A rich young man once asked Jesus, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Mat 19:16). This question gets to the heart of everything Christian. It is the single greatest question to which our Lord addressed his life and ministry on earth. It is the question of all questions, the question of the ages, the question that if left unanswered long enough will insure the personal doom of the inquirer. Every religion has an approach and answer to this question, each conflicting with others. Even among "Christians," there is little unanimity in the answers. Billy Graham has recently taught that followers of all religions, even those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, will to go heaven! Ask a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal, a Calvinist and a Methodist, "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" and you will get four distinctly different answers. These various conflicting views cannot all be right. What did Jesus say?
"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).
by Jerry Gentry
Every single person on earth at one time or another is confronted with eternity. Sometimes the calling of God brings that confrontation early in life. All too often, however, that confrontation comes much later. Ministers who attend the sick and dying often confess they have never met a dying atheist. "Im scared. God, help me!" are many times among the last words gasped out by those who face eternity as they lie on their death beds.
Christian, you go to church. You live by the Bible, as best you understand it. You do good deeds and love your family. But have you done what is necessary to "have eternal life?" Note how the rich young man phrases his question: "What must I do . . ." he asks. This rich young man presupposes that he has to do something that he might "have eternal life." Jesus does not correct him on that point Rather, He tells him what he must do, which is not the answer most preachers today want to hear. In fact, these preachers usually give a different answer.
We must look closely at the story of this rich young man, if we ourselves will "have eternal life." This man spoke to Jesus, when he "came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Mat 19:16). Jesus answers and "said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (v. 17). This rich young man is speaking to God in the flesh. Why then does Jesus rebuke him? Jesus rebukes him for his attitude. It is the same attitude we see today among many religious people, which goes something like this: "Good people are religious. Good people go to church, smile and shake the preachers hand. Im a good person. Therefore, I too go to church, smile and shake the preachers hand." It is this sort of superficial "social club" gospel on which so many churches are built. But it fails to address the most basic question of all: What must I do "that I may have eternal life?"
The rich young man is a fully paid up and prayed up member of the polite religious "social club" church of his day. It is no different in our day. His attitude is what Jesus rebukes. This attitude is opposite that of the publican, who with a broken heart "smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). The paid up, prayed up "social club" church goer today, just like this rich young man, never deals with hidden sin. Jesus Himself, who was God in the flesh, tells this rich young man, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." He redirects this mans attention out of the realm of the flesh and into the realm of the spirit. The apostle Paul declares this same message another way. He cuts to the heart of the "social club" gospel, when he tells us: "let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4). Jeremiah had expressed the same idea this way: "the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer 10:23), and further "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). If your minister neglects to preach these verses, perhaps he should be reminded that Jesus confronts the "social club" church of His day with human depravity. He calls for repentance.
Jesus challenges this "self" righteous rich young man by confronting him with hidden sin. We see clearly that Jesus refocuses the rich young mans attention away from the flesh and directly on God. In doing so, he brings to light Gods holiness, and this mans desperate need for sanctification, that he may remove from hidden idolatry. It is no different with us today than with the rich young man of old.
At this point, if you are a typical "saved by faith" protestant, you would think that Jesus should have taken this rich young man down what is commonly called the "Romans' road" to salvation. Jesus should have brought this man "down the sawdust trail" to the altar and received his "decision for Christ." Right? One would think that Jesus should have confronted this man with his personal sin, showed him that "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23), and that he should "receive Jesus" by faith, and instantly be saved. No, Jesus said nothing of the kind. He led this man down a path of self judgment. He said something entirely different, when he told this rich young man simply: "but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mat 19:17).
To this admonition, the rich young man queries, "Which?" and Jesus answers:
"Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness (v. 18).
"Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (v. 19). Clearly, Jesus points this man to the Ten Commandments, in answer to the question: "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" Now the last time I checked, if I have eternal life then I am saved, by definition! Therefore salvation -- eternal life -- is necessarily connected with keeping the commandments of God, if we believe Jesus!
Immediately "the young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" (v. 20).
Now Jesus gets to the heart of the matter with this rich young man. You see, this young man, who had "kept [the commandments] from his youth up" in the letter still lacked something very basic.
"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me" (v. 21).
