"A certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? "
This is the most important question we need to ask, and then find our answer from the Word of God.
"If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet? "
"Christ was drawn to this young man. He knew him to be sincere in his assertion, 'All these things have I kept from my youth.'"
He was a good, obedient young man. He did not murder, steal, lie or commit adultery. But he did have a problem!
"His conception of the law was external and superficial. Judged by a human standard, he had preserved an unblemished character. To a great degree his outward life had been free from guilt; he verily thought that his obedience had been without a flaw. Yet he had a secret fear that all was not right between his soul and God. This prompted the question, 'What lack I yet? '"
"Christ read the ruler's heart. Only one thing he lacked, but that was a vital principle. He needed the love of God in the soul. This lack, unless supplied, would prove fatal to him."
What does "vital" mean? It is absolutely essential for life. What was essential for life? He needed the love of God in his soul, not just human love. Human love can be very selfish.
"That he might receive the love of God, his supreme love of self must be surrendered."
"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."
And Jesus was very sorrowful to see him go.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
The young man had been on the road to death, and chose to stay on that road. He was a very selfish young man, coveting all his riches for himself and not sharing with others. He did not have God's love in his heart.
"Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"
"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. "
"Unless you accept in your own life the principle of self-sacrificing love, which is the principle of His character, you cannot know God."
"Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, true love springs forth spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within."
"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
"It is not possible for the heart in which Christ abides to be destitute of love. If we love God because He first loved us, we shall love all for whom Christ died."
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. "
Your neighbor is a person who needs your help. Your neighbor is your wife. Your neighbor is your child. How do we treat our neighbors in our own family? Do we really love them with God's love? What is God's love like?
"Love is patient and kind; [even when your children are disobedient, love is still patient and kind even though you have to discipline them] love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; [There would be no quarrelling in families if we had that kind of love. We would patiently discuss the problem, pray about it, and find a solution] it is not irritable or resentful; [even when others do not agree with us, or even do things that hurt us] it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. " [with patience and kindness, and without irritation or resentment]
"Love not only bears with other's faults, but cheerfully submits to whatever suffering or inconvenience such forbearance makes necessary."
"For the love of Christ controls us. "
As I share these things, people often say, "But we are only human! How can we have that kind of love?" If we are only human, we are not Christians. Christians are partakers of the divine nature. They have Christ in them, the hope of glory. They are connected to the Vine and are filled with the Holy Spirit, therefore they are filled with God's love, which is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit.
"God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given us."
"Many are deceiving themselves; for the principle of love does not dwell in their hearts."
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. "
I grew up in a supposedly Christian home. I was the second of eleven children. My father was very firm in training his children to be obedient to parents and to God. But he could not control himself. If anyone failed to cooperate he would easily get impatient and often very angry. And then he had to find an excuse for his failures and so he blamed his children or his wife or whoever had provoked him. God's love did not control him!
My father would have stood for the truths he believed in even to becoming a martyr if necessary, but he would have gained nothing! And one may give ten Bible studies a day and go home and fight with the family and still believe himself to be a worker for God. How sad!
"We may be active, we may do much work; but without love, such love as dwelt in the heart of Christ, we can never be numbered with the family of heaven."
I liked to obey and so managed to get along well with my parents as I was growing up, truly thinking I was on the road to heaven. I gladly helped them with all the children and the farm work. But after I was married and had my own children I did not find it so easy. My husband and I did not always see things the same way in training the children and often argued about it, insisting on our way. I felt I knew more about training children since I had been the one who had always looked after all my younger brothers and sisters. My husband had no experience with children and when he was selfish or harsh with the children, I resented him. When the children were disobedient and we would get impatient and irritated, we also felt we could blame the children! And as I share with others, they acknowledge that they have done it too. How sad! The children carry their own guilt when they fail and also the parent's guilt. But we kept trying to be good parents, not realizing that we were just depending on our human love.
In 1970 we came home from our mission appointment in India and I went to visit my parents. During my stay there, several of my brothers and sisters, who were also visiting, brought up the subject of righteousness by faith. Some of them had been studying the concept for some time. While discussing it with father, they had expressed some ideas that seemed different from his understanding of salvation. With me there, he hoped to get to the bottom of the matter. I was a minister's wife! I had been a missionary! I would have the answers, father thought.
So, as my brothers and sisters described their new insights, father would ask me, "Margaret, are they right?" Each time all I could answer was, "Father, I don't know." I had been a worker for God but not really a student of His Word. Oh yes, I read my Bible, but I did not understand how to feed on the Word so it would become a power in my life. I was a surface reader!
As the discussion continued, father became more and more concerned. Was his hope of heaven built on quicksand? His belief was, simply, believe in Jesus, do your best to obey, and gradually you will overcome your sins. After all, isn't sanctification the work of a lifetime? And doesn't Jesus cover our sins while we are trying to overcome them as many teach?
So, during much of his life, he had tried to overcome his sins of temper, resentment, irritation, impatience, strife, and lust, believing that he was always in a saving relationship, covered by Christ's righteousness, even while knowingly sinning. Now he was hearing of the necessity of a heart-cleansing and then the power of God to keep him from sinning, and that Christ's righteousness does not cover sin!
As the discussion went on, my father was not the only one who became troubled. I did also, because I had to admit I knew nothing of righteousness by faith. My religion was much like my father's. Do your best to obey God! And since my besetting sins were minor in comparison with his, it seemed as though I was having victory.
