Matthew 19: Can You Explain This Away?

In Matthew 19:16-21, a man approaches Christ and asks “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”

Quiz time! Which of the following was Christ’s answer?

  1. “Thou cultist! Knowest thou not that there is nothing one must do to be saved, for salvation cometh by faith alone.”
  2. “If thou wilt enter into life, just believe. But if thou believest thou must keep the commandments, thou shalt be cast into hell with the Mormons.”
  3. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

There are several other places in the New Testament where Christ gives similar teachings, but Matthew 19 is especially interesting. Those who claim that we are a cult because we believe in seeking to follow Christ in word and deed really puzzle me. If the Bible has more for us than just one verse (such as Ephesians 2:8), what are we to make of the frequently repeated plea of God for man to keep His commandments? I’ve had some Protestants try to explain that Christ was being ironic, and that He was deliberately trying to mock the idea of keeping the commandments in this case. Please!

Latter-day Saints, this is a useful scripture when teaching those with sincere questions – but don’t waste your time arguing over this or any other verse with those who just want to argue and refuse to listen.

Some related passages include Luke 10:23-28, Mark 12:28-34, Mark 10:17-22, and many more, including many from Paul (yes, Paul – such as 1 Tim. 4:16).


Author: Jeff Lindsay

13 thoughts on “Matthew 19: Can You Explain This Away?

  1. Great post, Jeff! I will have to remember that when I am in one of those faith vs. works discussions with non-members. Your quiz made me chuckle. I love how you teach with light humor without detracting from the seriousness of the subject. Thanks!

  2. Jeff, when a crew of baptists from So. Cal. showed up on BYU campus in 2000 and tried to missionize the mormons (i.e. rudely announcing to students walking on the quad between the ASB and the Library and in the foyer of the new library itself that we were going to hell and that JS was a false prophet), I wasted my time allowing them to discuss these issues with me. We sat down on the grassy slope next to the HFAC; it was a beautiful Spring day and I figured I could take a break from Hegel and haggle with them. It was indeed frustrating because, predictably, the “faith alone” track was a major component of their case against the Latter-day Saints. I used a number of scriptures out of 1 John (a book that they seemed completely unfamiliar with) to discuss the role of works as an expression of our faith. Also, when confronted with James’s exhortation that faith without works is dead, they pointed out that James was of questionable value since Martin Luther disagreed with its doctrine (i.e. implying that works are necessary as an expression of faith or that both together are necessary). So much for the Protestant insistence (and misapplication) of the scripture in Revelations that admonishes against adding to or taking away from the Bible (of course that scripture in no way refers to the whole Bible, but only a Latter-day Saint would understand that). It is funny that they didn’t see their dismissal of James as at least as much afoul of their interpretation of the Revelations scripture as they accuse us of with the BoM as being “added unto” the Bible.

  3. It is easier to understand the widespread opposition to seeking salvation through works if one considers the pervasive influence of the idea that we are now living in a “Dispensation of Grace” that had not yet begun when Christ was living on the earth. A quick internet search for the words Scofield and dispensationalism will explain a lot.

  4. Hello,

    I find these verses in the bible that I believe support a different outlook on “grace through works”.

    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

    “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” Galatians 2:21

    “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven… Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Matthew 7:21-22

    How shocked they will be when they hear Jesus respond:

    “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:23

    “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16

    “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” Romans 5:1

    “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26

    “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith…” Galatians 3:8

    “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:28

    “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3:5

    “If there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law,” Gal. 3:21 – paul

    “when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded of you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do,” Luke 17:10 – Jesus

    “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18

    Jesus repeats this same truth:

    “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life…” John 6:40

    “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:29

  5. I believe you probably already know that bible study without regard to context, is no study at all. If we look at this passage in it’s entirety it is very easy to arrive at a much diferent conclusion than than the one you have arrived at. Verses 25 and 26 which I believe represents the summation of Christ’s teachings in this passage make clear the point of this passage:

    16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

    17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

    18“Which ones?” the man inquired.

    Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’[d] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[e]”

    20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

    21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, 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.”

