What Shall I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?

by Douglas Hoff


Nearly two thousand years ago three different men asked the most important question mortals should ask.  The first two said the same thing – What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  The third’s query was essentially the same, “What must I do to be saved?” After receiving the answer the first went away very sorrowful.  The second came desiring to test Jesus.  Upon hearing the answer this man tried to justify himself.  It appears that he, like the first, left without the desire to comply.  The third rejoiced at the answer, obeyed the instructions and obtained eternal life.

The first man was a rich young ruler who came to Jesus.  Luke 18:16, 23 shows he was a very rich ruler.  Matthew 19:20, the parallel passage to Luke 18, shows he was a young man.  It appears he was sincere in his desire to obtain eternal life.  He asserted that from his youth he had kept the commandments (Luke 18:20-21).  Here was a man who obeyed God.  However, Jesus pointed out riches were keeping him from entering the kingdom of God.

Though he was not inspired, this rich young rulers question accurately portrays man’s relationship to salvation.  First, he said, “What SHALL I do... One must have a strong resolve to obtain salvation.  His question was not phrased, “What might I do...  Second he said, “What shall I do...“  Salvation is appropriated personally.  No one else can do it for you.  Third, “What shall I DO...“  There are things which must be done for a person to be saved.  It is not enough to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.  Fourth “What shall I do to INHERIT eternal life  Salvation is the gift of God (Romans 6:23).  An inheritance is not earned but given freely (Ephesians 2:8, 9).  Sadly, this rich ruler failed on the third point.  Though he desired eternal life it was not strong enough to do what the Lord required of him.

The second man who asked “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” was a certain lawyer (Luke 10:25-37).  Since he came to test Jesus he was not really interested in doing what was necessary to obtain salvation.  Here was a man more interested in justifying himself than allowing God to justify him (cf. Romans 10:1-3).  His heart was not willing to show love for an enemy (the Samaritan).  As John wrote years later, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).  This certain lawyer failed on the first point mentioned in the previous paragraph.  He did not have a firm resolution for heaven above.

The third man asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved(Acts 16:29, 30).  This Philippian jailor passed the test on all four points since he did what the Lord revealed through his servants (notice Acts 16:31, 32 both use the pronoun “they”).  He was told “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).  It has already been noted that something must be DONE to achieve the forgiveness of sins.  Believing in Jesus as the Son of God is a work of God (John 6:28, 29; cf. 8:24).  However, by itself, it will not save since “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). So, what else did the jailor need to do?  The answer is found by examining the rest of the text in Acts 16:32-33 – “then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Since he was baptized one can correctly infer he was taught the necessity of baptism (cf. Acts 8:35, 36).  Yes, the jailor needed to believe in Jesus but he also had to be baptized to be saved (Acts 8:37; 1 Peter 3:21).

Nearly two thousand years ago two men rejected the counsel of God (Luke 7:30).  One embraced it and was saved.  Only the jailor loved the truth enough to inherit eternal life.  How about you?  Are you committed to do what God requires to be saved?


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