"One came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
Fortunately for us, a young man asked Jesus about how to have eternal life and we have Jesus' answer recorded! Adam and Eve, way back there in the Garden of Eden, were told that they could have eternal life if they would just partake of the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Unfortunately, in the midst of the garden was also another tree which brought death. They made the wrong choice egged on by Satan the devil and each generation after them has continued in that wrong choice. Each generation in its turn has continued in that way of error tens of billions of human beings most never knowing the answer that would ensure them of life after death. But you can know the answer from the giver of life Jesus Himself. Let's eavesdrop on the conversation this unnamed young man had with Jesus about this most important question. Now, this young man was rich. He was well educated, and very well off. He probably had elderly parents whom he was taking care of, fulfilling all the requirements of young, rich, educated, religious men of his generation. But he lacked ONE thing and he knew it. He had no insurance on eternal life!
Summons of the Grim Reaper
All of us know that there is only one sure thing in life: DEATH. We say there are two sure things: death and taxes. Some manage to evade and avoid taxes but nobody evades death! Nobody cheats death. When your number is up, that's it. You go at the summons of the grim reaper. You go nobody else goes in your stead. So this young man, let's call him Sam, was bold enough to ask the One who knew the answer: "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16.) He had everything else: youth, riches, health, education, intelligence, religion. Now what he needed to know was how he could ensure that he could keep on living, eternally enjoying all that he had. Sam began by being as careful, polite and political as possible. There were a number of people present who were asking Jesus questions. There had been the usual tricky, picky questions which were thrown Jesus' way. Sam tried to ensure himself of a good answer by beginning: "Good Master," and addressing Jesus as if he recognized Him as a great Rabbi, a great teacher, a great instructor, giving Him a pat on the back as it were, and asking in a very polite way. But Jesus answered and said, "Why do you call me good?" He answered, as His custom often was, with a question rather than a direct answer. He didn't tell Sam the answer right away, but called his attention to a very important point Sam should consider before he heard Jesus' answer. "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God." Jesus was telling Sam something of prime importance to the question, if he had had the ears to hear because Jesus was a Good Master, He is a Good Master, He is God, He was the Son of God (born as a human being, true, but God's Son) and God's Son forever now. Jesus was telling Sam pointedly that nobody is perfect (good) but God before Jesus even gave the answer, "Keep the commandments." He was telling Sam that no one so far in the history of mankind had been able to perform that requirement but all were guilty of sin and had come short of the glory of God or, as He was later to inspire the apostle Paul, "... in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing..." (Rom. 7:18) or again, "... the fruit of the Spirit [not the flesh] is in all goodness..." (Eph. 5:9). He was letting Sam know ahead of time, that humanly, physically speaking, no one, Sam included, was able to be perfect in "keeping the commandments."
I am sure that there are some theologians who are upset with Jesus' answer: " Keep the commandments," because it doesn't agree with their theology. It would have been much better for them had Jesus said, "Young man, you don't have to DO anything! Just believe on me. Have faith. By grace are you saved, not by works, lest the flesh should glory. Accept my name, and you will have eternal life." Of course, all of those statements are true, in and of themselves, and they are statements Jesus later inspired the writers of the New Testament to make. But those statements have been as much misunderstood, and taken out of context, as the statement He at this time gives to Sam: "Keep the commandments"! Certainly Jesus didn't overlook faith, or grace, or belief, or the efficacy of His name! Yet despite that, Jesus said instead: "If you will enter into life, KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS"! That's what He told Adam and Eve. "If you will enter into life, don't eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but DO eat of the tree of life!" It was all very simple. The tree of life would have granted Adam and Eve the Holy Spirit. Joined with their minds, it would have enabled them to call on the Father in heaven and overcome any of the difficulties that they might come across. With the Spirit of God, they would have been able to resist Satan the devil and he would have fled from them. They would have not been deceived or conned into the eating of that fruit which brought death upon them and us. But that's not what happened. They broke the only commandment they were given by God and ate from the wrong tree! Jesus' answer to Sam's question is embarrassing to some people who believe you don't have to DO anything to inherit eternal life and provides the total answer to others. Both groups are wrong! Some of us have repeated Jesus' statement "Keep the commandments" to wives, husbands, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmas, friends and employers, in order to sum up the essence of what we believe. That is, if you are going to inherit eternal life, if you are going to get into God's Kingdom, if you are going to be His Son, you're going to have to keep the commandments. And that is, indeed, what Jesus answered but He had much more to say, and the answer is not as simple as it appears!
