Faith, Works, and Salvation

"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

(Mt. 19:16-26)

"And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:18-27)

"And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God." (Luke 18:18-27)

Here we find the most common religious' question ever asked. It is also a commonly misunderstood part of Scripture. In a recent forum message it has been asserted by some that these passages teach a "faith plus works" type of salvation. I contend that this comes from a misunderstanding of the basic text and a real misunderstanding of the type of preaching that God demands of all gospel preachers. I contend that we should expose sinners to the law of God and demand that keep every portion of the law (James 2:10-13) or else surrender to the mercy of God (Romans 10:1-4). I further contend that the example of our Lord was to deal with man's sin and to expose him to his wickedness before any message of forgiveness should be preached.

First notice the question: Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? This is the question is it not? It rates right up there with: "How can a man be born when he is old?" John 3:4 "Brethren, what shall we do" Acts 2:37 "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized" Acts 8.37 and "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30.

If you don't understand the question how shall you understand the answer? The question contains some interesting statements that must be looked at. First of all, note what the man called Jesus: "Good Master". Did you notice that? Did you notice that Jesus addresses this statement before answering the question?


Did the ruler realize that Jesus was good? Did he also realize that there is none good but one, that is, God? This is my favorite verse to use when dealing with Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and all those who seek eternal life by trying to "do" something. It implies that Jesus is God and thus the only one that is good! Not Mary, not the saints, not you, not myself; only God, the Lord Jesus Christ is good. If you want eternal life these things must be understood. After all, if you really believe that only God is good, you would dare say: "What GOOD thing must I do"!

If one does not realize that ONLY GOD is good, and the rest of us are vile sinners (Romans 3:10-23, Job 15:14,16; Job 25:4-6, Ps. 14:1-3, etc.) he will continue to journey down that broad way that leads to destruction. That way is filled with "What shall I do" and "What good thing shall I do". Salvation is not about YOU nor is it about what YOU can do! It's about who Jesus is and what HE did! It's not "faith plus works", it's not Jesus AND I, but JESUS ONLY (Hebrews 1:3)!

This ruler had a problem which had to be dealt with! That problem was pride and self-righteousness! First, Jesus told him that only God is good. And asked if the ruler was calling Jesus, "Good master", because he recognized that Jesus was God and thus the only one who is good.

Not giving the man time to answer Jesus continued with a statement "keep the commandments". Jesus then listed several commandments. I won't comment on all of these commandments but it is interesting to note the differences in the three accounts. Noting "Defraud not" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" and the different order given in each account.

Did you catch that? When asked: "What must I do to inherit eternal life", Jesus did not say: Pray this prayer, raise your hand, walk the isle. Nor did he say: Believe on me! Nor did he say: Salvation is a gift. Nor did he quote: John3.16; Eph. 2:8,9; Romans 10:9-13; Titus 3:5; John 3:36; John 4:10-14, etc. What did he do? He told the man to keep the commandments! Go and do thou likewise!

How many times have you debated self-righteous sinners who insisted on doing something "good" in order to get eternal life? How many times have you rattled off all the verses dealing with "not by works", only to be confronted with equally powerful verses showing that God demands righteousness? I've even heard it said: "God doesn't want you to do good!" And, "God doesn't want good works! Wrong! God demands absolute righteousness!" Nothing could be further from the truth. God demands that we be GOOD! If you aren't righteous you will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9). I think all of us gospel preachers can learn a lesson from our Lord Jesus when it comes to dealing with sinners.

When a self-righteous sinner wishes to "do" something to have eternal life, give them the LAW! After all it is a mirror (James 1:22-25) and a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) that exposes and teaches sinners that they are "unrighteous" and incapable of doing "good" (Romans 3:19,20). This is exactly what our Lord Jesus did! He exposed this poor ruler to the mirror of God's holy law! Once exposed he didn't like what he saw and went a way sorrowful. Notice also that Jesus didn't chase after him crying out: But the gift of God is eternal life! Sinner must be brought to repentance from DEAD works (Hebrews 6:2, 9:14).

"But we know that the LAW IS GOOD, if a man USE IT LAWFULLY; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and FOR SINNERS, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; ACCORDING TO THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust" (I Timothy 1:8-11)


"Wherefore the LAW IS HOLY, and the commandment holy, and just, AND GOOD. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might APPEAR SIN, working death in me by that which is good; THAT SIN by the commandment might BECOME EXCEEDING sinful" (Romans 7:11,12)

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that EVERY MOUTH may be STOPPED, and all the world may BECOME GUILTY before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for BY THE LAW IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN." (Romans 3:19,20)

"Wherefore the law was our SCHOOLMASTER TO BRING US UNTO CHRIST, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:23-25)

My contention is that the Lord Jesus merely exposed this ruler to his own sin. This ruler failed to keep the whole law. Had he really kept the whole law as he claimed then he would without a problem have sold all that he had and given it to the poor, as a demonstration of his compliance of "loving his neighbor as himself" and not coveting! The love of money is the root of evil. Remember the man's problem was his "trust" in money instead of "trust in God" (Mark 10:24).

We would do well to apply the law of God to sinner's hearts. Christ died for their sins is part of the gospel message (I Cor. 15:1-4). Unless sin is defined and exposed this message will mean nothing. We do a great disservice to our listeners if we to not expose them to the law of God BEFORE we expose them to the grace of God! This has been God's order from the beginning. Remember the OLD TESTAMENT LAW came BEFORE the New Testament!

"For the law was given by Moses, but GRACE AND TRUTH came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17)

We can continue down these lines of discussion if you would like. We live in a generation of "easy believe-ism". Where a whole generation of people have been mistakenly led to believe themselves to be saved when they have never been truly converted, born again, nor SAVED! They have prayed prayers, walked isles, raised hands, but they have never been born again! They have never repented! Just as this ruler failed to fall at the feet Jesus confessing his exposed sinned, we have a generation of hypnotized "believers" willing to repeat prayers but unwilling to acknowledge their wickedness! They think themselves good! They think themselves on even level with our Lord Jesus. They must be taught that they are (we!) but worms and no men.

This was the point of Jesus' message to the ruler. It had NOTHING to do with a faith plus works type of salvation. It had everything to do with "stopping" the ruler's mouth. It had everything to do with "bringing" him to real FAITH! We would do well to learn that lesson. Before the doctor can apply the saving "balm of Gilead"' the patient must come in for treatment! No one goes to the doctor unless they KNOW they are sick (Matthew 9:12,13). This ruler's real problem was a lack of knowledge! He didn't realize his condition! Jesus was holding up a "holy mirror" so that this wretched sinner could see his filthy rags (Is. 64:6). This ruler cannot be faulted for feeling sorrowful, that was the intent! His grave mistake was continuing to trust in himself and his money! He should have fallen at the feet of Jesus and said: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord". No truly repentant sinner was ever turned away from our blessed master! But those self righteous souls were allowed to wallow in their own sin and ignorance.

We are not God's beggars, we are God's ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20). We are to go (he did say GO YE into all the world and PREACH the gospel) and present a message of peace to a lost and dying world. This message is not to be misconstrued as a true, but a demand for complete surrender on the part of the weaker party! Once that surrender has been rendered true peace will come! Then and only then (Eph 2:11-18)!


Please do write if you have any questions or comments!

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