Here we have the story of the rich young man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He does have many redeeming qualities: he is young, a religious leader of some sort, very wealthy, confident, sincere, moralistic, and worked hard at keeping the law. He probably shocked the crowd by running and kneeling humbly down to Jesus, and by respectfully calling Him “good teacher.” By using this term he was actually putting himself on the same level as Jesus. He thought of himself as good by being successful and by keeping the law, but Jesus quickly pointed out that God is the only one that is good (meaning perfect). Romans 3:10: “As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is good – not even one.'” The young man then asked what he could do to inherit eternal life, seriously understanding that he was missing something and seeking help from Jesus. He came to the right person, but was asking the wrong question. He was looking for the ultimate good work that he could do that would save him. The young man needed to see his own lack of goodness and sin. Even though he was moral and kept the law, he was still not good – he was a sinner. In verses 21 & 22 Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and follow Him, but he could not do that because he did not worship God, he worshipped his possessions. Even though he followed the majority of the law he failed the first commandment, and his heart was revealed when he walked away.
Jesus then looks around to see who was in the crowd in vs. 23-24 and said how hard it was for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. It is not possible to buy our way into heaven, and it is so very difficult to give it up if we have it. Verse 25 is the familiar verse stating that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. It is simply not humanly possible for anyone to obtain salvation on their own. Of course the disciples then wondered who could possibly be saved? No one can humanly, we are all sinners; only God can save us!
In verses 28-31 Peter asks Jesus what happens to them? They had given up everything, unlike this rich young man that could not. Jesus explained that everyone that gives up family and other earthly things will gain a new heavenly family and more. As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”