How to inherit eternal life

These are my notes on a sermon on Luke 18:18-30 (the story of the rich young ruler) by David Jackman (length 28:32). The sermon is an oldie-but-goodie from the City Lunchtime Talks initiative, in which churches in London seek to evangelise the thousands of workers in the city.

Jesus taught in parables in order to challenge wrong ways of thinking. Two questions in this passage (verses 18 and 26) reveal misconceptions held by the rich ruler and the disciples.

A direct translation of the rich man’s question would be, “What having done shall I be sure to inherit eternal life?”

The first misconception is that you can do something to inherit. Either you are an heir or someone chooses you.

In order to inherit eternal life, it’s not what you do but who Jesus is.

Having heard Jesus’ parable on camels and needles, the people are perplexed. Their reasoning may have gone something like this: Rich people can do lots of good with their money; if anyone deserves to enter God’s kingdom, it’s them. If they can’t, then who can?

The second misconception is that it’s what you have that matters.

It’s not what you have that saves you, but what God gives.

Jesus says that salvation is God’s gift, not man’s achievement (verse 27). Only God can produce the supernatural change that results in submission to Christ.

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
–Luke 18:35

Countless explanations have been given to try to make sense of what Jesus was saying. If you were to change one vowel in the Greek, you’d go from camelon (camel) to camilon (thick rope). Having a sufficiently large needle, you could thread a camilon. Or, the more common explanation of the Eye of the Needle gate in Jerusalem which required unloading camels and having them enter on all fours. No evidence has been found for the existence of such a gate.

Rather, Jesus was going for the ridiculous. Just as it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, no sinner can enter the kingdom apart of God’s grace.

There’s no way I can save myself. Eternal life can only be received through the impossible working of God.