A Jewish lawyer asks Jesus what he should do to “inherit eternal life.” Jesus’ answer was, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you? The Law expert then quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 – to love God fully and one’s fellow man as one’s self – in order to keep the Law properly. Jesus affirmed or agreed that if the man did this, he would live.
Is Jesus teaching that keeping these two commands is what saves a person and gains him entrance into heaven? Not really!
Jesus is trying to get this lawyer to see that there’s no way he could keep these two commands and therefore needs to sincerely seek and put faith in Christ for salvation (Gal. 3:23-26), rather than to be testing Christ (Lk. 10:25).
This time a certain ruler questioned Jesus saying, “Good teacher, what shall I do to obtain eternal life?” Jesus answered by saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Then Jesus says, “you know the commandments…” The ruler tells Jesus that he’s kept all of them from his youth. Then Jesus tells the rich ruler to sell all he possesses, distribute the money to the poor, and come follow Him. Then the ruler will have treasure in heaven. The rich ruler became sad. Then Jesus said, “it’s hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ disciples then asked, “Who can be saved?” Jesus said, “The things impossible with men are possible with God.”
So, is keeping the 10 commandments and giving the sale of all your possessions to the poor the requirement now to obtain eternal life? Are these commands the specifics of loving God and one’s neighbor that we just read about in Luke 10:27? They may be part of the way one expresses his love to God and his neighbor, but the point of this passage is:
First, Jesus says no one is good but God alone, therefore, if Jesus is good, then He must be God; and also this means that the rich ruler is not good (in case he thought that he was because he kept some commands).
Second, apparently Jesus knew that riches were this man’s god and that he wasn’t being entirely truthful about keeping all the commands (Ex. 20:3), and that he couldn’t keep them all.
Third, Jesus tells him to follow Him (in other words, to believe or accept Him as Savior – Jn. 5:40; 6:35), and that’s what would give him treasure in heaven. Giving his money to the poor would just show that he’s making Jesus God and Savior in his life. This is seen in Luke 19:2-9, where rich Zaccheus offers to give 1/2 of his possessions to the poor (1/2, not all), and yet Jesus says that salvation came to Zaccheus that day.
Fourth, Jesus says that salvation is impossible with man (man cannot earn it or achieve it) but possible with God (God can and does give it away free by His grace – Rom. 3:24; 6:23).
Fifth, Jesus answers Peter’s statement (that he left everything to follow Christ), by saying whoever leaves people (family) and possessions for the kingdom of God’s sake shall receive eternal life.
Again, it’s the recognition of who Christ is and therefore following Him (as Savior) that saves a person (Jn. 5:40; 6:35). Jesus’ statements to different people to “do something” to obtain eternal life is personalized to where the individual is at, and to get that person to see that he can’t do anything to inherit eternal life, but needs to come to Christ (have faith in Him) – Galatians 3:23-26
This verse says that the person who “doesn’t obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Does this mean that in order to get eternal life we have to obey all of Christ’s commands? No!
To obey the Son, here, means to believe or receive Him as Savior. “Obey” is used as a synonym for “believe or receive.” This can be seen right in the context of this same verse, where it says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” Also 1 Peter 4:17 implies that the outcome to those who don’t obey the gospel isn’t going to be good.
What does it mean to obey the gospel? Well, God commanded people to believe in His Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:23), and the gospel is the same – 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. So, to obey the gospel is to believe the gospel (that God’s Son Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again). John 3:18; 1:12; Acts 6:7; and Rom. 1:5 would further support this idea. Hebrews 5:9 is similar to John 3:36 which we just discussed.
Is working “for the food which endures to eternal life” and “working the works of God” teaching that eternal life is obtained by doing some sort of work(s)? No!
Because Jesus himself says that “the work of God is to believe in Him (Jesus) whom He (God, the Father) has sent.” So, to work the work of God is to believe in Christ. And to work for the food which endures to eternal life is likewise to come to Christ and believe in Him (Jn. 6:35).
Romans 2:5-8; John 5:28-29
Does “perseverance in doing good” gain a person eternal life? Is that what these passages teach and mean? Yes and No!
Yes, in that if a person perseveres in doing good, then it shows that that person is already saved (born-again or converted) by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10; Matt. 7:17; 1 Jn. 3:7).
No, in that a non-believer or non-Christian could never do good in and of himself and therefore couldn’t be saved in that way (Jn. 15:5; Rom. 3:12; 8:6-8; Isa. 64:6), but needs to accept Christ as Savior first. It only takes one sin to be guilty of all (James 2:10-11), so no one would qualify if salvation was based on goodness. The context of John 5:28-29 shows that eternal life is based on faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:24, 39-40).
