by Tad Lindley
The wealthy young man approached Jesus, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
Jesus responded to him, “…if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17)
That should have settled the question right there. The Hebrew scriptures plainly lay out 613 commandments. They represent the law that was given to Moses and the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. No doubt the young man interviewing Jesus was intimately familiar with the 613 commandments. His clothing was hemmed with blue fringe into which had been tied 613 knots to help him remember this.
What’s the absolute least
The normal response at this point would have been for the young man to thank Jesus and go about trying to obey all of the commandments. That is not what happened. Instead he asked Jesus which commandments are important for gaining eternal life. Apparently this young man was looking for the easiest way to be saved: he wanted Jesus to narrow the requirements down for him. In effect he was saying, “Jesus, that is a lot of work. What is the absolute least I can get by on and still make it to heaven?”
Jesus said, “Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, honor thy father and thy mother: and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (19:18-19)
Is that all?
At this the young man began to pat himself on the back, for he had managed not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie about others, to honor his parents, and to love his neighbors. It appeared that he was on his way to heaven. “I’ve done all that since I was kid”, he told Jesus. “Is that all there is?”
Jesus said unto him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (19:21-22)
Looking for the easier, softer way
Two thousand years later people are still trying to get by on the bare minimum. We all want to be saved; we just don’t want to be inconvenienced in the process. When you look at the whole Bible, there are a lot of things in there that require people to change their lives. It would be so much easier if we could find a way around it. In legal jargon it is referred to as a “loophole”.
The Philippian loophole
What some have done is look for scriptures that would get people off on a technicality. One that you will hear people refer to at times is Acts 16:30-31. At this point in the Book of Acts, Paul and Silas have been beaten and arrested. An earthquake shakes the city of Philippi. The jailor is about to commit suicide. Paul and Silas stop him. He then asks them this famous question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The apostles answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”. Many people have grabbed hold of this verse of scripture and said, “Aha, all I need to do to be saved is believe that Jesus is real!”
Closing the loophole
The truth of the matter is that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). We are saved because the Lord bore our sin on the cross. We could not work hard enough or act righteous enough to save ourselves. When we have faith in God, we open the door for him to save us. This entails much more than believing that Jesus existed. The devils believe in Jesus, but they are not saved (James 2:19). Belief is the starting point, but if we really believe that Jesus is Lord, we will want to obey him. We will want to be immersed in water, because Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Also, “Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Once we have experienced water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, we cannot be saved unless we turn away from our old life (see I Corinthians 6:9-11, Galatians 5:19-21, and Revelation 21:8).
Instead of asking Jesus to narrow down the requirements for salvation, the young man should have asked Jesus, “Tell me everything I need to do to be saved. Don’t leave anything out!” Eternity is too long to be wrong. We should never try to see how close we can get to the edge of the cliff without falling off. Instead, we should stand upon the safety and protection of God’s word.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.