Sarcasm or a Serious Plea? “If Thou Wilt Enter into Life, Keep the Commandments” in Matthew 19

A Protestant minister recently explained to me that we weren’t Christian because of our belief that we must strive to “keep the commandments” and obey God, for this means we are denying the grace of Christ and relying on works instead of Christ to save us. To be fair, this wasn’t the only reason we aren’t Christian: there are many points of doctrine and interpretation of scripture where we differ from his infallible views, thus showing that we worship a “different Jesus” and cannot possibly be saved by faith in Christ. The only true Jesus, of course, interprets Isaiah and Daniel the way my evangelical friend does: any departure in understanding means you’re worshiping a false god or demon. Faith alone saves, as long as you can also pass a scorching theology quiz.

According to some Protestant interpretations of Matthew 19, Christ is being ironic or even sarcastic when answering the young man who asks what he must do to be saved. The correct answer of course, is something like, “Do? What on earth makes you think you can do anything to be saved? You are saved by faith alone.” The phrase “faith alone” or “faith only” is biblical, FYI, being found (just once) in the New Testament. Please don’t worry about where it is mentioned or in what context, that will only muddy the waters. For now I wish to focus on understanding Matthew 19, where, when asked what one must do to be saved, Christ responded with a phrase that can be found throughout the scriptures: “Keep the commandments.” Or more specifically, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Is there exchange an example of Christ’s sarcasm? Or a loving, sincere attempt to help this rich young man drop what was standing between him and God in order to become more whole and a true follower of Jesus Christ? You might guess the answer, but in the 20-minute podcast below, I offer a few additional angles and thoughts on this topic.

The mp3 file may download slowly – I would appreciate any suggestions for a better way to play the file in Blogger. Have tried Google Docs and FileFreak as hosting sources. Both seem slow. The MP3 file is 20 Meg.

Download mp3 file

Author: Jeff Lindsay

18 thoughts on “Sarcasm or a Serious Plea? “If Thou Wilt Enter into Life, Keep the Commandments” in Matthew 19

  1. This old debate. I remember when I was in the faith alone camp and saw how Ephesians 2:8-9 was enough to show that works weren't necessary for salvation at all.

    Then according to James, it was.

    Then to Romans, it was…kind of both, but I could find specific verses saying we were saved without having to follow the commandments.

    When jackg gets here, he'll probably show off some verses in John, too.

    I honestly think there is enough evidence for both views to be supported by the bible.

    And then I'm reminded that the bible is a collection of individual works, written by many different people with different views that sometimes contradict each other.

  2. I've always wondered about the "faith only" crowd: why do they think Christ *gave* commandments? Just because He liked to hear Himself talk?

    To me, faith isn't just saying you believe in God and His word, it's in heeding the words the One you profess to believe in. If you really love and believe in God, why would you ignore His instructions?

  3. Actually, being a "faith alone" person doesn't mean you ignore his commandments.

    Imagine believing in someone who died for you, has stories told about him that show how loving he was, and turns out to be the son of god. Do you not follow him just because you don't have to?

    I would've responded, back then, that the commandments are great guidelines to follow, and it's a shame that more people don't. But they aren't necessary for salvation.

    Besides, isn't it even more genuine when you're not doing a kind work just to further your own cause?

  4. It's interesting to me that both sides really do believe it is faith in grace that saves.

    As om says, those who profess "faith / grace alone" really do believe it's important to obey the commandments – but they get around it by claiming that it's really God / Jesus working in us (a gift of grace) that allows us to obey.

    I really hate semantic arguments that ignore the deeper agreement just because . . . well . . . someone has to be wrong and someone else has to be right – and, of course, "I" have to be right, so "you" have to be wrong.

    Sometimes, I just want to beat both sides with a brick stick – but I'm not Jesus, and they aren't his holy house, so I just end up shaking my head and muttering under my breath.

    (Oh, and open-minded, I'll try to get to your comment on my BofM post tomorrow. I got home from vacation about 20 minutes ago, checked Jeff's blog and don't have time to respond to your comment tonight. Catching up on too many things . . . *sigh*)

  5. Sorry, to be more precise, I should have said MOST of those who profess faith alone really do believe in obeying the commandments when they are pressed about it.

    Of course, there are some who will argue with a straight face that once you have confessed faith you can break all the commandments and still be saved, but most will say that breaking them shows the person wasn't REALLY saved – that the confession wasn't REALLY sincere. In Mormon-speak, that would be that this person "hasn't truly / fully repented or endured to the end," in a nutshell.

    So, the majority teach Mormon doctrine, in this instance, but are saved regardless. *shakes head in resignation*

  6. I wouldn't expect God to use sarcasm or other forms of mockery, as those appear to be evil forms of communication intended to belittle others. [Any examples of God using sarcasm?]