Sam's Pharisee Question
Remember, Jesus started His answer by first asking a question by focusing Sam's mind, if he would have but heard it, on the fact that NONE is "good" except God Himself. Sam's question, "What good thing shall I do?" was a typical Job question, a Pharisee question. A typical question of the type of people who want to know where they stand, exactly, who like to have everything spelled out so there is no doubt at anytime as to the fact that they are headed directly on the path into the Kingdom that they have all their goodies waiting for them where moth doth not enter and rust doth not corrupt and that everything is going well. God is in His heaven, and we're here on the earth guided by Him in all our comfortable do's and don'ts. But Jesus did say, after all, "Keep the commandments." Well, Sam made another mistake, and asked, "Which?" Which commandments? Sam evidently assumed if he just knew which commandments he was supposed to keep, he'd have no problem. What Sam should have asked is "How?" not "Which?" Jesus had already told him nobody was good except God so the real question that needs answering is HOW!
But the reason Sam asked which commandments was because, being an intelligent Jew of his age, he realized that there were many sets of commandments. The Roman government was occupying Judea at the time and they had their laws, their commandments, their do's and don'ts of civil government and even laws regarding how religions ought to be observed in order not to interrupt the imperial crown of Rome, Satan's dominant power on' earth at the time. Sam also asked "Which?" because he knew there were over 600 laws, commandments, rules, regulations, oral law, which had been added by the elders of Israel to the laws of God, and in particular to the Ten Commandments. The idea behind these additions was that they realized the Ten Commandments were so holy, so pure, so good, that if they were broken they would bring death. So, they were going to create another law to "build a fence" around the Ten Commandments. When a person came up to break The Law, he had to break down the fence first and perhaps in so doing would realize he was about to break a Great Law and stop before he did! All a very fine, philosophical approach, a fine idea only one problem: It didn't work! What the fence did, in effect, was to obscure The Law so it couldn't be seen, understood, comprehended, couldn't enter into the hearts and minds and be exercised in daily life. So, despite the over 600 fence laws, The Law was still constantly broken by all. In addition, there are other laws. Laws of sacrifices. Laws regarding going to war. Laws regarding divorce and remarriage. Laws dealing with all aspects of life you and I face. A law designating what to do if your ox gets out and gores the neighbor's ox. Many, many laws, so perhaps Sam's question was understandable in that he said, "Which commandments?" Jesus' answer was specific and unmistakable: "Don't murder, don't commit adultery" now, "Thou shalt not kill" is number 6, and "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is number 7. Jesus continued: "Don't steal, don't bear false witness," numbers 8 and 9, and then Jesus added, "Honor your father and your mother" which is number 5 Jesus was not giving any particular order, but answering conversationally, then summing it all up with the general law: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
An Integrated Whole
This Jesus was the One, remember, who spoke these Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai to Sam's ancestors. The same One who, in a unique experience, told a whole nation His laws. Jesus gave the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai in a specific order, which began with, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me": He was the One who brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and redeemed them, and He insisted they worship Him only! Then He added restrictions against idol worship, taking His name in vain and required the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Four specific laws governing man's relationship to God then came the law: "Honor your father and your mother," beginning six laws governing man's relationship with his fellowman. I'm sure Jesus hadn't forgotten the order. But in His answer to Sam, He left out altogether the first four, mixed up the order of the last six and left out one of them altogether: "Thou shalt not covet." But then, as He later inspired James to write, if you break anyone of these commandments you are guilty of breaking them all. They are an integrated whole. They are a compact one. They all deal with love: the first four with love toward God, the last six with love toward fellowman. Well, Sam listened to an of those Jesus quoted. They were very familiar to him. He had them printed, undoubtedly, on the door post of his home as the custom of his people dictated. The order of the commandments over his door was the same as when God spoke it the first time, wrote it in stone two separate
Sam didn't have the same problem some people have who feel that any commandment which Jesus did not specifically reinstitute in the New Testament is no longer in effect just because it was in the Old Testament.
