And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’
Is Jesus not God? Why didn’t He simply agree with the statement, or acknowledge it and move on? Jesus’ question to him seems detached from His answer to the ruler’s question about eternal life.
What does good here mean? It seems here that when the ruler talks about Jesus being ‘good’, he wasn’t referring to the intrinsic goodness of God incarnate, but the fact that Jesus was an effective teacher. Jesus has just given several of the wisest and most famous parables ever recorded in the Bible – yet none of these were given to prove that Jesus was a good teacher. Jesus didn’t affirm or deny his statement, but merely pointed him back to God.
Principles and laws do not change a person. My own experience has confirmed that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is God who changes people. The rich ruler followed most of the laws, yet he loved his possessions and hence could not fulfill it. The principles and laws he followed since birth could not grant him eternal life, indeed it was impossible for him to follow them. Later on in the passage, Jesus confirms this with one of the most liberating truths ever revealed:
But he said, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’
How does one obtain eternal life? When Jesus told him, ‘One thing you still lack’, He wasn’t implying that this task would grant him eternal life, but was in the process revealing where the true affections of this ruler lay. How then do our affections change? How do our desires change?
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Our affections are changed by the Spirit, that enters and dwells within us when we have been set free in Christ Jesus. So therefore it is not deeds that set a man free, it is Christ.
Look to Christ.