I read a booklet today that referenced Matthew 19:17 ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’ The writers used this Scripture to back up their view that we need to do works as well as have faith to receive eternal life. I know you believe we need faith alone, and I agree, but how would you counter their claim with this Scripture? To follow on, in verse 18 Jesus only said the six ‘human to human’ commandments are the one’s the rich man needed to obey. Why didn’t He say all 10?
This shows the problems we create by taking verses out of context to prove a previously held conviction. The complete passage is Matt. 19:16-26. It records the Lord’s interaction with a rich young ruler.
This young man wanted to know what he could do to attain eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments. When he asked, “Which ones?” Jesus listed the ones having to do with how to treat each other. The young man said he was keeping them and asked what else he could do. “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus began and then told him to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and follow Him.
Doing so would have allowed him to keep the other commandments, having to do with worshiping God and Him only, and not coveting his neighbor’s possessions. The young ruler walked away because he couldn’t do that. Jesus had pointed out the ruler’s sin, and in doing so demonstrated the impossibility of earning one’s own way to salvation. The ruler’s sin was in worshiping his wealth and coveting more, but each of us also has at least one commandment we can’t stop breaking.
Matthew 19:25-26 contain the point of the whole passage. When the disciples heard what Jesus said to the young ruler they were astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus summed it all up in His response. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
When the people asked Jesus, “What is the work that God requires of us?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this. Believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:28-29) Continuing to work toward your salvation after you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior shows you don’t agree that belief is all that God requires and you have to add your own effort to His.
In effect, that attitude makes you responsible for your own salvation, and with man this is impossible. The good work you do after being saved has to be purely for the sake of expressing your gratitude to God for doing the whole job Himself.