Why did Jesus give him such an answer, which is certainly not required of everyone else. . . or is it? You see,?Jesus perceives that this rich young man has a problem with his wealth. He secretly idolizes his riches, and Jesus calls him to repentance. This mans life is a carefully masked idolatry, through which he trusts to his wealth first and to God second. When we read this lesson, we think it is primarily given to warn against the dangers of accumulating wealth in this world, which is certainly one application. But we will later see there is a greater lesson applicable to all, at least to every person who will "have eternal life."
Every man and woman is a born idolater, in one manner or another. Idolatry is idolatry, whether great or small. Idolatry amounts to putting something ahead of God. Some idolize wealth. Others idolize power, or fame or fortune. Still others idolize their minister, or even their husband or wife or child or dog, or even their job or ministry. God, who is "a jealous God" (Deut. 5:9) will have no such duplicity among his children. He says, "I will not give my glory unto another" (Isa. 48:11). God is today calling every member of every "social club" church to look at the answer Jesus gave the rich young man: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. . . Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
This message is not unique to the rich young man. This message is common to all who "wilt enter into life." It is otherwise stated as: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). To follow Jesus is to believe Him and walk in His footsteps in the letter and the spirit. Jesus said, "why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).
Sanctification through keeping the commandments of God is not a mere footnote/option to salvation, as so many churches teach or at least imply. Genuine salvation by faith always produces good fruits and works, which are manifested as sanctification, even as Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). When we submit ourselves to live "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4), even at the cost of giving up our favorite golden idol, however so small, then we are on the road of sanctification. Until we are submitted to a life of sanctification, our "salvation" may well be little more than a "decision for Christ," quickly made and just as quickly plucked from our hearts through the cares of this world.
The rich young man lives, as do all good "social club" church members today, in the flesh, while he performs through his own efforts many good works. We all know such people. Ultimately, however, this man is confronted with the spirit of obedience to the commandments, which he has kept in the letter from his youth up. He now faces the spirit of Gods law against his secret idolatry. His life and ours stand in stark, ugly contrast against the backdrop of Gods holy and righteous spiritual law. We learn "there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Ps. 53:3), as Paul repeats, "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). Confession of the sin of secret idolatry is not a popular theme in "social club" churches. It often results in social banishment. But confess and forsake we must.
What will this rich young man now do? What will you and I now do? "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). The law demands perfection, which is impossible in the flesh. The rich young mans "self" righteousness has deceived him. No matter how "perfect" he becomes in keeping many aspects of Gods holy and righteous law in the letter, he is still helpless, "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). And "the wages of sin is death." So it is with the rich young man. So it is with us today, whether we are genuine Christians, or whether we are members of a "social club" church.
"But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions" (Mat 19:22). "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1Tim. 6:10). Christian, do you have great possessions? No? Then do you have at least one small golden calf hidden away in your heart? What is your idol? Is it pride? Gossip? Lust? Double-dealing? Dissembling? Have you identified it, confessed it, forsaken it and followed Jesus? If so, then you are walking in sanctification. You may at times stumble and fall. But you will always get up, repent and "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called" (Eph. 4:1).
If not, your "decision for Christ" may mean little more than the rich young mans inquiry. God forbid that you would be among those churched by unsaved polite "social club" Christians who fill the pews of our churches.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven" (v. 23). "When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?" (v. 25).
Justification is a free gift, not tied to any performance of the law by ourselves, whether rich or poor, as Paul teaches: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28). Even so, Jesus commands, "If you will enter into life, keep the commandments." How must we harmonize these two seemingly contradictory facts of scripture? They are harmonized when we understand that salvation stripped of sanctification is a fake, a fraud. Salvation stripped of sanctification is precisely what much of the modern protestant church world teaches. Much of the modern church world does not agree with Jesus. They have nailed the Ten Commandments to the cross, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). When they preach salvation without sanctification, they sail their ship of faith without a rudder. When the winds blow, their boat spins in circles, out of control.
The purpose of Jesus coming was that believers "might have life, and. . . have it more abundantly" (John 10:10), that we "might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1:74-75). The apostle Paul teaches, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2Cor. 7:1). He told Timothy, "If a man therefore purge himself from these [works of dishonor], he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the masters use, and prepared unto every good work" (2Tim. 2:21).
