Luke 10:25-28 “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’”
A man who is called an expert came to Jesus and asked him a question. He was an expert in the law of God – a top lawyer – and he had taken this initiative. He has come to talk to the Lord Jesus. He waits, finally he gets to his feet and he speaks. He is respectful; he addresses Christ as ‘Teacher’, but Luke explains to his readers that the man’s purpose in coming to Jesus was not a search for wisdom and truth from our Saviour. He was not genuinely anxious to get an answer to a particular question that was troubling his own heart and life. He couldn’t be described as a real seeker or an inquirer concerning the kingdom of God. Rather, he’d come to our Lord in order to put Jesus to the test. What he did was this, not to come with a trick question, but rather to verify what our Lord’s response would be to what was the most fundamental of all questions, “What must any person do to inherit eternal life?” It was a common question often discussed; it was basic and tremendously important. If Jesus had any funny ideas then his answer to this question would give it away. What would be Jesus’ response? How would he answer? Would he be foolish and ignorant? Would he fudge? Would he be vague? Would he be legalistic? Would he turn the question into a joke? Would he be pompous – “who are you to be asking me a question?” Or would he give a fine answer, the right answer? The lawyer was testing Jesus to see if he could be treated seriously.
1. SOME QUESTIONS ARE VERY IMPORTANT.
This question is the most crucial that any person in the world could ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We are all mortal men and women. You have threescore years and ten to spend in this world and then some years later, few or many it matters little in the perspective of eternity, you will breathe your last breath and you’ll die. They’ll pull a sheet over your head. They’ll call for an ambulance and take your body to hospital and there may be an autopsy to ascertain why you have died. One or more of your loved ones may have to go and identify your lifeless body. A death certificate will then be written. The undertaker will be called and arrangements will be put in place for your funeral. At that service people will come and shed some tears, and then your body will be taken to a cemetery; you will be lying within the coffin. You will be lowered into the ground at the close of a brief service. More sorrow will be expressed and then the people will wander away quietly and sadly to carry on with the rest of their lives. In the cemetery the gravedigger will then cover your coffin with soil and later a tombstone will be set up with details of your birth and death and other matters that your loved ones will choose. On my parents’ gravestone is written. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” That spot is where your body will lie and decay. Then your loved ones will get a bill for several thousand pounds for the funeral.
But what about our souls? Are we snuffed out and that is it? Is annihilation the ultimate reality? Do you think that life has no overall purpose whatsoever? Is your faith that the universe all came about by sheer chance, that it came out of absolutely nothing? Is your faith that we exist today because of billions of lucky coincidences, all independent of one another, and that they are the reason for Aristotle, and Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare, and Mozart, and Churchill, and Jesus? All living things, the whole eco-system, all human life and human history, all man’s great cultural and moral achievements – all this has come about by sheer luck – is that your faith? Nothing around us has anything whatsoever to do with a living personal God. Chance made it all. Meaninglessness, O meaninglessness; all is meaninglessness! In fact you believe that the grave levels everything because we all rot. We were just dust and we return to dust and, like the Okey Kokey, “That’s what it’s all about.” Death.
The Christian faith rejects such a faith totally. Our belief is not in luck, but that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God made man in his own image and likeness and gave him freedom to serve and love him. But man fell into sin and brought estrangement between himself and God. This is the reason that man’s life ends in death. It was by man that sin entered the world – not at all by a holy and loving God – and death came upon us through our sin, and so death passed upon all men for all have sinned. But God in his grace has determined to redeem man; he’s made up his mind to save us from black despair and hell. God made another Adam, the last Adam, his blessed Son Jesus Christ. He is born of a virgin and lives a blameless life; he has extraordinary authority over the forces of creation, the winds and the waves and the trees and the sea and the fish in its depths all must do whatever he wills. He has power over Satan and disease and even death itself; none of those entities can resist his will. He can raise the dead and he does so on several occasions. His life is pure and perfect and good. He is as righteous as God himself, and he has come into the world for one great purpose, not to be served but to serve us by atonement and ransom for our sins. Here is one who can forgive and pardon us for our guilt. We don’t have to carry all our blame and shame for our entire lives – for the next fifty years before our bodies are lowered into the grave by the strong bands around the coffin. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” We can go to him and confess our sins to him, and then he forgives them and cleanses us from everything.
