Wednesday, September 1, 2010

If You Wish to Enter Into Life, Keep the Commandments

This is posted for a friend of mine who is concerned about my Covenant series, specifically about the idea that New Covenant Christians are not required to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. My friend quoted Matthew 19:17 when expressing his concern: 

17 And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."  

I'm posting here because I have quite a bit to say on this subject. With all respect and love, I believe he is missing the point of the Matthew 19:16-26 passage.  The point of this passage is not to instruct post-cross Christians that they are under the Old Covenant law (Decalogue).  For one thing, Jesus is talking to a pre-cross Jewish man living under the Old Covenant.  This man was required to be circumcised, to offer sacrifices, to keep Passover, to keep the Feast of trumpets, to participate in various cleansings, to keep the new moon Sabbath, to keep the weekly Sabbath, and many other requirements of the Old Covenant.  However, that in no way implies that New Covenant Christians are required to do these things. Jesus’ comments are not addressed directly to New Covenant Christians and there isn’t even a hint that he is trying to put New Covenant Christians under the Old Covenant Law, but there is a very important universal point that Jesus is making and it applies to all of us.  Let’s take a look at Matthew 19:16-26 (NASB):

16 And someone came to Him and said, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?"
Here is the fatal flaw in the young man’s thinking.  The young man thinks that there is something he can do to obtain, earn, or merit eternal life.  Jesus is going to blow that foolish idea right of the water.
17 And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."
Jesus makes it clear that God is the only one who is truly good.  Every single mere human who has ever lived has fallen short of the mark.  All human righteousness is like filthy rags. It doesn’t even come close, and never will, to the absolute perfection which a Holy God requires.  This is Jesus’ way of saying to the young man, “You might think you’re basically good, but you’re not when compared to God’s perfect standard.  You might think you’re okay, but you’re not.  You might think you can do something good that makes you worthy of eternal life, but you can’t.” 
Now to drive the point home Jesus tells him that if he really wants to do something good to earn eternal life, then all he needs to do is just simply keep the commandments.  But notice that in the following verses Jesus doesn’t just draw from the Decalogue, He also quotes from the rest of the law in Leviticus.  You see here’s the deal, if this young man wants to merit eternal life he would have to keep ALL the commandments in ALL the law PERFECTLY……..all 613…..and not just the letter, but the intent as well.  He can’t just keep some of them some of the time.  He would have to meet God’s perfect standard in all things from birth to the grave keeping every single command to perfection without one single slip at any point in life. Jesus is the only man who has ever done this or ever will because He is the God-man, Jehovah in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us.  This brings us back around to Jesus’ point, only God is good.  If this young man wants to obtain eternal life through commandment keeping then it’s hopeless.  That’s what Jesus wants him to see.  Unfortunately, the young man still doesn’t get it.
18 Then he said* to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery ; You shall not steal ; You shall not bear false witness ; 19 Honor your father and mother ; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself ."
Jesus answers by quoting from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, the Old Covenant Law this Jewish man lived under.  He wants this young man to understand the very purpose of the Law which is to point out our sinfulness and our need for a substitutionary savior.  But the misguided young man is still stuck on this erroneous idea that he can do something to be saved and yet he somehow seems to know deep down that he is lacking something or he wouldn’t ask the question.
20 The young man said* to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?"
Of course it’s preposterous for any mere human to claim they have perfectly kept all those commands all their life.  No one but God in the flesh has ever done that.  Certainly this young man hadn’t.  So Jesus comes to the point in the conversation where he will lower the boom on this young man and make it painfully clear that the young man isn’t righteous enough to merit eternal life.  Jesus doesn’t do this to be cruel to the young man, but because He loves him and wants him to understand that he can’t get to heaven through his own efforts.
 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
You see, Jesus wants the young man to understand that he hasn’t truly fulfilled the commandments and if he wants to get to heaven that way, he will always be less than complete.  There will always be something more to be done.  This is the problem with legalists who are busy earning their way to Heaven, they never know when it’s enough……mainly because it will never be enough. Salvation is in a person, Jesus Christ.  We only obtain it by resting in Christ’s finished work.  Jesus invites the man to follow Him and lay aside all the other things that he has put his faith in.
22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
Unfortunately, instead of getting Jesus’ message and trusting in Jesus, the man goes away sorrowful for he has put his faith in possessions, status, his own righteousness, and works.
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
This would have been shocking to the disciples.  First century Jews thought that wealth was a sign of God’s favor.  They would have probably thought that if anyone was going to Heaven it would be this rich young man, but Jesus blows that kind of thinking away.
24 "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Jesus wanted the disciples to under that trying to get into heaven by putting your faith in anything you have, be it material wealth, your own goodness, your works, or any other misplaced faith, is as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle.  It’s not going to happen.  It’s impossible.  The changes of this rich young man going to heaven based on commandment keeping, his wealth, or anything else were zero.
25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
The disciples seem to understand that if it’s impossible for this young man, who is blessed with riches and has all the appearances of being a religious person, to earn eternal life then no one can do it. And that’s just what Jesus wanted them to understand.  Jesus is saying that eternal life is absolutely impossible to obtain via human effort.  There is no mere human who has ever been good enough or ever will be good enough to obtain eternal life.  The very best commandment keepers fall short of the mark and are still lacking the perfection necessary.  Only Jesus, God in the flesh is truly good and it is only through accepting His righteousness in place of our own that we enter life.  We rest in Christ’s finished work because He has done it all.  This is an entirely different system then the one the rich young man was depending upon.  This is heavenly accounting as described in the fourth chapter of Romans.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God , and it was credited to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven , And whose sins have been covered. 8 "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account." 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore It was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. Romans 4:1-8, 18-25 (NASB)
When we have faith in Christ, Christ righteousness is credit to our account even though we haven’t done anything to deserve it.  It is not based on works, otherwise we would have something to boast about.  We are justified before God purely by the finished work of Jesus. This is what Jesus so wanted the young man to understand. Matthew 19 is not a passage about commandment keeping.  Rather it is a passage designed to tell us that it is impossible to obtain eternal life through commandment keeping.  It’s just as impossible as passing a camel through the eye of a needle.
It would also be a wrong use of this passage to imply that post-cross New Covenant Christians are still under the pre-cross Old Covenant Law.  This passage doesn’t even hint at such a thing.  That would be a wrong interpretation because it would contradict many other parts of scripture that clearly state otherwise.  Finally, it should be noted that this passage doesn’t even touch upon the topic of whether or not post-cross New Covenant Christians are required to keep a particular day holy.  The topic isn’t touched upon or even implied by anything in the passage.  To answer this question we would need to turn to other parts of scripture which very clearly address this topic. Scripture leaves no doubt that post-cross New Covenant Christians are no longer required to observe any of the ceremonial shadows, including the Old Covenant weekly Sabbath (sabbaton).
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:13-17 (NIV)
In love,

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