There's a question for you: "What must I do to get eternal life?" We have come up with various answers over the centuries but the current popular is, "Live a good life". Then we are left to interpret what a "good life" looks like. Give to the poor. Don't harm the environment. Look after your neighbour. Perhaps it is following the rule of not bringing any harm to anyone? Each of these provokes further questions as we begin to build a philosophy of living. However, none of these end with Jesus saying, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Do you recall the encounter? All we know about him is that he was young and rich with a desire to gain eternal life. According to his response to Jesus, this rich young man lived a good life, following the law, being careful to honour both God and man. We would probably be quite impressed with him and may find ourselves responding to him in the same fashion as Jesus did: "Jesus looked at him and loved him." (Mark 10:21) I am sure you have had a similar experience when you have encountered someone and only after a few minutes you found that you had admiration for this person, almost like a bond with him. This young man had a good heart and wanted to do everything right to please God. But there was still the question of eternal life.
This is the point where we need to be very clear about something. The love that God has lavished upon us cannot have a cookie-cutter response. It is not a scientific formula. It is not even a thing of manipulation. If you are not sure of what love is then review 1 Corinthians 13. This is the love that God has freely poured out on us and demonstrated through Jesus Christ. Our response can only be a genuine total giving of ourselves in complete dedication, adoration and surrendered service. His love compels us to obey, not because we have to but because we want to. We love him, not to gain anything but in response to his everything. This is the context in which Jesus tells this rich young man that he is only lacking one thing:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Seems hard? That's Jesus, giving the hard responses to the hard questions. Either we are a lover and follower of God or we are not. We are either dedicated to him or we are not. There are no half-measures. Jesus warned that it is better to be hot or cold because he will spew out those who are lukewarm. You can't claim the title of Christian because your parents were Christian and then do whatever you feel like and expect to gain eternal life. The Kingdom of God is about the heart and our response to his lavish love is to dedicate our heart to him fully. We will still mess up because our flesh is weak but even in that a heart response to sin is 100% repentance.
Something was dividing this young man's heart. It could have been something he owned, maybe it was his entire wealth, but Jesus wanted his whole heart. I think this encounter should be a catalyst, provoking us to get rid of anything that is dividing our heart. Take a moment and think about this. Who are you more alike, Matthew who walked away from all he knew to follow Jesus, or this young man who couldn't let go? Are we worshiping with our lips, serving with our hands but only offering half of our hearts? Does he have all of my passion; not a fragment but the whole thing? Am I content to worship the baby in the manger but not the risen Saviour at the right hand of the Father. It's not difficult to answer this. Consider for a moment if you have dark periods in your emotional life, if you find yourself being selfish about things, including thoughts, if you always look at everything as how it affects you. Consider how you respond to people and that is how you are responding to God's lavish love. Maybe a simplistic test but that's God's incredible love, simple.
There is something wrong with us, the Church, when everything is always focused on us. There is something wrong when we are not finding ourselves sacrificing for others. There is something wrong when we are getting tired of God and his people. There is something wrong when we are not being compelled into good works, united with our brothers and sisters. There is something wrong when Jesus is not our motivation for everything.
I am afraid that we are fooling ourselves into believing that we are something we are not. Owning a Bible, attending worship, calling yourself Christian will not gain you eternal life. There is only one thing we lack; a response to God's lavish love with all of our heart, mind, soul, body and strength. It is out of this mutual love that everything else flows.