Father was 78-years-old at the time, and had a heart condition that could bring death at any moment. He knew that only the overcomer would be in heaven, and he was not overcoming!!! He still had a 17-year-old boy at home, born twelve years after the other children, who was aggravating him more than all the other ten children put together. Now, weighed down by the realization of his problem, he cried out, "Margaret, help me!"
"Everywhere there are hearts crying out for something which they have not. They long for a power that will give them mastery over sin, a power that will deliver them from the bondage of evil, a power that will give health and life and peace."
As I looked into my Father's pleading eyes, it suddenly dawned on me that I had nothing to offer a sinner. I could have said, "Try a little harder, Dad!" But he had been trying all his life, and in that moment I knew it was not the right answer. So I said nothing.
I went home, determined to do something to help my father. I started to search diligently to discover what it really meant to be a Christian. At first this was boring, but I kept on and gradually the Bible became living water and living bread to my soul.
"As they feed upon His word, they find that it is spirit and life. The word destroys the natural, earthly nature, and imparts a new life in Christ Jesus."
As I studied, I found answers, and for the first time I realized I had only a form of godliness, but not the power of the gospel. I could seemingly keep the outward law but I had not known how to yield my spirit to be controlled by God's Spirit so that I could have the obedience of faith.
"Many who call themselves Christians are mere human moralists. The work of the Holy Spirit is to them a strange work. "
Because I was naturally inclined to be cooperative, and because I was taught by my parents to obey them and also God, I came unwittingly to trust in my obedience. I thought I was a successful Christian.
"The people are more ignorant in regard to the plan of salvation and need more instruction upon this all-important subject than upon any other."
"I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted them-selves to the righteousness of God. "
"Genuine faith appropriates the righteousness of Christ, and the sinner is made an overcomer with Christ; for he is made a partaker of the divine nature, and thus divinity and humanity are combined.
"He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. Man cannot be saved without obedience, but his works should not be of himself; Christ should work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure."
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
When I began to share my discoveries with my husband, he joined me in the search. He had been a minister for twenty years, but he had not understood the experience of the gospel either.
"We need to be enlightened in regard to the plan of salvation. There is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare.
"The enemy of man and God is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken. "
As we studied and both of us discovered how to surrender our hearts to God daily, our lives changed. Soon our children realized that Mom and Dad were experiencing something real in their lives, and they also wanted to find spiritual life for themselves. Our son, Arlen, was twenty-three, our daughter, Cheryl, was twenty-two, and married, and our youngest, Lorna, was fourteen.
When Cheryl came home for a visit, we shared with her our new-found experience and understanding of salvation. She exclaimed, "That's what I've been looking for all my life! How do I find that experience?" We encouraged her to spend time with Jesus, truly getting to know Him by reading His word and getting to understand His teachings. Several weeks later she called me and said, "Mom, it's no use! I'm just reading words. They seem meaningless." She had also been a surface reader. I encouraged her to keep on until the words became living water and living bread.
Our youngest daughter, Lorna, decided to stay home from school a year and just study the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings. She made her decision to follow God at that time, and it was such a blessing.
"In the struggle for eternal life, we cannot lean upon another. The bread of life must be eaten by each one. Individually we must partake of it, that soul, body, and mind may be revived and strengthened by its transforming power."
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, He who through faith is righteous shall live. "
After I experienced for myself the power of the gospel, I prayed that the Lord would send me back to my father and all my family. I longed to share with them the wonderful truths of salvation I had found.
"In order to convince others of the power of Christ's grace, we must know its power in our own hearts and lives."
"The gospel is to be presented, not as a lifeless theory, but as a living force to change the life. God would have His servants bear testimony to the fact that through His grace men may possess Christlikeness of character and may rejoice in the assurance of His great love."
As I shared my testimony with my family, I was very grateful that my father and mother responded to the saving message of the gospel.
Some of my brothers and sisters told me, "This will change our whole lives. You cannot keep this to yourself. Would you share it with our friends? Would you speak in our church?" "Me? Speak in the church?" I had only done work for children, and I had never given talks in church, but I knew I had found something real in my Christian experience. So I prayed and asked God to take away my fear and give me freedom to speak.
The very next morning I had the church service. No fear! Then the people wanted another meeting in the afternoon and also in the evening. Afterward the minister came to me and said, "I have studied and studied and tried to understand righteousness by faith, but I couldn't quite grasp it. Now I understand, and now I too, can surrender myself to God.
"I wish you to distinctly understand this point, that souls are kept from obeying the truth by a confusion of ideas, and also because they do not know how to surrender their wills and their minds to Jesus. They want special instruction how to become Christians. "
"Do not allow anything to draw your attention from the question, 'What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' This is a life and death question, which we must settle for eternity."
"Search, oh search the precious Bible with hungry hearts."
"A supposed hope, and nothing more, will prove your ruin."
"Many are sensible of their great deficiency, and they read, and pray, and resolve, and yet make no progress. They seem powerless to resist temptation. The reason is, they do not go deep enough. They do not seek for a thorough conversion of the soul, that the streams which issue from it may be pure, and the deportment may testify that Christ reigns within. All defects of character originate in the heart. Pride, vanity, evil temper, and covetousness proceed from the carnal heart unrenewed by the grace of Christ."
The carnal heart and mind cannot obey the spiritual law, it can only obey the letter of the law. This was Paul's experience also before his conversion. Are there others who were as ignorant of righteousness as we were? Let's think of Nicodemus. What did Jesus tell him?