Monday, November 15, 2010

The Danger of Good Deeds

"Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"

Matthew 19:13, ESV

Jesus has been teaching and doing miracles in the region of Galilee. Now he has decided to leave this area and go to Judea. Jesus crosses over the Jordan River and makes his way to this section of the country. As he travels the bible tells us that great crowds followed him. We are also told that he has performed healing miracles upon these people.

While Jesus is there he encounters the Pharisees. Their desire is to find a way to trap Jesus into misinterpreting the law. At this time there was a great debate concerning divorce. You can read Jesus skillful handling of this attempt to trip up Jesus in Matthew 19:3-12.

A man came up to Jesus and asked a very important question. This question should have pleased Jesus, after all, those who are engaged in evangelism (Luke 19:10) are working to explain this very concept. I don't think this young man really is looking for an explanation as much as he has found an audience to justify his "ideas."

Jesus knew what was in this man's heart and to what he had pinned all his hopes of reward in the next life. Jesus, the master evangelist, knew where he had to start and take this man in order to show him his need. Look at the question, it seems quite harmless, "What shall I do?" After all I want eternal life, therefore what do I need to do in order to obtain it? It seems that human beings think they can do something to obtain eternal life and the favor of God. Human beings are always asking, "what can I do, what is my part, or what can I bring to the table?"

The question is not "what can you do," the question is what has God done for me to provide eternal life? In the case of this young man, Jesus needed to dislodge his idea that he can do anything or that he is even worthy of eternal life. Jesus tells him, "keep the commandments." The young man wants to make sure his bases are covered and so he asks Jesus, "which ones?" We see in verses 18-19 that Jesus delineates the commandments for this young man. Watch this young mans reply; "All of these I have kept. What do I still lack?" 

Jesus knows this young man has not kept these commandments, not perfectly, which is what the law requires. No one can keep the commandments of God perfectly. We all fail them at one point or another. Jesus knows this young man has failed them. Yet, this young man believes, much like most people, that he has kept them. He has kept them by his standards, or the Pharisees standards, or by some scale of what he thinks would be acceptable. Bottom line, he has not kept them perfectly. Jesus needs to point this out to this young man, and so Jesus addresses the fact that this man has claimed to "love his neighbor as himself." Jesus says to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come, follow me."

Now the master evangelist has struck the mark. This young man does not love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. You say, how do you know? He has never in the past and now when confronted in the present, has he ever given away all of his possessions for their benefit. What does this mean? It means he has broken the second great commandment of God. Therefore he has not kept the commandments and he is not perfect. He does not have eternal life. How do we know this? We read these words, "When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." He would not part with them. He loved them, therefore he loved himself more than he loved God or his neighbor. He could not keep the commandments perfectly.

First, it needs to be clearly said, that Jesus knew that giving away all of his possessions would not enable this young man to "earn" eternal life. Romans 3:23 makes it clear that eternal life is a gift to be received not a "wage" to be earned. This young man, like me, and like you cannot earn eternal life or do anything by way of effort or works to obtain it.

Second, Jesus had to break this young man's resolve that he was good, that he was worthy, and that he did enough to be given eternal life. Most human beings today, probably you who are reading this, either now or at one time thought you could do your very best and the "scales of justice" would come down on your side due to all of your good works. Read Isaiah 64:6 sometime; God's perfect, holy, and righteous evaluation of our "good works" equals that of a woman's menstrual cloth, a used one at that. Wow!  Jesus was not telling this young man nor you that you can do something such as give away all your possessions and you will earn eternal life. Thousands of people have been deceived into giving up everything they own, taking vows of poverty, have become hermits, have become minimalists and have led very stoic lives hoping to "earn" eternal life.

Third, do not, I beg you, think of yourself, your past efforts, or even your great possessions and then walk away from this great gift given by God. There will be no self-righteous people in heaven. No one will be in heaven by the efforts they have attempted to perform. There will be no one in heaven who has not humbled themselves and cried out to God for mercy and salvation. (Romans 10:13) Will you do so today? 

The rich young man did not. He kept his wonderful and great possessions but died and ended up in hell. He missed heaven and eternal life because he missed the point of the commandments.

30 Days of Thanksgiving

I am thankful for grace. God has extended favor to me that I could never earn nor be worthy. Grace is greater than all my sin, grace is truly amazing, and grace is definitely  wonderful. Grace, not works, has secured my forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and the peace of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)


welcome to my world of poetry said...

It's a pity more people don't follow or some don't even kn ow what the ten commandments are.
That is one of the first things I learned as a child. Too many people today think money and wealth are everything but to me health and helping those in need are top of my priority list.
Have a great day Gregg

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Brian Ray Todd said...

Here is an interesting point that I heard lately. Someone asked why God gave us an impossible deal as "Keep His commandments perfectly and we shall have eternal life"? That would be mean & wrong. But God did not make an "impossible" deal, but Jesus fullfilled the commandments perfectly, so it was obtainable. It is us (by nature in our sinful desires of the flesh)who chooses to break the commendments of God in thought, word, and deed, and fails. But all this was in our holy & just God's plan of salvation. The Law showed us that we fall short of the mark and can not save ourselves. Know this fact, we see the need of God's mercy & grace to save us. Our dependance shifts from ourselves to God, and we accept the undeserved, unearned, unmerited free gift of Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior our our life. We switch places with Jesus, where He takes our place in the penalty for our Sins on that Cross with His very life, and through His blood sacrifice, we take on His righteousness of His perfect sinfree life in the eyes of the God. there is only one way to eternal life and Heaven. Christ died that mankind could be forgiven, realtionship with our Maker restored, that we may have our eternal destiny and citizenship changed to the kingdom of God, and become His children. When we realize the whole truth and complete context, we can see and understand the depth of God's love and the legth that our Creator took to save you & I. It is truly not what we do, but what He did for us.

Great thought-provoking post Pastor Gregg. Glory to God & our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Lloyd said...

Thank you Gregg for such a well written message from the Word of God. The answer is quite easy..."No". Blessings to you my friend. Lloyd

Persis said...

Great post, Gregg. My good works (which are not even close to good) will never save me. But Jesus Christ's perfect work is what saves.