be an acknowledgment of sin. They must understand that they are sinners. There must be repentance over sin. There can be no repentance over sin if they are not faced with their sin. And so, Jesus is going to face this man with the fact that he is a sinner. He has been given the opportunity to say, “well I can't keep the Commandments. I tried and I've broken them time and time again.” But this young man doesn't say that. He thinks that he can keep them. In fact, he thinks he has kept them.

All evangelism must take the imperfect sinner and place him up against the perfect Law of God so that he can see his sin. That is essential in salvation. Evangelism that deals only with man's need is false evangelism. That is why our churches are jam-packed full of people who are not really saved, because they have never been able to see their sin. There has never been an acknowledgment of their sin, and a turning from sin to Christ in their lives.

Why do you think Paul spent chapters one, two, and three, in the book of Romans affirming the sinfulness of man before he ever gets to salvation? Because sin must be acknowledged before a person can be saved. But here in this passage of Matthew 19:16, the rich young ruler had no sense of offending God. He had no sense of sin, no remorse over sin in this passage, and no acknowledgement of sin here.
Notice Matthew 19:18-19, “He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The rich young ruler says, “You name them and I'll keep them.” That's really what he’s saying. Then our Lord gives him the last half of the Ten Commandments and he says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and he adds that in with part of the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are divided into two parts. The first five deal with God, the second five deal with man. In other words, the first five deal with man's relationship with God; have no other idols, never take the name of the Lord in vain. The second five deal with man's relationship with his fellow man. He gives him the second half which would be easier to keep, but both would be impossible to keep totally. We all know we haven't loved God the way we should have, but at least you might be able to say about the second five; I've never killed anybody, I've never stolen from anybody, I've ever committed adultery, I've always tried to honor my father and mother.

Jesus gives him the easier of the two halves of the Ten Commandments. He is giving him an opportunity to confess that he has sinned and that he has offended a holy God, but he doesn't acknowledge sin. In fact, he does just the opposite in Matthew 19:20. It's astounding! “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” Can you imagine such a thing? We know that he is lying especially when it comes to the fact that thou shalt thy neighbor as thyself. He certainly hasn't done that all of his life, which means that he just broke the last one in Matthew 19:18 which says, Thou shalt not bear false witness; you shouldn't lie! Well, he has just lied in saying that he's kept them all absolutely.

Jesus had just said earlier, and no doubt he [rich, young ruler] knew, that if you hate someone then you have murder in your heart. If you lust after a woman, you commit adultery in your heart. When you take an oath and you break your word you are lying. So he is a sinner, but he wasn't going to admit his sin. In order to be saved you have to admit you are a sinner, but this man really thought he was good the way he was. He was outwardly moral. He was outwardly religious. He was outwardly good. Jesus had to slice him open as Samuel Boden once said: "When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it's time to pour in the gospel oil. It is the needle of the law that pulls through The Scarlet Thread of the gospel." That is really good. You've got to wound them and let them see their sin by showing them their sin before you sew them up with the gospel and they can be healed of their sins. But this young man won't acknowledge any sin. He couldn't be saved then because he would not acknowledge his sin. He didn't understand the real meaning of salvation, and that is: a sinner coming to God and asking for forgiveness. You've got to know your laws before you can be saved. Notice the end of verse Matthew 19:20 he says, “What lack I yet?” This man actually believed that he had kept the law. He actually believed that he was okay the way he was, and that is a deception of the devil, and a deception of self-righteousness. You actually feel because of all your good, and all your benevolent deeds, and all your religious deeds that everything is alright in your life. But oh, how wrong you are. How very wrong and deceived you are.

At this point, in Mark 10:21 says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” Jesus really loved this young man, and he loves you the same way. He loved him so much that instead of blasting him and walking away from him, he gives him another opportunity to see his sin. Jesus is not willing that “any should perish, but all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus tries to get him to see his sin by pinpointing his most obvious problem. His most obvious sin was that he loved and wanted his possessions more than he loved and wanted eternal life.

