It is Impossible to Obtain Eternal Life…

What need do you have for the Gospel? Why is the forgotten Gospel such a needed and relevant message in our time? There are many people, perhaps you are one of them, who live and breathe in the world and imagine they have no need of a savior. If heaven is real, they believe they are going because they are basically good people. They content themselves with simply being good people on this earth. They do not consider religion or church because those things are for people who need help or need a crutch in this life. Little do they know that they are walking and living like dead people.

Matthew 19:13-26

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “aLet the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

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.”

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; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

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.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 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.”

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

A reminder (v. 13-15)

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.

In the previous chapter, Jesus referred to a child to illustrate the status of those who are adopted children of God. “See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones,” He taught His disciples, “for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (18:10). Now, after they have travelled to Judea (v. 1), the disciples rebuke children who are being brought to Jesus. Jesus reminds them of His teaching, this time referring to all children. The disciples are not to hinder children from going to Jesus because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are converted to become like children (cf. 18:1-11).

Jesus’s teaching implies that there are two ways to be like children and, consequently, inherit the kingdom of heaven. The first is to literally be a child. Though there is no “age of accountability” defined explicitly in Scripture, the text indicates that there is a moment at which Jesus distinguishes between children and adults. We don’t know precisely when that moment is, but it seems to be a common expression. The “age of accountability” is most easily identified as a level of maturity—when a person has the ability to understand his moral culpability. The text seems to imply that all children who have not reached the age of accountability will inherit the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

The second is to be converted to be like one of these children—totally dependent on Christ and not concerned about self-righteousness, self-will, or self-glory (cf. 17:26; 18:1-3, 12-14, 21-35).

A soteriology (v. 16-22)

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”

What is so interesting about the stranger’s question? Jesus just reminded His disciples that the kingdom of heaven belonged to those who were not self-righteous. A stranger in the area, perhaps someone who heard Jesus’s teaching, now asks what good thing he must to to obtain eternal life. If he had sincerely listened, he would have already had his answer—nothing, humble yourself and become like a child.

It never fails. Every time I speak or publish something, people try to argue against it without sincerely listening or reading. Much like the stranger in this part of the narrative, they look foolish. We all look foolish when we do not sincerely try to understand what someone else is teaching or saying—when we are quick to speak and slow to listen. Perhaps we can learn that simple truth even though it is not the main point of the text. Before we respond to what we hear, see on social media, or quicken ourselves to jump on any theological, political, or outrage train, may we take our time, listen, understand, and then speak wisely into the conversation in a meaningful way.

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 responds to the stranger by first giving him the answer, “There is only One who is good.” He follows His answer with instruction, “…if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” If the stranger were listening sincerely to Jesus, his response would be something to the effect of, “But, if only One is good, how can I enter into life by keeping the commandments?” He does not catch on. He is not understanding what Jesus is explicitly saying. Instead, he responds wanting to know which commandments so he can affirm his own goodness.

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; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

Jesus continues down this rabbit trail by listing a few of the Ten Commandments. To enter into life, the stranger must have:

  • not murdered,
  • not committed adultery,
  • not stolen,
  • not bore false witness,
  • honored his father and mother, and
  • loved his neighbor as himself.

According to Matthew, Jesus did not list any of the commandments that dealt with humanity’s relationship to God. He only listed commands that dealt with interpersonal relationships between people, which are the normal standards by which all people measure their own goodness and the goodness of others. Such moral standards are common. Those who believe themselves to be within the bounds of these moral standards believe they are good people. The stranger is no different. He claims to have kept all these things and asks what he is still lacking.

What an interesting question. As you might well know, not every question is a question. Some question marks are meant to be received as exclamation points. We can interpret the question to mean something like, “What else do I need to do?” or as a rhetorical question that means something like, “I lack nothing.” We use this sort of rhetorical element in our modern art of sarcasm. Either the stranger sincerely want to know, which isn’t likely because he hasn’t sincerely listened to Jesus up to this point, or he is trying to get Jesus to agree that he is justified because he is a good person.

