In this passage, and others, Jesus tells someone that if they would inherit Life or eternal life, they must “keep the commandments.” I would argue that this complements Matthew 5:48 where Jesus tells us that we must be “perfect as our father in heaven is perfect.” The rich young ruler in this story didn’t understand the breadth and depth of the law requiring not only external conformity but a change of heart. In Luke 10, Jesus told the religious leader that he too could inherit eternal life if he kept the law. Jesus then asked him what the law said. He rightly responded, “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “That’s right! Do this and you will live.”

But the scriptures make it clear that “all have sinned” and no one can perfectly live up to the standards of God’s law. “All have fallen short,” Paul writes to the Romans. D. A. Carson says, “Surely Jesus is painting a picture of human beings that is far more radical than all the pictures they draw of themselves. No one is able to save himself. We human beings break God’s holy law from our very heart. We forfeit fellowship with God. Our relationship to him is characterized by sin: we face him in the perfection demanded by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount.”

It is clear to me that God is attempting to bring the rich young ruler as well as the religious leader in Luke to repentance. That’s the state where people understand and acknowledge the depth of their sinfulness and realize that all the good works in the world are worth exactly what Isaiah says they are worth; “filthy rags.” It is the bottom of the barrel for every man woman and child. It’s the recognition of the vast chasm that exists between my own goodness and God’s standard. it’s the end of the line for works righteousness, but it can be the beginning of real life for all who admit it. Luke tells us that the lawyer, instead of saying, “Dear God, I can’t be perfect…” he “desired to justify himself” and proceeded to argue with Jesus about defining a “neighbor.” I’m convinced that if he, or the rich young ruler, had broken and admitted their state, the door to eternal life would have been opened to them. It’s also opened to all of us the same way!

“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26