His mighty resurrection is the confirmation of that this is true. Death could not keep its prey; Jesus tore the bars away; Christ our Lord. Death is not annihilation; the grave is not the snuffing out place. It is the door to the eternal state. There is everlasting life. Enoch walked with God and then he was not because God took him. David spoke of his dead child, that one day he would go to him; his child would not return to David. Elijah was taken up to be with God. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” said Job. Lazarus rises; the widow of Nain’s son rises; Jairus’ daughter rises; Jesus Christ rises; Eutychus rises; after his stoning Paul rises. Death is not the place from which there is no return. There is the life of eternity, the life of God from heaven changing things on earth. That is the message of Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Death came by the first Adam; life comes by the last Adam. So the question Jesus was asked was this, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Can you think of a more important question? The grave is not annihilation. There is the life of eternity. Then what must I do to inherit it?
2. WHAT MUST WE DO TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE?
Do you see that this is a different question from “How is anyone saved?” The answer to that question is plainly given in Scripture. It is, “Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.” You can do nothing to save yourself, nobody can do anything to save himself. That is why God sent his Son into the world to be the Saviour. He becomes the Saviour of all who are joined to him, and you join yourself to him by believing right into him. You entrust yourself to him for time and eternity. He accomplished cosmic salvation all by himself, and he applies it all by himself through the Holy Spirit to all who believe in him. He alone is the Saviour and so all we can do is to make as it were a great pile of our sins and flee from them all to the Lord Jesus, and we even make a big pile of all our works of righteousness and we flee from them as well. We hide ourselves in him. He is all our hope for mercy and forgiveness and deliverance. We put all our trust in him. Faith is spelled F.A.I.T.H., “Forsaking All I Take Him” to be my Lord and Saviour. That is the answer to the question, “How am I to be saved?” It is only through us being joined to the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus Christ the Saviour.
But here is another question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is a parallel question. It is just as important as the question, “How am I saved?” but it is a different question and there is a different answer. What are we to do if we are to inherit eternal life? We say we are saved. That is the claim we make. All our hopes are in the Lord Jesus Christ, what he has done, in his grace, for us and in our place. That is the foundation of our hopes of God saving us. If that is the case then how do we live? How do we inherit eternal life? What must we do? Do we continue sinning that grace may abound? Do we go on in unbelief, ungodly living, ignoring the Bible, drinking, swearing, fighting, a bully at home and a tyrant at work? How do we live? Do we continue to shun the company of the people of God? “God forbid,” says Paul. The Saviour was made sin in our place, and so he suffered and died for us and our sins. Then how can we go on living in sin if we have inherited eternal life?
Think of a person who has inherited a vast fortune. There is bound to be a change in his life. We hope there will be a new spirit of generosity. At least he will have a new tax code because of the interest that accrues on his fortune. He will have to make a new will and he will think of charities and his friends and family. How will he respond to this vast inheritance that has come into his life? What is he going to do? He must do something. Now we Christians claim that we have inherited forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Surely there must be a genuine change in our lives. It’s not that we’ve become perfect people, but we’ve become new people. It is not, you understand, that our new generosity can ever become the grounds of our salvation. No, but our change of heart and conduct is the evidence that we’ve received from God this extraordinary inheritance. So as we’ve been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that has come right into our lives then it’s bound to affect our daily living. There must be a change. Let me give you some examples of this change. This shows us what men do who have inherited eternal life.
There was a greedy, covetous, thieving tax gatherer named Zacchaeus living in Jericho, a thoroughly reprehensible man who yet was saved by the mercy of Jesus Christ. Did he continue as he had been living? No. Could he – with the life of heaven in his heart – carry on living as cruelly as he had lived? He could not, if he had truly inherited eternal life. So what did he say? “‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’” (Lk. 19:8-10). How do we know that this man truly believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ as all his hope of salvation? By his new attitude; by what he promised and did.
Or think of the dying thief hanging from a cross next to the Lord Jesus. He entrusted himself to Jesus Christ and inherited eternal life and immediately he did things, though he was nailed to a cross. He rebuked his cursing, swearing companion hanging from a third cross. He said to him, “Don’t you fear God? . . . We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Lk. 23:40&41). He prayed that Jesus would remember him when he came into his kingdom. He had a totally new attitude to his criminal past, and a high and holy view of Jesus Christ. He was showing he believed our Lord to be the Saviour of sinners and the only hope for his salvation. What he said and did showed the reality of the change that had occurred in his heart. He was a dying man but a real believer and he showed by his words and attitude that he had inherited eternal life.
