Eternal Life Merited Through Perfect Obedience To God’s Commands

Matthew 19:16-21, Mark 10:17-21. Luke 10:25-28, 18:18-23, Romans 2:6-7 [1] and 7:10 reveal eternal life can be earned as a totally deserved reward for continuous perfect obedience to God’s two love commands and/or other moral laws either found on conscience (see Romans 2:15) or in the Mosaic Law.


Perfectly loving God and others every moment of every day


Luke 10:25-28 shows that if a person perfectly loved God and all other people every moment of every day throughout their earthly lives, they would earn or merit eternal life. Luke 10:25-28 says: “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him. ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbour as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” Jesus here says the Law of Moses offered eternal life in terms of perfectly loving God and others every day.

Note the lawyer asked in Luke 10:25, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In verse 28 when Jesus answered “do this and you will live”, He used the present tense. In Greek, usually the present tense is taken in an ongoing sense unless the context demands otherwise. Therefore, Jesus here most likely was saying a person has to continue to love God and other people every moment of every day in order to earn eternal life.


Perfectly obeying all God’s commands all the time


In Matthew 19:16-21, Jesus defined meriting eternal life in terms which not only agree with the basic foundations of the Law of Moses, but also in terms of what could be called the Law of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2) and also the Law of God on human conscience.

Matthew 19:16-21 says: “Now behold, one came 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.’ He said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said ‘you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honour you father and mother, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

In verse 16, the rich young ruler asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” In verse 17, Jesus Christ answered, “keep the commandments”. The word “keep” here is in the present tense. As stated before, in Greek the present tense usually signifies ongoing action unless the context demands otherwise. So Jesus here is most likely saying it is only those who perfectly keep God’s commandments every moment of every day who can earn eternal life.

Jesus Christ was not here deceiving the rich young ruler into trying to merit eternal life by perfect obedience to God’s commandments. Jesus was trying to show him how impossible it is for sinful humans to earn or merit eternal life.

Many Jews had the false notion that a very high though imperfect level of obedience to God’s commands would earn them eternal life at the Final Judgement. But Jesus was aiming to show God demands perfect obedience every moment of every day to His moral commands and love laws in order to merit eternal life. Jesus Christ prefaced His remarks by saying, “No one is good but one that is God.” This was said partly to stress no ordinary sinful human can perfectly obey God’s laws.

Note also verses 20-21 record Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to do something which was not specifically mentioned in the Law of Moses – selling everything he owned and giving it to the poor. Jesus commanded this as one expression of the higher law of loving your neighbour as yourself. Jesus did this for three reasons. First, He desired to show the rich young ruler his lack of real obedience to God’s laws of love. Second, Christ desired to reveal what specific sin the young man needed to turn from as part of turning to Him. This sin involved the young ruler’s wrong attitude to money and material possessions. Third, Jesus wanted to show this young man his absolute need of having faith in Him as the Christ in order to receive eternal life.

Observe Jesus quoted some of the Ten Commandments to the rich young ruler but also added the loving-your-neighbour-command found in Leviticus 19:18. [2]


Paul’s teachings on this issue


Romans 7:10 is a similar verse to Luke 10:25-28 and Matthew 19:16-21. In Romans 7:10. Paul says: “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.”

Note Paul here shows that obedience to the commandment of God hypothetically could have resulted in eternal life but in reality instead brought a punishment to those who disobeyed it. This punishment involved physical and eternal spiritual death.

In context, Romans 7:10 is referring to the Law of Moses, as seen in Romans 7:7-9 by Paul's quoting of the 10th moral commandment of the Law.

Galatians 3:10-14 says: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

These verses explain why no-one can be declared righteous and receive God’s life through His Holy Spirit by obeying the Mosaic Law. [3] Anyone who does not continually perfectly obey the Law is cursed with the main curse of the Law – death (see Leviticus 26:14-39 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

The second of the Ten Commandments and Deuteronomy 7:9 insist that we perfectly love God. But because every human, except Christ, does not perfectly love God every moment of every day, every fallen human is continually cursed by the Law with a sentence of death. It is only because of God’s grace and mercy that Old and New Testament believers are freed from this curse of death and are declared righteous by Him.

Galatians 3:10 quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 from the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 27:26 mentions being cursed for disobeying the Law. Galatians 3:13 refers to the curse of the Law. In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses concluded the Law by giving the Israelites a choice between life or death. In its original context, Deuteronomy 30:15-20 seems to relate only to physical life or physical death. Deuteronomy 4:26, 4:40, 6:1-2 and 32:46-47 are similar Mosaic Law verses which refer to long physical life being given as a reward for faithful obedience. Deuteronomy 4:26 mentions physical death for unrepentant disobedience to the Law.

But in Galatians 3:10 and 3:13, Paul seems to broaden the meaning of the curse of the Law to include both physical death and spiritual death. Spiritual death involves separation from God.


Just one sin results in eternal condemnation


Hebrews 2:2 shows that every single disobedience to the Law of Moses results in a person being deserving of punishment according to God’s justice: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward.” James 2:10 teaches that if a person disobeys the Law just once, he incurs the same guilt as a person who disobeys every one of the commands of the law: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” So just one sin makes a person deserving of spiritual and physical death.


