What Jesus said about inheriting eternal life strikes at the heart of most Christian theology. It is a slap in the face to the doctrine of “just believe” and moves it into the realm of doing the Scripture.
16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what [essentially] good thing shall I do to obtain eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]?”17 Jesus answered, “Why are you asking Me about what is [essentially] good? There is only One who is [essentially] good; but if you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Jesus, “Which commandments?” And Jesus answered, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT GIVE FALSE TESTIMONY; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others]. 20 The young man said to Him, “I have kept all these things [from my youth]; what do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:16-20 Amplified Bible or AMP)
The rich young ruler asked Jesus, “What must I do to obtain (other translations- “inherit”) eternal life.” (Matthew 19:16) Jesus taught the rich young ruler about the qualifications for obtaining eternal life. His answer is like a loaded cannon! His answer will completely confuse most people because it sounds foreign to their evangelical thinking. It sounds like Jesus was telling the rich young ruler about getting saved by good works. The entire assumption is based on a wrong premise if that is what is seen in Jesus' answer. There is nothing weird or out of place with the comments of Jesus. This was not “law or works thinking” as opposed to grace. If you believe Jesus was “under the law” and Paul was “under grace,” you have been subjected to wrong Biblical interpretation!
Firstly, we should understand that the man Jesus was speaking to, the rich young ruler, was not a Gentile. He was far from it. The rich young ruler was a Jewish man, circumcised the eighth day (as all Jewish boys were), and would have entered covenant responsibility between 12 and 13 years of age. He became responsible for covenant obedience according to the Judaism of his day. He had kept the basic commandments (moral ones) from his youth, or from his entering covenant responsibility, what historically became known later as the Bar-Mitzvah. (1)
Why did the rich young ruler ask Jesus which were the commandments He was referring to in order to obtain or inherit eternal life?
The commandments can be divided for the purposes of Christianity into the moral and judicial guidelines categories, and on the other side were those that addressed ritual activity in the Temple of God, priesthood, animal blood sacrifices, feasts and festivals, Sabbath days, food laws, and so on. For simplicity’s sake, I refer to them as the moral commandments and ceremonial or ritual commandments. That is not an artificial division to the commandments because after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A. D., moral and judicial commandments came to the forefront as the only ones that Jews could continue to observe. (2) All ritual or ceremonial commandments dependent on Temple and priesthood became obsolete and passed away into history.
Judaism was reinvented in the latter part of the 1st century and into the 2nd century without the Temple and priesthood services in Jerusalem. (3) Jewish leaders understood that the 613 commandments of God’s law were reduced to 369 laws when the Temple was destroyed. (4) Other Jewish sources say only 244 commandments or 40% were and are applicable! (5)
Only the moral and judicial laws and commandments were left. Feasts, festivals, and Sabbath observances were reinvented so they could be practiced without animal sacrifices. Even circumcision of a male child on the eighth day was within the framework of the mother offering a sacrifice in the Temple for her purification after childbirth. (6) That was no longer applicable without Temple, priesthood, and animal sacrifices.
Today, Jews continue to practice Sabbaths and the festivals without offering animal sacrifices. According to the apostle Paul’s teaching and the conclusions reached by the Jerusalem church council in Acts 15, Christians converted among the Gentiles were not required to keep Sabbath days, circumcision, or any of the feasts and festivals of Israel. They were required to continue to uphold and keep moral commandments and guidelines.
If you have questions along these lines, and how these historical facts affect your Christian walk today, please see my detailed 62 page PDF by using this link, “Did the Grace of God Cancel Biblical Commandments”. There are many wrong teachings floating among Christians concerning law and grace, and the difference between ritual and moral commandments, and whether we should obey moral commandments or not. Paul was emphatically clear about the subject, but the problem is many have been reading his statements without understanding the historical context. Many have interpreted some verses in ways that Paul never intended while at the same time rejecting some things he wrote about the commandments and the law of Moses. My 62-page mini-book will open your eyes with many Scripture references and a historical background, and it is free of charge!
Let me get back to the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler.
Do you mean to tell me that there could be a connection to eternal life and the follower of Jesus keeping God’s moral commandments? Some would be too quick to yell, “NO!” Yes, there is a connection, according to Jesus. Jesus taught it. What you must decide is whether you will believe the words of Jesus or not. Moral commandments are important eternally, but ONLY for those already in a covenant relationship with the Father! Commandments originated in the Father and Jesus ONLY taught what He heard from the Father in Heaven. (John 7:16)
What does the above mean for believers today? After you come to Jesus and receive God’s gift in redemption, you are expected to live a moral life, that is IF you want to hold fast to eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:12, 19) If you sin, you must confess your sin before God and receive forgiveness and cleansing from UN-righteousness. You need to get it right with God and get sin purged out of your life by the Blood of Jesus! (See 1 John 1:7-10, 2:1, 2)
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9, 10 NKJV)
The love commandment at the end of the statement of Jesus in Matthew 19:19 and Paul's statement above in Romans 13:10 are not a replacement or even a rejection of the other holy moral commandments of God. Jesus nor Paul ever taught that nonsense, though many Christians teach it as the gospel truth! Paul writes that love is a SUMMARY of what it means to live a holy life before God. God’s moral commandments are holy, just, good and spiritual according to Paul in Romans 7:12 and 14. Read the text please and get your theology straight! The commandments of God were NEVER fleshly or carnal or so burdensome that nobody could keep them. That "no one could keep them" is traditional religious baloney! The rich young ruler kept the moral commandments impeccably from his youth, and he did that BEFORE he was a follower of Jesus, and BEFORE the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost! The idea that “God’s commandments were hard to keep” was a Satan-invented lie to get Christian people to live their lives cringing against anything called a commandment and making them feel less responsible for keeping them.
