Who Then Can Be Saved?

Do you think you can get to heaven by what you do? In the last post we examined the two prevailing ideas to get to heaven. The first is God’s plan, and the second and more commonly held plan is the Moral Plan, or man’s plan. The Moral plan could be called the DO plan. It’s all about everything that you do: living a good life, keeping religious teaching and a check list of rules.

In Matthew 19:21, Jesus says to this young man, who is so determined to live out the Moral Plan, “If you want to be perfect…” That’s a bombshell. The pursuit of perfection is the essence of the moral plan. Jesus is really saying, “Very well then, if you want to be perfect…” Jesus is describing the logical conclusion of the Moral Plan. If you plan to access heaven on the Moral Plan, then you’d better plan on being perfect. That’s the fatal flaw of the Moral Plan. It’s a plan with an unachievable goal. And because this guy hasn’t realized this yet, Jesus exposes one clear example of the corruption in this man’s heart that is so close to home for him, that he will have no alternative but to admit that he is not the model of moral virtue he pretends to be. Jesus can see inside his heart and knows that his dominant flaw is a greedy heart. So, to expose the greed, in verse 21, Jesus says, “Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor…” Jesus wasn’t saying that access to heaven was contingent on giving away all your money. Jesus not teaching that access to heaven is contingent on being generous; or on meeting the needs of the poor (as important to God as all those things are). If that’s what He meant then Jesus was sanctioning and validating the Moral Plan.  There are many examples of wealthy people in Scripture who loved God, and were never told to give away their wealth.  Not one of Jesus disciples was asked to sell all that they had.  The point Jesus making is not to “sell or give”, the point that he is making is to confess that he’s not perfect.

A careful reading of the text makes things clear. Jesus says in verse 21, “You will have treasure in heaven…” That’s a marvelous promise of eternal life that Jesus extended to this young man. The promise of heaven is dependent on the invitation to follow Christ, not the action of giving away your wealth.

Jesus is simply illustrating that no matter how good you are, you’ll never be good enough to earn heaven. And the tragedy of the story is that “when the young man heard that, he went away sorrowful” (v22). The problem is not that he was sad. The tragedy is that he went away! Away from the only one who could end his quest for the life he so desperately wanted, but unfortunately wanted on his terms, not God’s.

Then Jesus said to his disciples…. it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  (vs.23)

Jesus is NOT teaching how hard it is for rich people to get unhooked from their riches and bow their knees to Him in humble faith. He is saying how impossible it is for them or for anyone else to be saved by self-effort of any kind.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  (vs. 25)

Jesus was forever turning the tables! The last would be first, children are the kingdom, the wealthy would have to squeeze through an impossible gate to heaven. Rightly, the disciples were astonished. What’s going on here? Who changed the rules? they must have been thinking.

26  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 (NIV)

God is able to change sinful hearts, it is possible for Him to save helpless men. God can do what men cannot do.

Whenever we’re puzzled about the eternal destiny of a loved one or exasperated at a friend’s hardness of heart toward God, remember Jesus’ assurance that God has the power to save anyone. Trust God to change and soften people’s hearts.

The fatal flaw of the Moral Plan is that every heart is imperfect.  Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short.” That’s the fatal flaw in the Moral Plan. People try to work the Moral Plan or trying to be perfect with an imperfect heart, and it’s not possible.

What’s the solution? If not the Moral Plan, then what plan? In verse 21, Jesus says, “Come, follow Me.” Jesus is saying to this young man, “I’m the alternative to the merciless, impossible, moral treadmill you’re on.” In John 14:6, Jesus said the same thing in different words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is God’s Plan.

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is the God-Man. He was virgin-born. He lived a perfect, righteous sinless life. He died on a cross to pay the penalty for your blunders, mistakes and wrong choices-the Bible calls them sin. He offers you and me complete forgiveness. There is no failure in your past that lies beyond the boundary of His willingness to forgive. He rose victorious from the grave. He is alive today, and through His Spirit lives in the hearts of men, women and children all over the world. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of our worship and the surrender of our lives to Him. And He invites each of us to “Come, follow Me.”