Merited eternal life relates to obeying only God’s moral commands


In the previously-mentioned verses relating to deserving eternal life as a reward (see Matthew 19:16-21, Mark 10:17-21, Luke 10:25-28, 18:18-23 and Romans 7:7-10), note Jesus and Paul only refer to moral commands from the Mosaic Law and not to God’s Mosaic Covenant civil and ceremonial laws.

It is true God commanded Israelites living under the Mosaic Covenant to obey the moral, civil and ceremonial commands found in the Mosaic Law. But note the New Testament itself in various contexts separates in a very general sense the moral laws from the ceremonial and civil laws and separates the ceremonial laws from the moral and civil laws. For example, Hebrews 9:1-10:10 focuses on the ceremonial and not the moral and civil commands of the Mosaic Law. Hebrews 9:1 and 9:10 refer to the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant. Vine says the Greek word “dikaioma” or “ordinance(s)” used in the contexts of these two verses means “ordinances connected with tabernacle ritual”. [4]

The moral laws include the Ten Commandments and other commands about interpersonal relationships between God, others and us. The civil laws are those which relate to the organisation and governing of the nation of Israel by God-ordained rulers and judges. The ceremonial laws are those related to animal sacrifices, the priesthood, the religious feasts, Levitical tithes and offerings.

In Romans 13:8-10 and James 2: 8-11, the Law of Moses as summarised in loving others is related only to moral commandments against murder, adultery, stealing and so on and not to any civil or ceremonial laws. Romans 13:8-10 says: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, You shall love you neighbour as yourself. Love does not harm to a neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Note also the two great love commandments of Christ are eternal and are not just limited to the Law of Moses. Forever God is love (see 1 John 4:8 and 16). All holy angels practice these two commandments. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve fulfilled these two great commands. So these moral commands were being observed long before God’s civil and ceremonial laws began to operate during the Mosaic Covenant era.


Do not misuse Galatians 3:21


Someone may argue, “Galatians 3:21 states, ‘For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.’ Therefore, Paul teaches that the Bible does not promise eternal life to those who perfectly obey the Mosaic Law or God’s two love commands.”

It is true that in Galatians 3:21, Paul teaches that it is impossible for any fallen human to receive eternal life through obeying any set of God’s laws. But Paul does not here oppose the idea that if anyone could perfectly obey the Mosaic Law or God’s two love laws, they would earn eternal life. In Galatians 3:21, Paul refers to God’s laws practically being able to give eternal life. He is not denying God’s laws offer eternal life.


Jesus’ perfect obedience to God


Jesus Christ perfectly obeyed the Mosaic Law and God’s two great love commands (see Matthew 5:17-18, Romans 5:18-19, 8:4, Philippians 2:8, 1 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 5:8-9). He did this on behalf of believers whom He was appointed by God to represent.

Christ did not have to merit eternal life for Himself because He was eternal life Himself (see John 14:6 and 1 John 5:11). Also note when Christ died, His attitudes and actions were a perfect fulfilment of God’s commands to love God and love all others.

We may argue that by perfectly obeying the Mosaic Law and God’s two great love commands, Christ won a perfectly right legal standing before God for all believers. As seen in Chapter        “The crediting of Christ’s right standing to believers”, it is debatable whether Christ’s perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law and God’s two great love commands related only to Jesus’ death or to His whole life including His death.

Jesus Christ did not have to offer burnt, sin or guilt offerings for Himself, because He had no sin. Instead His death was a fulfilment of these three offerings for sinners.

It is true the Mosaic Law demands obedience to its moral, civil and ceremonial laws and not just its moral commands. But note while this is true, if an Israelite perfectly obeyed all of the moral and civil commands of the Mosaic Law or an Israelite or non-Israelite perfectly obeyed God’s two love laws every moment of every day of their lives, they would not need to offer sin, guilt, burnt or peace offerings, to have the services or intercessions of the priests and High Priest, to give the atonement money to God, to participate in the cleansing rituals and to participate in the Day of Atonement and many other atonement-related ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law.

Jesus Christ is the only person who did not need to obey any of these sin-related ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law. It is little wonder Revelation 5:2-12 reveals that only He is fully worthy. Only Jesus has perfectly merited God’s acceptance and all God’s spiritual and earthly blessings.


Bible Study Questions


1.         What does Luke 10:25-28 teach us about one way of receiving eternal life?

2.         Explain what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:16-21 about receiving eternal life.

3.         What does Paul teach in Romans 7:10 and Galatians 3:21? Why do these verses not contradict each other?

4.         Discuss Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law and to God’s two love commands.


[1] Refer to the section on Romans 2:1-29 in Chapter “Myths about Eternal Life and Justification” for details on Romans 2:6-7.

[2] Mark 10:17-21 and Luke 18:18-23 also refer to Jesus’ dealings with the rich young ruler. Note in these verses and in Matthew 19:16-21, Jesus only mentions moral commands from the Law of Moses. Christ does not mention any of the Mosaic Covenant’s civil and ceremonial laws.

[3] The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Life” (see Romans 8:2) and is Himself eternal life.

[4] Vine, page 339.



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