Matthew chapter 19 tells us the story of a man who came to Jesus seeking the key to salvation:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “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.”
This passage gets used a lot to talk about the trap of chasing after wealth, but I want to look at another aspect. Do you see what the man asked? “What good thing must I do…” The rich man’s choice of words reveals his heart. He believed that salvation would come to him because of his good works. He tells Jesus he has obeyed every law mentioned, yet here he is asking, “What do I still lack?” Clearly this man felt something was missing in his faith journey.
How often are we just like this man? We pray or read the Bible, hoping to find the bare minimum requirement. We want to be assured that we are living God’s way, but we don’t want to do any more than we have to. We get caught up in what is forbidden – sins, and what is allowed – my rights and freedoms.
What if following Jesus isn’t about finding the perfect balance of shunning sin while having my rights? What if following Jesus is about saying “What can I do?” instead of “What must I do?”
It is impossible to earn your eternal salvation through your actions and behaviors. The one and only way to be saved is by accepting the free gift of salvation, bought and paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross (see Ephesians 2:8-9). That’s it. No matter how good or how bad you have been in your life, the price is the same – paid in full. You can accept the gift or reject it, but you can’t earn it.
If we think we have to earn our salvation, we will be just like the rich man in Matthew, always asking for the bare minimum requirements to get us to “enough.” But when we truly understand that Jesus is enough, we see that the refining of our character isn’t about earning approval. It’s about growing and becoming a witness who will lead others to his saving grace. Once we realize that, we can stop asking “What do I have to do to earn salvation?” and start asking, “What can I do to get this message to more people?”