[Campus Christians’ recommends this passage for study and the explanation below to be memorized, since every Christian cult, biblically-illiterate religionist, or misled Christian will eventually lead you to this verse as their end-all-discussion, no-explanation-needed, trump card. Take your time, 2 Tim. 2:15!]
Is this passage teaching that a person is saved by faith plus works? Not really!
In James 2:14, it states, “…if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him?” Just because a person says he has faith doesn’t mean that he actually does. People can be and often are deceived about a lot of things (i.e., Matt 7:21-23; Heb. 3:13; Mk. 4:18-19; Jas. 1:16, 26; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 3:18; 1 Jn. 1:8; 3:7-8; 2 Cor. 11:3).
James 2:17 states that, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…” The point here is that genuine saving faith in Christ will cause a person to be born-again and become a new creation (Jn. 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17) and this new birth with a new nature will prompt a new life with new righteous actions (1 Jn. 3:7; Matt. 7:17). If there isn’t any, then the professing to have faith person doesn’t really have genuine faith in Christ as Savior.
James 2:20 goes on to say that faith without works is useless. Yes, faith without its natural outworking is useless, because God created the Christian for good works, but man is saved by grace through just faith – Ephesians 2:8-10.
James 2:21 asks the question, “Was not Abraham our father justified (Gk. “edikaiothe” – shown to be righteous) by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” Yes, but he was already justified (declared righteous) by faith alone some 30 years earlier than this incident with Isaac (Rom. 4:1-12; Gal. 3:6; Gen. 15:6; 22:12). Works serve as a barometer of (showing) justification (that Abraham was shown to be righteous), while faith/belief in God and what He says is the basis of justification (Abraham being declared righteous), as James 2:23 shows.
Paul argues for the priority of faith (Rom. 4:1-12), while James argues for the proof of faith (Jas. 2:14-26). Genuine faith is what justifies or saves, while good works or obedience to God is the evidence or perfection of one’s faith (the completion, fulfillment, natural end or goal of one’s true faith). That’s what James 2:22 is saying.
James 2:24 “seems” to teach that a person is justified by faith plus works, but James’ point is simply to say that a professing faith (Jas. 2:14 context) doesn’t justify but a proven faith does. And genuine faith is proven by works.
James 2:26 only repeats the idea of James 2:17 which we’ve already discussed. The apparent problem (seeming contradiction) between Paul and James (Rom. 4:1-12; Jas. 2:14-26) lies in the context in which each is speaking. Paul is speaking of how we get into a right relation with God (justified) – by faith. James is speaking about how people in this right relationship ought to act – by doing good works in obedience to God.
1 John 3:6-10
“No one who abides in (lives or remains in; is controlled by) Him (Christ) sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Sin is a product of blindness and ignorance toward God. Sin never comes out of fellowship with God. It can never be a part of the experience of abiding in (being controlled by) Christ. The same idea is found in John 15:4-5; 2 Pet. 1:4-10; Gal. 2:20. But Christians aren’t always abiding in Christ, sometimes they are fleshly or carnal (1 Cor. 3:1-3), controlled by their sin nature (Rom. 7:15-23) and influenced by the devil (1 Jn. 3:8) and therefore sin (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). “The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” Does practicing righteousness make you righteous? No!
It says, the person “is” righteous. Only a righteous (saved) person can practice righteousness (because he has God’s Spirit in him and Christ – Jn. 15:5; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 5:22-23). But a non-believer, a natural man by birth, only has a sin nature and can’t practice righteousness (Psa. 51:5; Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Isa. 64:6; Matt. 7:17-18; 12:33-35; Rom. 8:5-8; 3:12; 7:18; 1 Cor. 2:14; Gal. 5:19-21). Therefore a non-believer could never be saved by practicing righteousness, since he’s incapable of doing it. Only a saved person by faith can practice righteousness, thereby showing that he is righteous (1 Jn. 2:29) in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he can’t sin because he is born of God.” Is this saying that if you’re a Christian you’ll never sin? No!
First John 1:8, 10; 2:1 makes that clear. What it’s saying is that the person who has God’s seed abiding in him (God’s sinless or divine nature controlling him) doesn’t practice sin and cannot sin. The new nature, God’s divine nature in the believer (2 Pet. 1:4), God’s Spirit in the believer (1 Cor. 6:19) can’t sin (Eph. 4:24; Gal. 5:16-17; Lk. 6:43-45; Titus 1:15). So, if we, as Christians, live from this new nature, God’s Spirit continually controlling us, then we won’t sin – Eph. 5:18; Jn. 15:4-5. If the sin nature is in control, then we’ll sin.
Recommended Resources: “Faith, Belief, Works, and the Law”; “Is Salvation by Faith in Jesus Christ or By Doing Good Works?”; “How to Live a Fruitful and Successful Christian Life”; “Failure and Forgiveness”