Matthew 19:16-22 and keeping the commandments to be saved.

by Matt Slick
2/24/2018

Did Jesus teach that we could obtain eternal life by keeping the commandments?  Yes, he did.  But the problem is that no one keeps the commandments because the standard is perfection.

  • Deut. 27:26, "Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.'"
  • Gal. 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”

We can see from the word of God that the standard of keeping the commandments is to keep all of them and if you don't keep them all, you are cursed.  So, was the rich young ruler mentioned in the passage under discussion keeping the commandments as he said he was? Let's take a look at all three of the accounts in the synoptic Gospels.

Matthew 19:16-22 Mark 10:17-22 Luke 18:19-23
v. 16, "And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life? v. 17, "As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” v. 18, "A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
v. 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.” v. 18, "And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." v. 19, And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone."
v. 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;; v. 19, “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER..’ ” v. 20, “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER..’ ”
v. 19, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”    
v. 20, The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” v. 20, And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” v. 21, And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
v. 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.” v. 21, Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor,, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” v. 22, When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor,, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
v. 22, But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving;; for he was one who owned much property. v. 22, But at these words he was saddened,, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. v. 23, But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

 

Conclusion

In these verses the rich young ruler believes that keeping the law will get him eternal life since he asks Jesus what good thing should he do to obtain eternal life, (Matt. 19:16; Mark 10:17, Luke 18:19). Jesus responds according to the man's requests and cites several of the 10 Commandments (Matthew 19:18-19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20). However, in the Matthew account, Jesus also quotes from Leviticus 19:18, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." The man boasts that he has kept those commandments. But, had he really kept them? Jesus knew the Old Testament Law where it states that the standard of keeping the Law is perfection (Deuteronomy 27:26). In fact, Paul the apostle quotes Dt. 27:26 in Galatians 3:10 when he says, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them." So, when Jesus cites the commandments to the rich young ruler and includes Lev. 19:18 about loving his neighbor as himself, this is when we can see that he was not keeping the commandments, even though the young man boasted that he had been keeping them. So, by his own standard, the rich young ruler was exposed is failing (Matt. 7:2). Nevertheless, can anyone achieve salvation by keeping the commandments? Yes. But you have to keep them perfectly (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). Since no one keeps them perfectly (Rom. 3:23), no one can achieve salvation by keeping the commandments (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Gal. 2:16, 21).

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.