The apostle John taught the exact opposite to the “no one could keep the commandments of God” ignorance, and the “they were too hard to keep” foolishness.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2, 3 NKJV)
“Not burdensome” means that God’s Holy guidelines (moral commandments) for living in this world were not a “heavy weight” like a mule carrying a heavy load. No mules here! Commandments are a part of our yoke in Christ, and His yoke is easy, and His burden is light! (See Matthew 11:28-30.) Notice that the love of God is that we keep (obey) His commandments. When you understand that properly, you will get the truth that John was teaching the same thing Paul wrote when he quoted some of God’s moral commandments and stated that all of God’s moral commandments were SUMMED UP in the love commandment.
Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matthew 19:18-19 NKJV)
None of those moral commandments were burdensome or “hard to keep.” That was and is true, especially for the born again and committed believer. The moral commandments are easy because we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us to live in holiness. He isn’t called the HOLY Spirit for nothing! The Father is a holy God, and Jesus is a holy Lord that empowers His followers to live holy lives before God.
When you first come to Jesus and make Him Lord of your life, He will accept you as you are, but He does not want you to stay that way. Jesus will forgive, cleanse, heal, and deliver you, but the Lord expects transformation out of us as believers. (See Romans 12:1, 2 in the Amplified Bible.)
But I declared to those in Damascus first, and then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with repentance. (Acts 26:20 NET)
Good works (deeds) are not how we got saved but they do demonstrate repentance AFTER you receive Jesus. “Performing deeds consistent with repentance” is holiness. The behavior of a Christian should be one that breathes and lives holiness. It is the will of God that we live a holy life. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.) Holiness is not bondage. Holy behavior is a prerequisite of the Christian life. We serve a holy God and a holy Lord by the power of the HOLY Spirit.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 NASB)
Once you begin to follow Jesus, there must be a change of lifestyle. It is never “come to Jesus and then sin all you want because He loves you.” Some have espoused the twisted theology that this is what love does. Did Jesus agree with the idea of “love will overlook my sins as a Christian even if I don’t repent?” Not according to Jesus.
“And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God” (Luke 13:3, 5 New Living Translation).
The message of Jesus was one of repentance, turning from devilish lifestyles, and serving and loving God. Not ONE verse in the Gospels ever insinuates acceptance of sin and darkness, but a rejection of sin and evil ways.
Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11 NKJV). He said to the healed (former) blind man, “Go and sin no more so something worse does not come on you” (John 5:14 NKJV). Continuing in a sinful lifestyle is not an option for the follower of Jesus!
The words of Jesus are filled with living a holy lifestyle in obedience to God, His Word, and commandments.
What did Jesus preach and teach everywhere? Here was a huge part of it.
He (Jesus) said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15 New English Translation)
The Scriptural pattern of the Christian life is also found in the book of Revelation.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.” … 17 And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus. (Revelation 12:10-12, 17 New Living Translation)
I quoted a larger portion than verse 17 so that you would see that all who keep the commandments of God and maintain their faith in Jesus are believers in Christ Jesus that serve and obey Him. Note the two-fold description of true believers in Christ. They keep the commandments (moral commandments) of God AND maintain their faith in Jesus. It is not only keeping the commandments, and it is not having faith in Jesus alone. It is both!
Here is [encouragement for] the steadfast endurance of the saints (God’s people), those who habitually keep God’s commandments and their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:12 Amplified Bible or AMP)
Who are the real saints or God’s people? Are they those that have a regard for their church dogma or declaration of faith? Are the real believers those that have a mental agreement with the facts about the life and resurrection of Jesus? Are the real people of God those that made a confession of Jesus as their Lord at some point in their life but now habitually live in sin? No, a thousand times no! The real believers are those who habitually keep God’s moral commandments AND their faith in Jesus.
Jesus answered the rich young ruler, “…But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He (the rich young ruler) said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” The rich young ruler answered Jesus that those commandments he kept from his youth, but he knew that something was missing. Watch this closely.
