And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-24 ESV)
At first glance it looks like Jesus is telling this man that all he has to do is sell all his possessions to gain eternal life. But look closer. Jesus is simply giving him an example of why he can’t inherit eternal life. It’s as if I went to a NBA coach and asked him, “What must I do to be on your basketball team?” Let’s say this coach wanted me to try and see how hopeless it would be for me to be a NBA player, and he said, “Let me see you dunk a basketball.” I might become “very sad,” because I would realize there was no way I could dunk a basketball. Obviously, I can’t be in the NBA just because I can’t dunk a basketball— that’s just an example. I can’t be in the NBA because my entire being would be a complete failure in a NBA game. I don’t have what it takes.
In the same way, Jesus just took an example, an example he knew would sting this man’s heart, an example of how “no one is good except God alone,” how there was no way in his own efforts this man could merit eternal life and enter the kingdom of God.
The actual “one thing” the man lacked was the ability to value Jesus and the treasure of heaven above this world. The man turned away, because he knew that he didn’t, indeed he couldn’t value Jesus above all. So it is with all of us— we all lack the ability to value God above anything and everything else in our lives. Humanity lost the ability to choose God above all the moment that Adam and Eve chose the fruit above God.
The good news of the gospel is that God has made a way for our hearts to be regenerated, a way through faith in Christ for us to be born again so that we might once again learn to cherish Him above all else. This one thing we all lack and can never attain God Himself has graciously provided for us if we will come to Him in faith.