KEY THOT: In answer to the lawyer’s question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus didn’t just say, “Believe and you will live” Instead, Jesus said, “Do this, and you will live.” Jesus’ answer to the lawyer sounds like work-righteousness instead of faith-righteousness. Yet, if we were to examine the context of this dialogue, we will know that faith is assumed in Jesus’ answer: “Do this and you will live.” The key word here is “inherit”.
What is implied by the word “inherit”? This word assumes that the one seeking the inheritance is already in a special relationship with the one who owns an estate, usually, sonship. Only children of their father can inherit their father’s estate. So, when Jesus told the lawyer to “do this and you will live”, he was speaking to a Jew whose worldview assumed God as their Father and they were children of God. The expression “secular Jew” was an oxymoron in Jesus’ time. If you are a Jew, you cannot be “secular” (non-believer in God). Every Jew believe that they are children of God by virtue of God election of grace through Abraham: “Abraham is our father" (John 8:39). And the fact they were all circumcised is evidence of this faith. So how do they express their faith? By their obedience to the Law’s requirements: its statutes, precepts and commands.
Just as circumcision was a sign and seal of Abraham’s faith, so every male Jew was circumcised by faith: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11).
Abraham’s righteousness was credited to him because of his faith, while he was still uncircumcised. So every Jew considers himself a son of God by virtue of their faith as engraved in their flesh. So the Law was given to ensure that they were able to inherit the eternal life that was promised by faith through their circumcision. The idea of inheritance of eternal life/kingdom is always a future eschatological event: “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this WILL not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).
So for the Jews who have the Law before Pentecost, the Law serves as a guide to ensure they are walking in holiness so that they may inherit the eternal life promised by faith. For the Gentiles believers who do not have the Law, they are to walk by the Spirit not by the flesh to ensure that they will ultimately inherit the kingdom as promised by faith. Paul has repeatedly warned the Galatians not to forfeit their inheritance through careless living according to the lusts and desires of their flesh.
In other words, it is not just righteousness imputed by faith alone, but also righteousness imparted as a result of our walking by the Spirit that will guarantee our inheritance as sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We work out what God has work in us so as not to nullify the grace of God: "WORK OUT your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who WORKS IN you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
If a Gentile Christian were to ask the same question that the Jewish lawyer asked, would Jesus answer it differently? My contention is that it would still be: “Do this and you will live!”
To support my contention, let's turn to Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
This is glorified Jesus speaking to the church in Ephesus. The call to “overcome” is given to all seven churches, not just the one at Ephesus. Jesus didn’t tell the churches to “believe and you will live” because they have already believed. It now remains for them to “overcome” to inherit eternal life: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life.” (See Rev. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21 for the rest of Jesus’ exhortation to “overcome” to inherit eternal life).
Let us press on to do what pleases God so that we may inherit what we have already received by faith--the Holy Spirit who is the deposit for our future inheritance.
Father, thank You that You have promised us eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. Help us walk by Your Spirit so that having received we may inherit what is promised through faith at Your coming. Amen.