Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler that the way to have eternal life was to keep the commandments? There are many Scriptures that make it clear that no one can be justified in the sight of God by keeping the commandments (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 3:20, 10:3-13, 11:6, Galatians 2:16, 3:1-3, 7:14, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7). Jesus knew this man could not justify himself by keeping the commandments. However, this young ruler didn’t know that he couldn’t. He thought there was some good thing he could do to purchase eternal life for himself (Matthew 19:16).
God’s commandments (the Law) were never given for the purpose of being able to save us. Their purpose was to reveal to mankind his sinfulness and his inability to save himself (Romans 3:20 and 7:13). The Law was perfectly good and man was not. Man would give up at some point in despair attempting to justify himself and finally trust in a Savior (Galatians 3:21-25). I think that this was what Jesus used the commandments for in speaking with this man. Jesus knew His death on the cross was the only thing that would accomplish eternal life for this man. This rich young ruler either needed to keep the Law perfectly or he needed a Savior. Perhaps, Jesus was trying to reveal to this rich young ruler the futility of trusting in His own ability to keep the Law.
Just as faith in the finished work of Christ gives us eternal life, works complete the Christian life. Faith without works is dead. Consequently, works without faith are dead. There are two kinds of works. One work is born of our faith in Christ, and the other work is born of a need to win God’s love and approval. One way is with the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit, and the other is with our own strength. The first surrenders to the righteousness of Christ. The second works to prove its own righteousness.
We can only come to God on Christ’s work for us. Our works are not the way to God. Jesus is the only way and the truth and the life. If we feel unsure of God’s love for us, we will try to work to win it. When we believe God loves and accepts us as His own, we will work out of the joy of our salvation. We will not strive to win God’s love.
Some people work for God striving for His acceptance, hoping if they please Him that He will forgive or heal or bless them. They strive to feel His love because they believe they have to win it. “If I do this for God,’” they say, “He will love me more.”
Jesus gave the greatest love that loved us more. There was no more love He could have given. Knowing that God loved us first is crucial to receiving His love. It is God’s love revealed in Jesus that saved us. It is God’s love revealed in Jesus that purchased our right to have a loving relationship with God. If you believe God loved you first before you ever loved Him, you are free to receive His love. You know His love and acceptance. You know your worth to God is not based on anything you do but on the righteousness of His Son.
Only the love of Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law (Romans 13:8-9). His love is summed up in one commandment. Jesus commands us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40.). When we believe in our hearts that God loved us first before we ever loved Him, we can love with Jesus’ love. We can love those who don’t love us. We can love with His love because we are assured of our standing in Christ. The love of God calls for our response. When we allow Him to love through us, His love cannot be contained. What we do for others is born of the Holy Spirit in us.
The Law that Jesus told the young ruler he must keep to receive eternal life was fulfilled in Jesus' perfect love on the cross. God’s Law is not waiting to be fulfilled in Christ’s love. It was fulfilled in Christ. We can be saved in Jesus and not know His love fulfilled in us. As we learn who we are in Christ, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. When we choose to put on the new man created by Jesus in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:23-24), good works are born out of our faith and trust in God instead of ourselves.
There are many Scriptures that say faith in what Jesus did for us is what saves us. But James also says a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:14-26). Good works are the evidence that we have been justified by faith. The faith that saved us will result in good works through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we have to say yes. Stewardship is our response to the love of God. If there are no corresponding works to our faith, then it is not the saving faith God has given us in Christ.
Jesus knew that this rich young ruler could never attain righteousness by keeping the Law. Jesus knew eternal life would only come through His finished work on the cross.
“I do not set aside the grace of God,” Paul said, “for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21).
If righteousness comes through what I do for Jesus, then His death was in vain. And His death was not in vain.
Lord Jesus, I want the love you have for me to be realized in my life. Continually fill me and teach me who I am in your perfect work of grace. Let nothing be about me. Let my work for you never rest on me. I surrender to you. Let it be you alive in me.
© 2023 Lynn Lacher