Romans 6:23 reminds us that, though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, but how often do we forget that? How often do we try to earn our eternal life instead of simply accepting it as a gift from God? This was the focus of our youth lesson Wednesday night, and it’s one we could all stand to hear again…
In Luke 18:15-30, Jesus has two very significant interactions, and they take on new meaning when you read them back-to-back. First, here’s Luke 18:15-17
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Immediately following this familiar account is another well-known encounter: Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler. A wealthy young leader comes to Jesus and asks him a very loaded question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Note his wording: what must I do? Jesus and the young man immediately begin discussing commandments, and Jesus gives him the seemingly impossible instruction to sell all of his possessions and follow. The man walks away crestfallen because he has so much.
Did you notice the difference? A group of children come to Jesus and embrace him, and they are given eternal life freely, while a powerful man wanting to earn eternal life is denied it. The ones who came seeking Jesus are granted grace; the one who came wanting to do the work of salvation on his own misses the boat. These encounters remind me of a quote from noted atheist Penn Jillette: “If you are doing something for reward or punishment, you do not have morality.” Or perhaps the more apt wording is that of Thomas Merton: “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
Our goal cannot be to attain eternal life for ourselves through our own actions. Not only is that self-centered; it’s not possible! Rather, the challenge of grace is to love Jesus and be humble enough to accept his gift to us, knowing that there is nothing we could do to attain it on our own. As Ephesians 2:6-10 puts it,
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.