20 The young man said to Him, “I have kept all these things [from my youth]; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered him, “If you wish to be perfect [that is, have the spiritual maturity that accompanies godly character with no moral or ethical deficiencies], go and sell what you have and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me [becoming My disciple, believing and trusting in Me and walking the same path of life that I walk].” 22 But when the young man heard this, he left grieving and distressed, for he owned much property and had many possessions [which he treasured more than his relationship with God]. (Matthew 19:20-22 AMP)
Do you see it? What the man lacked in his commandment keeping was obedience to God with his giving (because money or “stuff” controlled him), and becoming a true believer by following Jesus. Jesus taught him that commandment keeping was a part of the equation to eternal life, but there was more to it than that. He needed to fully commit to Jesus and follow Him unreservedly. That was the way he was going to be perfect or have the spiritual maturity that accompanied godly character with no moral or ethical deficiencies. Jesus was calling the rich young ruler to discipleship, and possibly, in his case, to apostleship. That man could have replaced Judas Iscariot as the one that handled the money for Jesus and His staff. He missed his call to become a true follower of Jesus.
Do you see how this meshes perfectly with Revelation 12:17 and 14:12? The true follower of Jesus will obey God’s moral commandments and maintain his or her faith in Jesus.
To believers, Christians, or followers of Jesus, Paul makes this statement:
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is keeping the commandments of God. (1 Corinthians 7:19 AMP)
He was not making that statement to the ungodly but to born-again, tongue talking Christians. After you come to Jesus and get baptized in the Holy Spirit and begin speaking and praying in tongue, the next step is transformation by becoming a doer of the Word. (See Romans 12:2, and James 1:22.) That means that holiness is now on your radar everyday, and you are a practitioner, doer, or keeper of the moral commandments of God.
(1) Although Bar-Mitzvah today is celebrated differently, we know it has ancient roots as recorded in the Talmud. Jesus was examined by the Temple priests and teachers at the age of 12. (Luke 2:41–52) “All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:47) Most likely, that is the oldest record of a “Bar Mitzvah” or when a child's understanding of Scripture is scrutinized and subject to rabbinical approval in order to become a part of the adult community of observant Jews. Do you understand that this in the ONLY event recorded about Jesus’ youth, and that it happened when he was 12 years old? That means that this was an especially important event in His life. Why were Joseph and Mary not there if it was so important? Could this scrutiny among the priests and teachers have started earlier, and they thought it was finished, so they left thinking Jesus was with the other children that went through the same process of scrutiny? They were surprised that Jesus extended His stay because, “He must be about His Father’s business.” He was already taking his adult covenant responsibility VERY seriously.
(2) Jews divided commandments by positive and negative ones. There were 248 “do’s, and 365 don’ts. Without Temple or priesthood, of the 248 do’s only 126 are applicable today among religious Jews. Of the 365 don’ts there were left applicable 243. See http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm , but see article in note 5.
(3) Jewish commentaries on the history of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple teach it this way. As an example see: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/1362/forgotten-hero-of-tisha-bav-enabled-judaism-to-survive-exile/ ; also look at the following: http://earlyworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/01/yohanan-ben-zakkai.html ; https://www.jweekly.com/1995/08/04/forgotten-hero-of-tisha-b-av-enabled-judaism-to-survive-exile/ . For more information, see Jacob Neusner, A Life of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (1960).
(4) Nobody knows this better than the Jews! See: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/541686/jewish/How-Many-ofthe-Torahs-Commandments-Still-Apply.htm
(5) “Of the 613 commandments, only 411 don't require the Temple (202, or about a third, do); of these, only 369 commandments are applicable today (42 pertain to slaves, kings, nazirs, etc.); of these, only 270 apply always, regardless of circumstances (99 require special circumstances, e.g., "don’t be late in fulfilling a vow" applies only if you make a vow; likewise, parapet around roof, paying laborer on time, etc.); -of these, only 244 apply outside Israel. (26 apply only in Israel.) So, for most Jews, only 244, or 40%, of the mitzvot apply.” Quoted from the following article: https://images.shulcloud.com/618/uploads/PDFs/Divrei_Torah/150523-the-613-commandments-shavuot.pdf
(6) That would seem to be the implication of Luke 2:21-24 and Leviticus 12:1-7. Many believe there was no connection, but the context in both passages may confirm there was a covenant connection. See the following articles for additional insight: https://www.thetorah.com/article/mother-and-child-postpartum-defilement-and-circumcision ; https://www.algemeiner.com/2012/03/30/the-blood-of-menstruation-is-covenantal-blood/ . I only bring this up because if that was the case, once the Temple was destroyed in 70 A. D. (CE), the covenant rite of circumcision also lost important connections to blood sacrifice and Temple worship. After the Temple’s destruction these sacrifices in Leviticus 12:1-7 that were connected to the purification of the woman after childbirth and covenant circumcision, these could no longer be offered.
Listen to the next podcast in the series: Repentance- Part 9. It will answer many questions for you on the difference between righteousness as a gift, and righteousness as the lifestyle of the believer. There is much confusion in the area of righteousness and what the difference is between Romans 3:25, 26; 5:17 (the gift of righteousness) and what John taught in 1 John 2:29 and 3:7, 8, 10 (the righteous lifestyle- See the verses in NKJV or NET.) Don't miss it! If we are righteous in Christ, and that is supposedly an unchangeable status, why do we need to be cleansed from UNrighteousness if we sin (1 John 1:9)? Get answers in this podcast, and never be confused about the subject again. Be blessed!