Sixth and last, to obtain eternal life, there must be a confession of sin. Matthew 19:21-22,

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect [or have salvation], go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

The word perfect is often used in the Bible to speak of salvation, especially in the book of Hebrews. Jesus says if you really love your neighbor as yourself then you will be glad to give him, your neighbor, what you have. Just give it all away and come and follow me, and you will have riches in heaven. Now the Lord never said that to anybody else, but he says it to this young man, because he knew this was exactly this young man's problem. He loved his possessions, he loved his wealth, his problem was greed, his problem was selfishness, he was not about to part with all his stuff, and this was his chief sin. If he was ever going to see his sin it would have to be on this very subject right here, but he refused to acknowledge it. And so this is what was keeping him from getting saved.

Do you know that people refuse to come to Christ for many different reasons? Some people love their cars more than they love Christ. Some people love their homes more than they love Christ. Some people love their boyfriend or girlfriend more than they love Christ. Some people love their children, their relatives, or their friends more than they love Christ. Some people love their careers, or their positions, or their hobbies more than they love Christ. Some people, like this man, loved their money and possessions more than they love Christ. Now, you know what you love more than Jesus Christ. You truly do. You know what is keeping you from Christ and salvation if you're not saved. You know what it is.

Notice in Matthew 19:22 that this man “went away sorrowful.” Oh, don't go away sorrowful. Don't go away without Christ. Confess your sin. Receive him as your personal savior and go away like another rich man in the Scriptures. Every time I read the story of Matthew 19:16 of this young man who went away sorrowful, I think of another rich man who went away glad, because he received Christ. That is in Luke 19:1-7, at the very beginning it is all about the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was wealthy too, but notice how this story has a very happy ending.

Luke 19:1-7 says, “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.”

Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner and he said to himself, I’ve got to get my life right. I've got to set my life straight with God. I've got to get things right. In Luke 1:8, “And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Now, this is just the opposite of the rich man in Matthew 19:16. Zacchaeus just wanted to unload everything he had because his life was changed. He was converted, he was saved, and in Luke 19:9 Jesus affirms that: “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.” This is true salvation because Zacchaeus confessed it and he wanted to make it right. Luke 1:10 says, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Zacchaeus admitted he was lost. He was willing to give up what before was so very important to him as a tax collector; all his wealth. The Bible says Jesus received him joyfully in Luke 1:6.

Matthew 19 closes in sorrow, but Luke 19 closes in joy. How will this service close for you? Will it close in joy because you have come to Christ, or in sorrow because you refused to admit your sin? Remember this, you can never be too bad to be saved, but you can be too good! You can be so good that you think you don't need salvation. So good that that by your morals, your religion, your self-works, your benevolent deeds, that you can make it on your own. It is important for us to understand that Jesus said that he was, “the way, the truth, and life, and no man is going to come to the Father, but by Him” (John 14:6). No one is able to go to heaven, but by Jesus Christ.

I trust that you will receive Christ. This young man's problem here was his sin. He wouldn't acknowledge it. I hope that's not your problem. Acknowledge your sin. Put your faith and trust in him, and trust him for salvation today. How do you obtain eternal life? It is through Jesus Christ and Him alone.

Would you pray with me please?

Right now and right where you are, if you're not sure of your salvation do what the publican did in Luke 18:13 when it says that he cried out and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” You see he acknowledged his sin. He confessed he was a sinner. Right now tell God what He and you already know; that you are sinner. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

All of us have come short of glorifying God with our lives. Confess your sin and then ask Christ to forgive you of your sin, and come into your life and heart, and become your personal Savior. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Tell him you believe in his death, burial, and resurrection, and that He paid for your sins on that cruel cross of Calvary, and you now, at this moment, are receiving the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord as Romans 6:23 says. Thank Him for being “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) and the only way to heaven.

I hope you will do that today. And if you do, please let me know so I can rejoice with you. I will praise God with you, and I will be able to walk with you down the streets of gold in Heaven. What a great day that is going to be. I trust you received Christ today if you never have.


Copyright © 2013 Mullica Hill Baptist Church NJ - Dr. Al McLeod ThD PhD, Author. All rights reserved worldwide.