I have the same sort of frustration when I talk to others about the Gospel. For whatever reason, most people seem convinced about their own goodness, spirituality, and salvation based on their actions. They honor their families and treat others the way they desire to be treated. They are moral, spiritual, and decent people from a worldly perspective. They assume that they are justified on the basis of their spirituality, goodness, and outward affection. Jesus responded to the stranger.

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.”

He responded simply by referring only to the last command, the command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The stranger had actually failed in a way he did not realize. There were people poorer than him, and he chose to live in luxury while they were relegated to their impoverished estate. The stranger had not, in fact, loved his neighbor as himself. Since he claimed to have kept all the commandments, he was also a liar—bearing false witness about himself. That’s the rub. Jesus showed the stranger how he was incomplete. If he wanted to be complete according to his own standard, he had to give up everything he worked hard to gain—the very things by which he defined his own goodness, spirituality, and justification. He had to only thing about building up treasure in heaven. He had to strictly follow after Jesus with no worldly possessions or identity of his own.

I want to take a moment to drive the stranger’s hopelessness home for us. In a very Ray Comfort style, we might ask someone, “Are you a good person? If there is a heaven, do you think you are going there?” Almost everyone, no matter their culture, ethnicity, creed, religion, worldview, sex, gender, or ethic answers, “Yes.” How do you know you are going to heaven? The answers almost always go back to, “Well, I’m a spiritual person, and I’m morally good. I love people.” Many times, they will begin talking about the spiritual experiences they have had and the good things they have done in order to prove their spirituality or goodness. If we really think about what we have claimed, it’s sort of ridiculous. Not a single person is good according to the common morality of the world or according to any religious system because no one has perfectly loved his neighbor. May I persuade you that you are one of the most wretched individuals on this earth? I will refer to one of the most imminent moral controversies of 2020. The novel coronavirus ravages the world. People disagree about the effectiveness of mask-wearing. Some claim that it is unloving to not wear a mask because we don’t want to place our neighbors in danger. I am not arguing as the the veracity of such a claim. Jesus certainly did instruct us to consider others’ best interests, honor their convictions, and serve them however possible. I do want to follow the claim to its logical conclusion. If loving my neighbor means never doing anything that may potentially harm them, I should never drive a vehicle for fear of hurting someone in an accidental wreck. I should never invite people over for fear of my house possibly falling in or someone stepping on my child’s toy, getting an unforeseen infection and dying. I should never own anything or receive a paycheck because, when I do I receive what could just as easily be given to others. I can follow any moral conviction to its logical conclusion and prove that all people are damned by their own standards. We find ourselves in the same predicament as the stranger. We have broken our own moral laws and discover that we have been lying to ourselves about our goodness and spirituality. This state of affairs is universal. You want to be complete, or good? Sell all your possessions, give your money to the poor, and live exactly like Jesus lived without doing any selfish thing all the days of your life. Even if we started now, none of us would cancel our selfish histories. To be good is a hopeless feat. 

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

The stranger understood that he could never become good because he had not perfectly loved his neighbor. He went away grieving not because he was unwilling to sell his stuff but because he realized he had already failed to perfectly love his neighbor by owning it. He could not become good because he had compromised his own moral code without even realizing it. He was an unintentional hypocrite, as we all are if we think that being good, spiritual, or religious is enough to justify or complete us. Everyone is good and spiritual in their own eyes and according to their own standards until they take a good, honest self-inventory. Only One is good.

A promise (v. 23-26)

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 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 revealed the impossibility of getting into the kingdom of heaven to His disciples, illustrating His point with the impossible task of herding a camel through the eye of a sewing needle. It is impossible for a rich man, a man who owns anything or assumes to be good or spiritual, to enter the kingdom of heaven. He is damned because he is not like a child, who owns nothing, has no spirituality, and has no self-identity in this world.