times for Moses and inspired Moses to record it twice, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Sam recognized the Ten Commandments. Sam didn't have the same problem some people have who feel that any commandment which Jesus did not specifically reinstitute in the New Testament is no longer in effect just because it was in the Old Testament. If that were so, then we would assume at this particular point that it's perfectly all right to have as many other gods before the true God as we want, because Jesus didn't mention that law. We can have idols and icons filling our houses, our churches and places of worship if we want because Jesus also left that law out here. We can curse the air blue and carry the name of Christ around on our T-shirts in vain and get away with it, because Jesus didn't tell Sam: "You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." And of course we could break the Sabbath law with impunity, because Jesus left that one out too! I'm sure you and I don't have any problem with reasoning like that any more than Sam did we know that Jesus' answer to Sam didn't give anyone license to break the five of the Ten Commandments He didn't specifically mention.
Seven Leagues Ahead of Job
Unfortunately for Sam, his smug and self-righteous response to Jesus was, "Look, I've kept all these from my youth up. That's simple. You know, I've never murdered anyone I've never stolen so much as a single penny!" Of course not. Sam didn't have to kill or be killed: he was living under Roman Law. He didn't have to steal anything, because he was a wealthy person. He had never lacked for anything all his life, food, clothing and shelter being more than adequate. Neither was bearing false witness necessary to maintain his style of living. Let's face it: Sam was PERFECT in his own eyes! Sam knew he had kept these commandments. He knew he was perfect and upright. He knew he was seven leagues ahead of Job. He knew he was far beyond the heart of David. He knew that he was talented beyond all human beings, and was God's gift to mankind! Sam knew he was all of these swelling things of vanity that his answer obviously proved he felt he was. But Sam was wrong, because in his heart and mind he wasn't keeping the commandments even if he were in the flesh, the letter of the law. He certainly wasn't observing the heart of it, the spirit, the intent and the purpose and that's what Jesus was getting at, isn't it? We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth we are to keep the heart and essence, the core, direction, meaning, purpose of those laws which He calls the Ten Commandments those two great laws which. direct love toward God and love toward mankind that ONE LAW: LOVE!
Keep the Commandments
Even though there were only five laws Jesus mentioned, Sam knew He meant Sam to keep ALL TEN. There wasn't any question in his mind, and we can't find in these scriptures an excuse not to keep the five Jesus didn't mention. You can't have eternal life if you covet other people's goods, property, wife, husband. You can't have eternal life if you worship other gods before Him, or are an idolater, or take His name in vain, or break His Sabbath. It just won't work that way. God isn't going to have anybody in His Kingdom who doesn't embody within himself at least a burning desire to love God, and his neighbors to KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS. Of course, as John points out, if any man says, "I have not sinned," he is a liar, and the truth is not in him! (I John 1:10.) So Sam, by the condemnation of John, the apostle, stands before Jesus his Savior asking about how to get eternal life and says, "I have not sinned, I've kept all those commandments, there's nothing to it, it's just like rolling off a log, easy, no problem I've got it made!" But he didn't, did he? In fact, John in effect labels him a liar. And if he was a liar, he broke at least one commandment. And James tells us that if one is broken, we stand guilty before God on all counts. We all stand guilty before the throne of God on any and all of these Ten Commandments at any given time.
