How can you live the good life?
In this question, the “good life” is not referring to a life abounding in material comforts and luxuries, but rather a life that is truly good – a life that is pleasing to God and leads to eternal life.
This was the question a rich, young man asked Jesus when he said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). The young man was already living “the good life” according to the worldly definition of the phrase, for he already had “great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). But his inquiry was about what good he must do to have eternal life.
As Jesus so often did, he responded to the young man’s question with a question of his own: “Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew 19:17). Jesus points the young man to an issue of critical importance: how can you know what is good?
Many people in our own day would answer that individuals define what is good for themselves. People are taught to look within and to follow their heart. But such counsel is folly and disastrous. Instead, Jesus points the young man and us to the only source of good who is able to truly define what is good: “There is only one who is good” and that one is God.
This good God, the one true and living God, has clearly defined for humanity what is good. As Jesus goes on to say, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). In particular, Jesus points the young man to the Ten Commandments, listing five of them (cf. Exodus 20:12-16) along with a summary statement known as the second great commandment (cf. Matthew 19:18-19):
- “You shall not murder” (6th commandment)
- “You shall not commit adultery” (7th commandment)
- “You shall not steal” (8th commandment)
- “You shall not bear false witness” (9th commandment)
- “Honor your father and mother (5th commandment)
- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (from Leviticus 19:18)
God has revealed what is good in His Law of Love – the Ten Commandments. The young man would certainly have been taught the Ten Commandments as a boy and probably could recite them. But being able to recite the commandments does not mean that one understands them or keeps them.
Because the young man had a superficial understanding of God’s law he said, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20). He did not understand that God’s law goes deeper than mere external conformity. God’s law penetrates all the way down to the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
To keep the commandments and really do good is to obey the commandments from a heart that loves God supremely and loves others truly. The young man had not truly kept God’s law.
Jesus cared too much about this young man to let him go on in his delusion. As Mark writes, “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21).
Sometimes love means saying the hard thing. In love, Jesus exposed the young man’s failure to keep God’s law. This young man loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God or his neighbors. His heart was exposed as a lawless heart devoid of true love.
If we examine our own hearts against the standard of God’s Law of Love, we must all admit that we fall short of keeping God’s commandments as well.
So how can we who are not good live the good life? How can we inherit eternal life? Jesus gave the answer to the young man when he said, “come, follow me.”
To live the good live and have eternal life we must follow and put our trust in the one who actually lived the good life: Jesus Christ. He is the only one who has perfectly kept God’s law and perfectly loved. As Jesus said, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31).
In his greatest act of love, Jesus lovingly obeyed his Father by laying down his life at the cross to pay the penalty for our lawless lives, so that all who believe in him may have life in his name (John 20:31). Do you have the good life that is found in Jesus Christ?