This guy’s problem wasn’t that he was rich, or that he wasn’t willing to give away his money. His problem was that he refused to abandon his Moral Plan, and he turned his back on Christ. It’s not sin that keeps people out of heaven; it’s a rejection of the Person of Jesus Christ. He went away sorrowful because he thought Jesus told him to lose the money. But the real tragedy is that he lost his life. Unfortunately, our friend was heartbroken for the wrong reason. He missed the point. And unfortunately that’s the mistake everyone makes who is on the Moral Plan. They miss the whole point. The whole point of Easter, Christ and the Cross, is that we can’t get to heaven without Christ.

Perhaps you’re wondering where good works fit into God’s plan. Does God not care about good works? Yes, He does. When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, He begins to transform our lives. Goodness and good works will be part of that transformation. We will produce good works in our life as an expression of gratitude because God has promised us heaven, not as a currency to earn heaven.

One last thing; God loved that young man. Do you know how much God loves you? Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby, and died on a cross, and rose from the dead, because of His great love for anyone who is religiously laboring at the moral grindstone.

Each of us too faces a choice. Will we stay on the moral treadmill, or will we follow Christ?  I admit that I am far from perfect, I cannot save myself.  I choose to put my faith in Christ and his perfection not my own.  I hope that you will join me.



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What Good Thing Must I Do for Eternal Life?

Do you love a good question?  Surveys show that the average young child asks anywhere from 200 to 400 questions per day! We can all learn a lot when the correct answers are given to our questions.  Matthew records a really good question asked by a rich young ruler.  He asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” In the interaction between Jesus and the rich young ruler, we are reminded that our misconceptions and preconceived notions can keep us from hearing what we need to hear about our salvation.

The man in the gospel accounts was described as young man who was both wealthy (Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27) and of prominent social standing. This rich young ruler wanted to be sure he would receive eternal life, so he asked what he could do to get it. He viewed eternal life as something that one achieves.

Do you think you can get to heaven by what you do?  There are two prevailing ideas to get to heaven. The first is God’s plan, and the second, the Moral plan, or man’s plan. The Moral plan could be called the DO plan. It’s all about everything that you do: living a good life, keeping religious teaching and check list of rules. Every religion in the world (except Christianity) fits into the DO plan. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witness and the Mormons teach that your welfare in the afterlife is based on your morality in this life.

Then there’s God’s plan the DONE plan. Everything that needed to be done to assure you a place in heaven was done by Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, 2000 years ago. The DO plan requires 100% perfection from birth to death. The DONE Plan required Jesus Christ’s perfection.

Jesus punches at this young man’s obsession with being good. In verse 17, Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? No one is good but God.” And Jesus takes this term “good” that is so subjective, and he defines it. So long as goodness is left in the abstract we can attribute goodness to anybody. We can all come off smelling like roses, morally speaking, depending with whom we compare ourselves. But Jesus applies a concrete standard to the concept of good. He provides a measurable definition; a standard by which all goodness can be measured. He says, “No one is good, but God.” There’s the benchmark of goodness. It’s the Holy Perfection of God.  If you’re planning to work the moral plan to get to heaven, then you need to know the absolute standard of goodness. You need to know how good you have to be.

It is theoretically possible to get to heaven on the moral plan, so long as you meet the standard. And the standard is the holy, righteous, absolute perfection of God. In verse 17, Jesus says it this way, “If you want to enter into life (on the moral plan), keep the commandments.” And he means keep them perfectly. That means, not only from now on, but from the moment of birth till the moment of death. One slip, one blunder, one word of anger, would mean instant disqualification. James says, “For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10).

So access to heaven on the moral plan is a theoretical possibility, but a practical absurdity. Unfortunately, our friend in the story doesn’t get it yet. He still thinks the moral plan is a good bet.

In response to Jesus’ statement to keep the commandments, the young man blurts, “Which ones?” He doesn’t get it that Jesus is describing a perfect, humanly unachievable standard, and yet he thinks it’s a manageable assignment. He thinks there’s a set of commandments that he can obey to such a degree that he can satisfy the perfectly holy standard of God, and qualify him for heaven.

So Jesus works with him, and lobs a few sample commandments his way. “Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself” (v18-19). And as Jesus talks, our friend is adding up his score, and he’s feeling pretty pleased with himself. In verse 20 he says, “All these I have kept since my youth.”

