Reprinted with permission from Faith Pulpit (Jul-Sep, 2011).
“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’” (Matt. 19:16, 17).
If someone asked you how to obtain eternal life, what would your answer be? We know1 that eternal life comes by believing in God’s Son, as John 3:14-18 tells us, rather than by keeping the commandments. We know this is true because we were saved by believing in Christ, not by trying to keep God’s commands. So how are we to understand the words of Christ to this person? This passage is one in which acquiring the skill of identifying and distinguishing law, gospel, and grace is crucial to its understanding.
What are they?
Romans 3:20 teaches us two truths about God’s law: (1) by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in God’s sight, and (2) the law brings an awareness of sin. Law always refers to some demand by God which brings condemnation and death (cf. 2 Car. 3:7-9). Now we understand that the words of our Lord about keeping the commandments and obtaining eternal life were actually an attempt to show the young man his sin and need of a Savior.
On the other hand, gospel does not make demands but rather refers to what God has done by sending His Son to die for our sins and to be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The law says “do” while the gospel says “done.” Trusting in Christ is not a demand but a response to the gospel. read more