Or again consider the apostle Peter, the man who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. He was a believer, but then you see him standing in a courtyard, and you watch him warm his hands by a fire. Listen to his response to a teenager asking him if he were a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Hear him denying it vehemently. He didn’t even know who Jesus was. Did his words damn him? Keep watching him . . . stick with him and see what happens next. He wanders off into the darkness and now you can hear his sobs. He is weeping bitterly. That godly sorrow – what he did – is the barometer of the faith and repentance that are in his heart. Peter has indeed inherited eternal life, but the ‘Great Fisherman’ has not become sinless; people who’ve inherited eternal are still imperfect people, but they know what to do when they sin. They repent and they confess their sins to the Lord and they ask for his forgiveness.
Do you understand what I am saying? Nobody is ever allowed into heaven on the basis of the good things he himself has done, because our best works have been spoiled by sin. Pride and irritation is in them all. But, please understand this, that we are certainly not allowed into heaven if our lives lack any good works at all! We are not saved by them, but we’ve been saved to do them. We are saved by faith in Christ the Saviour alone, but that saving faith in Christ is never alone; always it is accompanied by such graces as speaking as the dying thief spoke to his companion about Christ and saying to him that he should not talk the way he does. Or we do such things as the apostle Peter, we break our hearts over how we’ve let the Saviour down and we ask him to forgive us our cowardice. Or we do what Zacchaeus did and we repay those from whom we stole money. We do stuff, if we say we have trusted in Jesus Christ and have been given eternal life. We do good works. There is so much we have to do. There is baptism; be baptized said Peter at Pentecost to his congregation. Go on in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and breaking of bread and praying. Church attendance, hearing the Bible preached Sunday by Sunday, doing our daily work with all our might, whatever our hands find to do we do it honourably. Whether we eat or drink we do all to the glory of God; we become the best fathers and mothers we can be; we show hospitality, we are ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us why we have hope; we overcome evil with good; we have a generous spirit and we give to the spread of the kingdom of God, and so on and so on. There are hundreds of things we have to do as people who have inherited eternal life. If we are known for none of those things, but all the time are thinking of ‘Number One,’ and please ourselves and do things our own way without a thought for anyone else then how shall we inherit eternal life? We are going to inherit eternal death if we live for ourselves.
So I am saying that the Bible asks two questions and gives two answers. Question one, “How are you saved?” This is a question about the means of getting saved. By joining yourself by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour by his life and death; entrust yourself to him. Question two. “What must you do to inherit eternal life?” That is a question about the character and quality of life of those who say that they are saved men and women, that they are true Christians. How then shall they live if they’re to inherit eternal life? Let us look at our Lord’s answer.
3. THE ANSWER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
You will see that the Son of God proceeds to take the initiative, and then Jehovah Jesus speaks about the Bible. He could have given one of those brilliant sayings of his that once heard can never be forgotten, but Jesus chose not to do that here. He is being asked the most important question anyone can ask and he answers it this way, by referring to the Scriptures. “What is written?” Jesus says. He is being the great example to us all when we are asked big questions. We tell people what the Bible says. All we need to know about God and his salvation, and what duties God requires from us is found in Scripture. Who am I? Why am I in this world? Why is the world in the mess it’s in? What is my chief end in life? How can I know God? What is he like? What lies after death? How can I be saved? What must I do to inherit eternal life? Left to myself I would have no idea how to answer a single one of those questions. The wisest man in the world, today or ever, cannot supply the answers – merely in and of himself. He could ask every other man he meets; he could ransack the books of the wisest of men, he could write out those questions on Google but no reply will come to him as to who God is and how he can be saved and what lies after death apart from what is written in the Bible. Only he who came from heaven, God the Son, the virgin born Jesus of Nazareth who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who lived a blameless life, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate but who rose from the dead, he alone can provide the answers such questions.