This young man needs to be educated, and Jesus is about to enlighten him, and it’s not going to be pretty. The young man’s problem is that he thinks external conformity to a set of rules is sufficient to access heaven and satisfy God. But God is not interested in external conformity to a set of commandments-that’s religion. He wants your heart-that’s relationship. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said that it’s not enough to not murder people. If you’re angry with someone, you’ve broken the spirit of that commandment, because God wants your heart. Jesus went on to say that it’s not enough to not commit adultery. If you look at a woman with lustful thoughts in your heart, you’ve broken the spirit of that commandment, because God wants your heart.

Man looks at the outward appearance of a person, but God looks at the heart. We measure with a mirror and yard stick, God measures with a x-ray and a dipstick. He goes inside, to the heart. Jesus could have exposed the nakedness of this damaged heart right there. But he didn’t. He decided to expose his heart in another way. Jesus He does it by exposing an entirely different heart issue in this young man’s life. Before we get to that, let’s pick up another insight about the moral plan.

The Result of the Moral Plan

In verse 20, the young man says, “All these I have kept… What do I still LACK?” This young man is still deluded. He still thinks his moral plan is watertight, and capable of getting him to heaven. He still hasn’t caught what Jesus is saying. He still feels that he is a good person. Good enough for heaven. “All these I have kept since my youth.” Yet, in spite of what he says, in spite of his wealth, his youthfulness, and his power, he knows something is still missing. “What do I still lack?” Sure as he is about the moral plan, he’s not sure he’s bound for heaven. He’s restless. No matter how good he thinks he is, he still has this nagging fear that he’s not ready to die. And he says to Jesus “What am I still lacking?” He doesn’t get this feeling just because of what Jesus has been saying. That feeling is evident in his opening question to Jesus. “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Implication? I’m missing something, and I don’t know what it is!

A lot of people who hope to achieve heaven on the moral plan, experience that same restlessness.  It’s a nagging fear that they know that they’re not ready to die.  Whenever I ask someone who’s working the moral plan, “are you sure that you’re going to heaven?”  They almost always reply, “I hope so, and I’d like to. But I can’t say for sure.” In other words, no matter how good they are, they’re not sure that they’re good enough. That’s the problem with striving for a standard when you don’t know what the standard is. You never know if, or when, you’ve hit it.

God wants you to be certain that you are heaven bound.   We will look at this in the next post.





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What if You Gain the World but Lose Your Soul?

I think that one of the most powerful questions that Jesus ever asked is this:  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 

What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Judas Iscariot thought it was worth 30 pieces of silver.  What is your cost to sell out Jesus?

Some years back there was a movie called “Indecent Proposal.” I didn’t see it, but I understand the story consisted of a man who offered a woman $1 million to have sexual relations with him. That was the indecent proposal. As a follow-up to that movie, an interviewer was conducting some on-the-street interviews to get peoples’ opinion of the idea of such a proposal. He stopped and asked one young lady if he were to offer her $1 mil would she agree to the same proposal. Without much thought she said, “Yeah, for $1 million why not? Sure.” Then he asked if her answer would be the same if it was for $1/2 a million She thought a little longer and said yeah, she’d still do that. Then he said, “Well how about for $20?” She got indignant, “Well, no! What kind of a girl do you think I am?” she said. He said, “Well, we’ve already established that. Now we just have to settle on a price.”

What’s your price to sell out your morals?  What’s the price to sell out your soul?

Hopefully no amount of money is worth selling your soul, is it? Still, day after day, people affix their price. Jesus tells us to consider that there is no price to account for your life – not that man can pay. Jesus already paid it on the cross! Nothing you have is of greater value to you. Nothing you can hold in your hand, nothing for which you can write a check, nothing that can be marketed, exchanged, or tagged is worth the value of your life of which God has made you steward. If we truly realize it and believe it, then we’ll protect that life in every way we can. That means we’ll lose it in Jesus Christ, so that it can be ours forever.