What Did Sam Lack?
Jesus' answer seemed too simple to Sam. So Sam wasn't satisfied: "I've kept all these things from my youth up: what lack I yet?" Sam wanted more detail, specifically tailored for him. He wasn't satisfied with Jesus' answer so far. He wanted things spelled out. He wanted a list of do's and don'ts. He wanted to know exactly what he needed to do in order to GET eternal life. That's the one thing he lacked. He just had physical life, human life. He just had a temporary life that he knew was sealed in doom like every other human being and even though he was in the prime of life he could recognize with his mind that there would come a time when his heart didn't beat and his lungs didn't pump, his blood didn't circulate; a time when he wouldn't be able to think any more, wouldn't see, smell, taste, hear anymore: there would come a time when he would be dead! So Sam asked, "In addition to keeping the commandments, what else do I have to do?" Jesus' answer at this point was, "Now look, Sam, if you really want to be totally perfect, the epitome of perfection: sell all your belongings, give everything to the poor and come and follow me!" (Verse 21.) But that was not what Sam wanted to hear! Maybe he was hoping Jesus would say Sam could have eternal life if he performed the twelve feats of Hercules, killed seven dragons, chopped off all the heads of the hydraheaded monster, swam the deepest ocean, climbed the highest mountain, or slipped Jesus seven million pieces of silver to buy his way into the Kingdom, or... But sell all he had? and give all to the poor? and follow Jesus? That was too much! The price was too high! Sam turned and left Jesus sorrowful because the answer Jesus gave him was not the answer Sam wanted to hear:!
The Lesson for Us
Just between you and me, do you suppose if Sam had sold all his possessions, had given all to the poor and followed Jesus, that Jesus would have given him eternal life? Could Sam have bought his way into God's Kingdom that way? Well, as you and I very well know, you can't even earn it by "keeping the commandments," can you? No, eternal life is the GIFT OF GOD. You can't buy it, earn it, bargain for it, blackmail it out of God, extort it, demand it, argue or reason it out of Jesus: It must be a gift! You have to say, and mean, deeply and sincerely: "Lord, God, my Creator, I fully recognize that I am a sinner, that I cannot 'keep the commandments' of myself; I am imperfect and unclean, deceived of the devil and sentenced to death but please forgive me for all these things that stand between me and life, wash it all away with the blood of Christ, and grant me the gift of eternal life, I beg of you in deep repentance!" That's what Jesus wanted Sam to see for himself. That's why Jesus continued to add requirements to His original statement "keep the commandments." He wanted Sam to see that of himself he could not qualify, could not keep the commandments; that Sam had indeed NOT kept all those from his youth up, because he was not willing to part with this world's goods believe it or not he coveted that which he already had to such an extent he was not willing to part with it even to attain eternal life! Sam never saw the light during his lifetime maybe he will when he's resurrected, Maybe Sam will repent yet, when he has his opportunity, Maybe Sam will be baptized, have his sins washed away, buried with Christ, paid for by Jesus' qualified, perfect sacrifice. Maybe Sam will have hands laid on him and receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit which will help him understand the intent of the commandments and give him a burning desire to live in obedience to them. Maybe Sam will grow in grace and knowledge over the period of time he's given, and, in his turn, be changed in a moment and a twinkling of an eye, changed from physical to spiritual, from human to divine after he's "followed Jesus" minus all. his worldly goods, and losing bit by bit his own self-righteousness along the way, Sam won't have to GET eternal life: Eternal life will be given to him. Maybe you can learn from Sam's conversation with Jesus maybe you can learn enough to be given eternal life NOW and maybe you will be able to help Jesus give eternal life to Sam later!
RECOMMENDED READING Does salvation mean going to heaven? Is salvation a place, a destination, a condition, a reward or what? When do you receive salvation? These questions are answered in the booklet What Do You Mean... Salvation? It is free.