The Rich Young Ruler

Q. In Matt 19:17 a rich young man asks Jesus, The Author of Eternal Life, what he must do to gain Eternal Life.  Jesus tells the man to `keep the commandments`.  Now since Eternal Life is not the promise under the Old Covenant, the answer Jesus gave was pertaining to the New Covenant of grace.We know this because it is under this New Covenant that Eternal Life is the promise. You teach that good works has nothing to do with one’s salvation. If you are right, wouldn’t that mean that Jesus lied to this man?

A. To begin with, let us clarify the two different covenants you speak of.  The Old Covenant, or the Mosaic Covenant, was essentially a land grant covenant that deeded the land of Israel to the Children of Jacob, provided they met the conditions of God’s covenant.  This particular covenant was peculiar among the different covenants outlined in the Bible (Adamic, Noahic,  and Abrahamic) in that it was a conditional covenant that required both parties to fulfill the terms of the agreement.  It should be noted that this covenant had nothing to do with eternal life of those who were participants.

The personal salvation of man was not based on the Mosaic Covenant.  While the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrificial system existed as a tangible reminder to the people that their sins could only be covered by blood, the blood of animals could not atone for sin (Hebrews 10:4).  The entire sacrificial system for righteousness was only in place in order to point God’s faithful in the direction of the Messiah, whose blood would be required to truly bring righteousness to people.  Therefore, personal salvation has always depended on belief in the LORD and trusting the LORD with one’s fate.  This is why in Genesis 15:6 it is said of Abram, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, NASB).  Therefore, we are accorded righteousness before the Lord by our faith in Him.

Now, in consideration of this, let us look at Matthew 19.  Jesus told the young man to keep the commandments, but it was not because this is the path of salvation.  He was revealing to the young man his own sinfulness.  The young man attested to keeping the commandments from his youth.  It is interesting to note, however, that Jesus did not ask him about any of the commandments pertaining to his relationship to God. The young ruler’s reaction, however, tells us what Jesus found in his heart.  While he was willing to claim a certain portion of blamelessness in front of God, he was not willing to fully obey the word of God, nor was he willing to place his God above his possessions.  The whole of the law could be summed up in two commandments:  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  By valuing his possessions over obedience to the will of God, the young man was revealing his own fallen state.

When it comes to salvation, there are two options.  First, we can stand on our obedience to the law.  This was the approach of the young ruler.  However, we cannot keep the law.  Jesus, in the same passage, affirms our inability to keep the law when He says “With people, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NASB).  If we, like the young ruler, try to stand on our obedience to the law, we are doomed to fail, as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB).  Only one person, Jesus the Messiah, was able to fully keep the law.  By accepting His sacrifice and gift of salvation on our behalf, we, like Abraham, are accorded righteousness before the LORD our God.  Rather than teaching that salvation could come only through the law, Jesus instead was pointing to salvation through grace based on wholehearted love and devotion to the LORD.

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