Malcolm Forbes is the man remembered for coining the phrase “he who dies with the most toys wins.” That was the wisdom of Malcolm Forbes. In fact, that was his ambition. That’s why he collected scores of motorcycles. That’s why he would pay over a million dollars for a Faberge egg. That’s why he owned castles, hot air balloons and countless other toys that he can no longer play with. The real quote should be, “He who dies with the most toys, still dies…

Many people spend all their energy seeking possessions, power and pleasure. Jesus said, however, that a world centered on possessions, power and pleasure is ultimately worthless. Whatever a person has on earth is only temporary; it cannot be exchanged for his or her soul. If you work hard at getting what you want, you might eventually have a “pleasurable” life, but in the end you will find it hollow and empty. The answer to the question, then, is that nothing is of enough value that it can be exchanged for one’s soul. Even if a person were to gain the world, that person would lose his or her soul—and the soul counts for eternity. No amount of money, power, or status can buy back a lost soul. Believers must be willing to make the pursuit of God more important than the selfish pursuit of pleasure. If we follow Jesus, we will know what it means to live abundantly now and to have eternal life as well.

 A number of years ago a story appeared which told of a man who picked up a beautiful rock from a North Carolina stream bed and used it as his cabin doorstop. Years later a geologist who was hiking in the area stopped at the cabin and noticed the doorstop, which he immediately recognized as a huge lump of gold. In fact, it proved to be one of the largest gold nuggets ever found east of the Rockies.

Like the man who failed to recognize gold when he held it in his hands, many people fail to recognize the true nature and ultimate value of Jesus. The question is, “What about you? Do you know Jesus? Will you let him save your soul and live for him? Do you see His value as more precious than gold, more precious than your life itself?


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What is the Cost of Following Jesus?

A dairy farmer went to buy a new pickup truck. He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the paper?” The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

Two-tone exterior $45
Extra stomach $75
Milk storage compartment $60
Straw recycle compartment $120
Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40
Leather upholstery $125
Dual horns $45
Automatic rear fly swatter $38
Natural fertilizer attachment $185


Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it.  Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. We don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches.  It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

These words applied to the disciples and to all who would come after Jesus—that is, become a disciple and enter his fellowship. Recognizing and confessing belief in Jesus as the Messiah is only the beginning of discipleship. Jesus invites every person to follow, but those who desire to follow him must have three attitudes:

  1. a willingness to deny themselves,
  2. a willingness to take up the cross, and
  3. a willingness to follow.

To deny oneself means to surrender immediate selfish gratification in order to discover and secure one’s true self and God’s interests. It is a willingness to let go of selfish desires and earthly security. This attitude turns self-centeredness to God-centeredness. “Self” is no longer in charge; God is.

To take up the cross was a vivid illustration of the humility and submission that Jesus was asking of his followers. When Jesus used this example of his followers taking up their crosses to follow him, the disciples got the picture. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for what they considered dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. For some, taking up the cross might indeed mean death. But Jesus’ words meant that his followers had to be prepared to obey God’s Word and to follow his will no matter what the consequences. We must count the cost and be prepared to pay it. Soon after this, Jesus would take up his own cross. Jesus was speaking prophetically here as well.  To follow Christ is also a moment-by-moment decision, requiring compassion and service. Following Jesus doesn’t mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of sacrifice and service that he took.

Jesus asked for something unique and rare when he suggested that his disciples follow him or to be loyal to him.  What receives our loyalty today? Sports teams . . . as long as they’re winning. Career . . . as long as we’re advancing. Marriage . . . as long as one’s spouse remains attractive. Basically, the self alone seems to deserve the loyalty of the self. It’s each person looking out for number one.  In Christian faith, however, Jesus must be number one, and we must give him our loyalty. Stick with him despite the swift current you’re swimming through. Never think that switching loyalties will reckon to your personal advantage. Remain loyal to Jesus and follow him all the way to heaven!

 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Jesus says to lose our lives for Him to find life.  What does that mean? We do it all the time when we board an airplane. We “lose yourself” in the belly of that plane when we entrust its controls to the trained pilot. Sure, it might be fun to fly that plane ourselves but it would also be a sure way to ruin our life and the lives of others. Likewise if we want to save our life, then lose it in Jesus. He becomes our pilot.   Entrust our life to him whose every word, every thought, and every deed was never for his comfort and convenience but for the benefit of others…and still is. That’s why we can deny ourselves and say “no” to our wants and desires. Jesus knows what we need and he will provide it.   In the next post we will see what is at stake if we don’t follow Jesus.


Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.
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