God Demands Perfection
The story of the rich young ruler is one that many people are familiar with. In this story, Jesus tells the man that if he obeys the commandments, he will have eternal life. However, this story was not intended to demonstrate the man's obedience. Instead, it was meant to expose his inability to obey perfectly. The rich young ruler mistakenly believed that he had kept the commandments since his youth. Jesus, knowing his heart and where he would stumble, instructed him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. Jesus was telling him that repentance from covetousness and faith in Christ were what he still lacked. However, the man, unable to part from his love of riches, walked away saddened. Jesus then tells his disciples that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. The disciples, recognizing the impossible standard Jesus presented, asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus responded that "what is impossible with man [repentance and faith], is possible with God." The rich young man's desire for wealth and his sin of covetousness outweighed his desire for Christ, and his nature was incapable of rising above his desires.
The Bible is filled with examples of man's inability to reach God's perfect standards. It is a common misconception that man in his natural state seeks after God. Men may seek a god, but not the true God as revealed in scripture. Without the new birth, no one can come into the light of the true God without suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
The Bible teaches, without a doubt, that we act and choose based on our greatest desire, which stems from our nature. As Jesus noted above, it is impossible to do otherwise. Furthermore, the physical death of Adam and his descendants (Gen 2:17) has resulted in other issues with man's unregenerate nature, including his inability to comprehend God, see spiritual things, understand his own heart, direct his own path, free himself from the curse of the Law, receive the Holy Spirit, understand or receive God's word, give birth into God's family, produce repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, come to Christ, and please God. These consequences of Adam's disobedience on his descendants are referred to by theologians as the total depravity of man. Without a change of disposition, the love of God and His law cannot be the natural man's deepest motive and principle.
In conclusion, the perfect standard set by God is a reminder of our own imperfection, and how much we need the salvation that only Jesus can provide. We cannot achieve this on our own, for our natural desires and actions are based on our nature, which is fallen and unable to please God. But, thanks be to God, He has made a way by grace through faith in Jesus.
God's grace transforms the human heart and renews the mind. When, by grace, a person puts their faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit (who now indwells them) begins to work in them, producing fruit and empowering them to live a life that pleases God.
For example, the Apostle Paul was a notorious persecutor of Christians, but he was transformed on the road to Damascus and became one of the most influential figures in the early Christian church. This shows that no one is beyond the reach of God's grace and that He is able to transform even the most hardened heart.
The woman at the well (John 4:1-42): This woman was an outcast in her community due to her immoral lifestyle. But after encountering Jesus at the well, she repented of her sins and became a witness for Christ, leading many in her community to faith.
Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10): Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector who was despised by the people. But after encountering Jesus, he repented of his sins and promised to repay anyone he had cheated four times the amount he had taken.
Peter (Luke 22:54-62; John 21:15-19): Peter famously denied Jesus three times, but after encountering the resurrected Christ, and experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he was transformed into a bold witness for the gospel, leading thousands to faith.