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

    26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

    28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother[f] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

    I respectifully disagree that Christ is advocating “works” as the path to salvation in this passage.,

  6. You mention Mark 12:28-34 to bolster your argument fort works. If this passage is read in it’s entirety it ie VERY evident to me that Jesus is EXPLICITLY teaching that to “love the lord”(Faith),as OPPOSED to “burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Works)is the the to salvation.

    Can you honestly dispute this?

    “33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”


    28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
    29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g]There is no commandment greater than these.”

    32“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

    34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

  7. You also hold up Mark 10:17-22 as justification of “works”. Again, with context the Lord’s message is clear – “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    Follwing the commandments was NOT enough. The man lacked something more important. That thing was a total to devotion to following the Lord. Not “works”.

    Abandon your worldly possessions and follow the Lord: FAITH


    17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

    20“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

  8. The correct choice is the third one. Not hard to “explain it away” though. Jesus was telling the simple truth. Do you want to stand before Jesus one day and say let me into heaven based on my obedience to the law? All you will have to do is show that you have kept it. If you can show that you have kept the law in all that it requires without exception and without transgression God will in fact allow you into heaven. Simple.

    Your second citation brings it into sharp focus. A quotation of the Shema (Deut. 6:5) and Lev. 19:18. Easy huh? Is that all we have to do? Yep, that’s it, on the word of the eternal Son of God. Just love God with everything you’ve got and all the time without any lapses and treat everyone else just as you would treat yourself, again, without exception, and you’re in.

    To think that anyone other than Jesus has ever done this, is, imo, to treat the requirement too lightly.

    The Mark 12 citation is the same material as the Luke citation. Thanks, I knew of it from Matt. but didnt remember it from Mark.

    It’s a bit ironic that you would cite the Mark 10 passage. What was the young man’s problem? He valued all that he had as being more valuable than to follow God. He violated the first commandmant, he was an idolator. Yet his claim, when Jesus pointed him to the Law was that he had kept all those things from his youth up. But Jesus was concerned to show him that he had in fact not done so. What was Jesus’ challenge to the young man? Give up your idolatry and follow Jesus. Jesus did not point him to a more perfect observance of the Law. Jesus called on him to repent and follow the Lord. Note that if observance of the law was in view, the law no where commands that you give all that you have to the poor so that you can have treasure in heaven. The tithe is commanded, charity to the poor is commanded, but not the total liquidation of all possesions. Jesus told the man to repent and follow him.

    The 1 Timothy 4:16 reference is bogus. The chapter deals with apostacy and Paul’s charge to Timothy to remain faithful in preaching the truth and developing the gift he was given. Go back and read all of chapter 4 for yourself and see if you retain your opinion.

    Interesting site. I’ll try and respond to some of your more recent posts a little bit later.


  9. Hello,
    Inorder to understand Matthew 19:16-21, first of all we need to know what are we. I mean to say there is nothing good in the mankind.New Testament is based on the concept that “We are born in sin,living in sin and dying in sin,it is only in Lord Jesus and HIS grace that our sins can be cleansed. 1 John 1:9” All our righteousness is filthy racks (Isaiah:64:6). Now if we say that we have any good in us, then it means that we are telling lies or boasting about ourself.
    In Matthew 19:16-21, a man approaches Christ and asks “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Our Lord says in 17th verse, Why call me good?there is none good. The reason for our Lord to say like that is because he lived as a normal man and wanted the person who asked this question to know,that there is no good in the mankind. And told him to keep the commandments. Then the young person said that he is keeping all the commandments. Jesus already know that he was a rich man and so he said to give what ever he has to poor and follow HIM. The conclusion of that topic was that it is very hard for the richman to enter the kingdom of God.
    Coming to Ephesians 2:8, it says that we are saved through our works but by grace through faith(which is the gift of God)
    Please read Romans(6:1,2,4)about grace of GOD.

    The author says that “we are a cult because we believe in seeking to follow Christ in word and deed puzzles HIM.”

    It is not we are cult because we believe in seeking to follow Christ,but we are cult from the day sin entered into the mankind from Adam and Eve as I already mentioned we need to know that we are born in sin.
    When we confess that we are sinners and believe that Jesus died for us and it is only through the HIS blood we have the victory over sin and then what we are called as SAVED. Whatever the author said as cult is no more in US because it is already being completely washed in HIS blood.

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