How does Christ answer one such question? Notice that he doesn’t answer the man, rather he asks a question of the expert who’d raised his hand. “What is written?” Jesus asks. In other words he says to the expert, “The answer to your questions is inscripturated, it is written down in a holy book. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and it is profitable for us to read it when we are thinking of the great questions in life.” So the answer to this question is available to everyone because God has made sure that it’s found in his word. So I must ask you now whether you’ve read the Bible. Do you know what the Lord has said in Scripture about how to have eternal life? It is there in the word of God. “How do you read it?” Jesus asked this expert. He was literate like you; he read many books. Had he bothered to read the Scripture? Can you be an educated man, can you be an expert, and not read the word of God? This man knew so much; did he know the answer to his own question? Surely he did know, and that is why Jesus took the initiative from him and tested him with the same question. Jesus is saying to him, “Why do you ask me to say something when the answer is plainly written in the law of God, and you know it, and I know it, and I know that you know it.”
Let me ask you Jesus’ questions; what is written in the word of God? How do you read it? Do you read it? No point in having it in your house or carrying it about in your pocket like some good luck charm. That will bring you no luck at all. God will know that you carried about a Bible and yet you never poured over it, reading it, crying to God to help you understand it. How do you read it? That is Jesus’ question. There is a pastor named Trevor Ramsey and when he was a boy he was given a Gideon Bible and though he ignored it for a while a number of things happened to make him start to read a portion of the Bible each day. On Sunday he would watch people going along to church – boys his own age – and he would envy them. Then he heard members of his family say that his own cousin had become religious. Trevor looked him up to talk to him and the boy invited him to go to church with him. After a few weeks he began to understand the gospel. He says this; “In my daily readings I came to John 14:6 and the words seemed to stand up on the page and hit me between the eyes, ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me”’ I knew I had been looking for those three things – a Way to live, Truth in a confused world and especially Life – real life. Here in front of me were the claims of Jesus Christ that he was all three!” That is what Trevor Ramsey read. How do you read the Scripture?
I want to urge you not to give up if you can’t understand much of it, especially if verses refuse to leap off the page (as they did in the case of Trevor Ramsey). There is another man whose name is Tony Moxon who, when he was 13 years of age, and attending Kingsheath Technical College he was present one day when the school was visited by the Gideons. He was quite thrilled to be given a Bible. He treasured it and started to read ten verses every day though he had no idea what he was reading about. At the age of 19 he emigrated to Australia and was still reading ten verses a day while living in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. He was not a Christian. He said, “One Sunday morning after a party the night before at which I had drunk too much, I woke up with a hangover but I soon I was reading my obligatory 10 verses.” But this time was different. It was accompanied by the strongest desire to go to church. He was led to a church where the gospel was preached and after the service the minister came up to him. “I told him,” said Tony, “that I’d been reading ten verses a day of the Bible for the last seven years without any real understanding.” Then the preacher very patiently explained the Gospel to him and that morning he trusted in Jesus Christ as his Saviour. He had been reading the Bible for seven years without understanding it, but he kept reading it until he knew its message.
What good were all those years of reading Scripture without enlightenment? Much good! Every time you read it you entered God’s world. I will tell you about a woman who complained that it was a waste of time to do this. She whinged, “It is like trying to fill a sieve with water. It all runs out.” Yes, but consider how much cleaner the sieve is after being doused with running water. So too reading the Bible can clean us up; the truths that we do understand have a purifying influence in our lives. There is a desire for the Bible that we can’t be rid of. After a hangover from a night of drinking a depressed convicted man knows that he’ll get help from the Bible. We’ll get it nowhere else in the world. So thirty years ago Tony Moxon would daily read ten verses from the Bible and it was as he read that God constrained him, “Get out and find a church where the Bible is believed and taught.” That is how God works.
I am urging you not to shrug and say to yourself after you’ve picked up the Bible and read a few verses (or if you have come to church and heard me once or twice and didn’t understand what I was talking about) not to react by thinking that religion is not for you, that you have tried it and it does nothing for you. That’s how the devil wants you to respond. Don’t despair if at first you’re unable to understand what you are reading. There was once a man from Ethiopia who was reading the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53 and he couldn’t understand who in the world Isaiah was writing about in his prophecy. It was at that time that God brought into his life a Christian called Philip who could help him. I urge you to keep reading, but keep coming to a gospel church where the Bible is explained week by week. You will see from the way that pastor understands and explains the Bible what its message of good news is saying. In the text before us we meet a very intelligent man, an expert, who wanted to know if Jesus knew the answer to a great question as to what should be our priorities in life. What should we definitely do above everything else? He went to the most famous man of his day Jesus of Nazareth and he asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus told him that the answer to this question was in the Bible. Let’s look at the answer.