Anciently, the prophet Joel called the church to sanctification: "Gather the people, sanctify the congregation" (Joel 2:16). How important is a sanctified life in holiness? The apostle Paul tells us, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Hebr. 12:14). No matter our membership in the best polite "social club" church, no matter how saved we think we are, without being set apart and sanctified to walk in holiness, "no man shall see the Lord." This is a sobering thought!
It is no wonder that so many "Christians" continue to live in sin, because the preachers have told them the law of God has been nailed to the cross. Without Gods law, we are left with no clear definition of what sin is. These preachrs share a common problem of definitions with our President in the former Monica Lewinsky affair, when he quibbled over the legal definition of what the meaning of the word "is" is! The Bible states: "sin is the transgression of the law" (1John 3:4). Which law? The Ten Commandments, of course, which are expanded by the whole word of God, Genesis to Revelation.
Isaiah tells of a great future time on earth when "an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it" (Isa. 35:8). Most modern churches today emphasize a grace only personal salvation message, and receive ample "decisions for Christ." But they tell us little about sanctification and Isaiahs "highway of holiness." They preach heavy on faith with little need for works, plenty of "sloppy agape," while they love to nail the Ten Commandments to the cross.
They endeavor to get you paid up and prayed up, ready to go up. But they say little about how to live a sanctified life in this world. The future earthly kingdom Jesus preached they relegate to a mere theological footnote, if it is ever mentioned at all. They have traded covenant theology for supercessionist theology, while they have taken up the unconditional promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and given those promises to the modern church which they have gathered through their "social gospel." Is this really what the Bible teaches, or is this just a poor accommodation for their denial of many clear statements of scripture?
Their Christianity is stripped of many or most of its vital elements. They present a deceptive salvation, leaving a dying world with no sure and certain road map for life in this world. "Jesus saves!" has become the alpha and the omega of their "social gospel." Forget the kingdom. Not so, as Jesus told the rich young man: "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Jesus hereby connects salvation with the necessity of sanctification to follow. Not so, most preachers. They mostly disagree with Jesus.
Many of these dispense "freewill grace." "Come one, come all, down to the altar," they invite. They witness plenteous tearfully emotional thirty second decisions for Christ. Even so, these leave their "converts" with no clear road map for life. Therefore these multitudes often later prove to be like "the dog [that] is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (2Pet. 2:22). They are churched but unsaved, still living in their sins, where decisions for Christ today melt in the face of the real world of temptations tomorrow. Like seed sown in rocky soil and by the way side, they shoot up with initial growth, but wither and die for lack of root under the noonday sun.
"Believe on Jesus!" they offer. "Once saved, always saved," they remind us. Afterwards, they mostly ignore what Jesus commanded the rich young man: "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." So it goes with so many modern preachers, who disagree with Jesus, though they would not admit they are against a sanctified life. They just dont talk about it much. Further, when they nail the law of God to the cross, they negate any definite idea about sanctification, regardless of the lip service they might sparingly give that doctrine.
Such is their "social gospel." Justification is stripped away from a new life of sanctification and the unconditional covenants God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in perpetuity are stolen from their rightful inheritors and given to the supercessionist, multi-cultural "social club" church body made up of every creed and color, so long as they can say "Jesus." They are saved, saved, saved, they claim. This is not the gospel Jesus preached. This is not the church Jesus built. Such churches qualify as polite superficial "social clubs," certainly so. But they do not qualify as belonging to Jesus Christ, not until they bring the doctrines of grace into balance with what Jesus clearly tells the rich young man, when he asked, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" What have most preachers done with Jesus own answer to that question? At best, they have obscured the truth that salvation and sanctification are inseparable parts of the whole gospel. At worst, they have practically rejected sanctification altogether, through neglect.
Christian, how will you answer the most fundamental of all questions: "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" If you agree with Jesus, you will say what Jesus told the rich young man, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. . . If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
Christian, if you are truly saved, you are sold out to Jesus, not in a superficial "social club" sense. The rich young man keeps the letter of the law, but places God second in line with his "great possessions." He is an idolater, and "idolaters. . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). This lesson is for everyone, not just the wealthy. The proof, the evidence, of genuine personal salvation is found when we give up all our idolatries, and purpose to yield ourselves in daily dedication to holiness and sanctification before the Lord.
In the words of Jesus, "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. . . If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."