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

Our reaction should be like that of the disciples, here. Instead of asking, “What must I do to obtain eternal life,” we ask, “Who can possibly be saved?” The answer is apparent… No one. People are totally depraved. No matter our perceived goodness, success, or spirituality, none of us can possibly become saved, complete, satisfied, fulfilled, or justified. What a hopeless condition we find ourselves in.

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Jesus gives us hope. With people it is impossible to be saved, to be complete and justified. No human religion, ethic, mandate, law, standard, or striving to adhere perfectly to God’s law can cause a person to be complete, satisfied, or justified. No spiritual experience, good work, education, or level of success can cause a person to be complete, satisfied, or justified. Only God can justify, complete, and satisfy a person. Only He is good. He saves us by making us children instead of strangers (cf. 17:26-18:11).

The obvious application, here, is: Don’t assume you have life because you are religious, spiritual, good, or have had a spiritual encounter or experience. Everyone has. Those things are not special but common. A spiritual experience at church or in the woods or wherever does not make you justified before holy God or a complete person. Spiritual experiences or encounters are cool, but they are common and can be had by anyone no matter their worldview, religion, or moral standing. Only God can justify you and complete you. How does He justify and complete us?

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith (Romans 3:21-27).

God justifies His people as a gift. He does so through the propitiating sacrifice (that’s, substitutionary atonement) of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. He did things this way to demonstrate His own righteousness and to reveal Himself as the one who is just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus—those who are like children rather than trusting in their own goodness or spirituality. After describing God’s work of justification, Paul will apply the doctrine to God’s work of making His people complete:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. bRespect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:1-21).

Our being made complete only happens when God makes us devoted to His congregation practicing our spiritual gifts in service to other members of His body. That is why Jesus said he was building a community for Himself (16:18; εκκλησια means congregation). It is why a defining characteristic of following Jesus is devotion to the fellowship of believers (Acts 2:42). It is why every Christian is instructed not to neglect the gathering (Hebrews 10:24-25). God alone justifies us, makes us part of His community (His church), and makes us into complete creatures through our participation in the local community of faith.

Without healthy church fellowship, which includes the prayers and communion and sound biblical teaching, we are not sanctified. I would dare even say that we are not justified because Christ has not made us part of His church. If anyone relies on his spiritual experiences, deeds, or goodness, and willfully neglects or has abandoned the community of faith, it’s likely he is not justified or being completed by God. Going to church doesn’t save a person, but saved people are unable to neglect the gathering for any reason. The gathering of the saints accomplishes much in our personal lives and in the world. It humbles us, teaches us how to love, forgive, serve, and consider others as more important than ourselves. Salvation brings us away from individual self-identity and preferential spirituality into sanctifying community for God’s own glory and our good…

Working Out the Faith as we Age: Ep. 19/69 1 Samuel: Andrew Paul Cannon Sermons

1 Samuel is a crucial part of the Jewish and Christian story. In 1 Samuel, God selects the earthly king through whom He established His own throne within His creation. 1 Samuel is a doctrinally rich historical narrative. Join Andrew Paul Cannon as he journeys through 1 Samuel lectio continua, exploring the depths of the text. This is a limited podcast, containing 69 episodes in preparation for the release of Andrew’s expository commentary on 1 Samuel. Be sure to preorder today (below). These sermons are available at thechurchatsunsites.com and andrewpaulcannon.blog. If you were encouraged by this this episode, please email us and led us know. Preorder AP Cannon’s 1 Samuel Sermon Series on a Thumb Drive Sale Product on sale $20.00 <span class="woocommerce
  1. Working Out the Faith as we Age: Ep. 19/69
  2. Gratification: Ep. 18/69
  3. The Time of the Kings: Ep. 17/69
  4. Here I Raise My Ebenezer: Ep. 16/69
  5. Keep Apologizing: Ep. 15/69
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