A well-known passage in the gospel is that of the man who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (The whole passage is recorded in Luke 18:18-27) Jesus’ first answer is “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.”
But we often focus on the next part: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, etc …'” The guy claims he keeps the commandments, so Jesus challenges him: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And the man becomes sad and leaves. So Jesus delivers the punch-line: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Except this is not the punch-line. Our remembering the picture may be because of its memorability. But stopping the story here gives us a flawed version of the gospel, as I see it. I speculate that if the man had, in fact, sold everything he owned and given it to the poor, Jesus would still have met him with the reply: it’s not enough.
The point of the story is not that we have to sell everything or else we won’t get into heaven. The point of the story comes in verses 26-27. The onlookers asked Jesus: “Who can then be saved?” and he replied: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” That is the punch-line. Remember in verse 19, he said, “No one is good – except God alone.”
We are saved, not by our good deeds, but by the grace of God. No matter how hard we try – keeping the commandments, giving everything to the poor – we will always fall short in our own endeavor. Fortunately, we don’t have to earn credit with God. We must only trust Jesus and let him do what is impossible with men, but possible with God.