4. YOU MUST LOVE GOD.
Do you know that there is not one person in hell who truly loved God when he was on this earth? Not one; many might have said they loved, and faked that love but they didn’t really love God, while everybody who is in heaven loved God when they were here on earth. Not all loved him equally strongly and powerfully. Some were fervent in their love and others had smoking flax love, but all in heaven had some love for the living God. There is no one in heaven who failed to love the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ while he was alive on earth. They didn’t simply talk about loving and admire such loving. They actually did love God; their lives and actions showed it. The difference between salvation and condemnation lies in acts of love or no acts of love. Sometimes you hear people saying that it’s sinners who go to heaven and that good people go to hell. That is not a helpful remark at all. It is confusing. It is repentant sinners who go to heaven, not just sinners, but people who have acknowledged that they are sinners and they have turned from serving sin to trust in Jesus Christ. And it is self-righteously good people who go to hell, people who reject the righteousness of Jesus Christ and think their own righteous lives can save them. Yet our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of the holy God.
When they stood before God and God said to them, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” not one who is now in heaven replied, “Because I have loved you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind, and I have loved my neighbour as myself. Open heaven to me because I have done this.” Not one person in heaven ever gave that answer, because they all know that they were failures in loving God and failures in loving their neighours. What they all said was, “Open heaven to me because Jesus Christ is the only one to have loved God with all his heart and the only one to have loved his neighbour as himself, and I am joined to him by faith. He is mine and I am his for ever. How can you let him into heaven and not let me in also because he and I are one for ever.” All the people in heaven knew that they needed to be saved from the guilt and condemnation of sin; even their love wasn’t perfect and it needed to be saved from its sinfulness, and there is only one Saviour and he is the Lord Jesus Christ. They had gone to that Saviour, just as they were, because he had invited them to come to him. They did not wait until they made themselves better. They had fallen into his outstretched arms for his redemption and forgiveness.
Then that welcoming merciful Saviour had told them that if their trust in him was genuine that from then on there must be a new lifestyle if they were to inherit eternal life. What characterizes this new life? Loving God! More. Loving God with all your heart. More. Loving God with all your soul. More. Loving God with all your strength. More. Loving God with all your mind. More. Loving your neighbour as yourself. Henceforth that has to be your goal in life. That is your chief end. That is your magnificent obsession. That is your purpose in life if you are indeed trusting in Jesus Christ . . . if you have been born again . . . if you are a mere Christian, then this is what you do with your one precious life in this world. You love God. This is the mark that you are trusting in the Lord for salvation.
One life we have, ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Jesus will last.
What will last? Loving God with your whole heart lasts for ever and ever. Loving your neighbour as yourself endures longer than the sun. God created you because he loved you. You might not have existed, never seen the sunrise, the heavens filled with stars, the mountains and the rainbow. You might never had breathed fresh air on a hillside and heard the birds sing and tasted fresh fruit. You might never have known the love of your family. You might never have heard their words of affection for what you mean to them. God gave you all of that. He became your Saviour when he saw you guilty and lost and ruined, heading for hell. At what cost he saved you, sending his only Son to take away the sin of the world, allowing him to be humbled to death even death on a cross, all because this mighty Creator loved you and would redeem you. This God sent his Holy Spirit into your heart to convict you of your sin, and convince you that Jesus was the Son of God and Saviour. He gave you saving faith to trust in him. He gave you a birth from above; he made you a new creation. He changed you from unbelief to being a believer. He did it. Since then he has kept you and met all your needs, and worked all things together for your good and never left you for a moment. He has become your Teacher and Shepherd and Guardian and High Priest and Friend. He has conquered death and hell for you and is taking you to heaven to be with him for ever.
Shouldn’t you love such a God? Isn’t it the height of damnable indifference not to love him? Should a creature not love his Creator? Should a sinner not love his Saviour? Should a pupil not love his wonderful teacher? Should a lost man in deep darkness and danger not love the one who guides him to safety? Yes, love God, and love him above all others, and love him more and more, and love him with every part of your being, your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength. Love him, if you are redeemed! Love him if you know him as your God! Beloved let us love God. Do this and you will live! Thinking about it and planning to do it and resolving to do it one day and you’re still a dead man. It is in the loving that life is to be found. Do this . . . and you will live. Love your God. My little children, keep yourself from idols.
11th April 20010 GEOFF THOMAS