    My vote is "serious plea".

  7. Papa D,
    No worries, it's the New Year. Enjoy your family! I can wait.

    I think I read a Bible commentary (Oxford's) that talked about Job containing, among other literary devices, sarcasm.

    But in Matthew, there's no context that would support this.

  8. Papa D,
    No worries, it's the New Year. Enjoy your family! I can wait.

    I think I read a Bible commentary (Oxford's) that talked about Job containing, among other literary devices, sarcasm.

    But in Matthew, there's no context that would support this.

  9. I think it is very clear that Jesus was being sincere in Matt 19:17. If he was being sarcastic, why would the young man ask, "Which?", and then why would Jesus continue with the sarcasm by stating some of the 10 commandments?

    If Jesus was being sarcastic, why then would he state, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."?

    Does he really mean that we really -shouldn't- be giving to the poor and we really -shouldn't- be following him?

  10. I find it interesting to listen to Christian radio because you get to hear other Christians teach their doctrines to other Christians. I have noticed that some of them do tend to focus on the importance of commandment keeping more often when they don't know mormons are listening. Perhaps some Christians are under the impression that we are legalistic to a fault and so they emphasize faith more when they try to explain their understanding of salvation to us.

    I heard one evangelical radio talk show host liken the gift of salvation to a college scholarship. It is free, it never has to be paid back, but it is conditional, you have to go to college to receive it. Likewise he said you have to repent and follow Christ with all of your heart to receive salvation. I was surprised at how LDS his view sounded.

  11. HI All,

    Thought I'd interject a thought. Faith alone will not save one. God's grace alone will not save one. Living one's faith, coupled with God's grace is what saves us. We live our faith by our actions toward each other, and our actions towards ourselves. You can go to your respective churches each week, but if you go home and treat your wife like dirt, you're not living your faith no matter how christian your beliefs. The works we do are part of how we live our faith. But its equally important to follow the 2 great commandments: Love God with your whole heart and love each other as you would love yourself. If you're doing those two things, then you are living the other commandments.

    Where grace comes in is when we fail to live our faith perfectly. God knew we were going to stumble, and sometimes outright fall along the way. Hence the coming of Christ and the whole forgiveness thing. He also knew that we were not perfect and would sin. Adam did right at the beginning. So God knew we'd need some help. That's where his grace comes in, our works won't take us to heaven because we are not perfect in living our faith. Grace is what saves us when we've done all we can do.

    So the message I would put forth is both camps are right, but both camps are wrong too. You can't get to heaven by faith alone. And you can't get to heaven through works alone. You only get there by living your faith and God extending his grace in the end. Just my two cents.


    Catholic Defender

  12. I find it interesting that Jesus didn't teach salvation the way that Evangelicals teach it (this opinion was re-affirmed because I was recently witnessed to). Openminded kind of hit it spot on in the first response. The only scriptures I ever hear in the faith camp comes from Paul (or selected and interpreted passages of Paul–certainly not all). Interesting thing is I almost NEVER hear anything from the Four Gospels quoted even though it's Jesus, and it's Him telling us how to be saved.
    I'm currently doing a scripture study project where I am listing any kind of reference to salvation in the four gospels. Categories are scriptures that list works, faith, or both as methods of salvation. I've done it as simply and unbiased as I can and left out ambiguous references from both sides. There are references for all categories, but curiously works heavily outweigh any other reference. To say that what we do has no affect on our salvation is absurdly unbiblical. Catholic defender also hit is spot on. I agree with him and believe that this interpretation actually acknowledges all teachings in the Bible, as opposed to a few "favorites" found outside of what Jesus taught. Not to discredit the Apostles and so forth, but Jesus' words are hard to misinterpret.

    P.S. Mormons are not in a "works" camp.

  13. Interesting how well catholicdefender summed up the REAL LDS teaching on the subject :).

    I was reading Matthew 7 today and I honestly can't figure out how "faith only" can be reconciled with Christ's own words in that chapter, especially verse 21. He Himself explained that those who DO the Father's will will be saved and that simply professing faith without DOING is not enough.

    I suppose if you want "easy believism", you can ignore Christ's own words in favor of Paul, but *if* there's a conflict (which I consider unproven at best) I'll consider a member of the Godhead the one to heed.

  14. Hi FelixandAva,

    I probably summed up the real LDS teaching on this subject so well, because it has been the catholic teaching since the coming of Christ 🙂 Seriously though, in some areas our churches are diametrically opposed, but there really are some points our respective churches do find agreement on. You probably hit on an important point about reconcilling Christ's words with Pauls. What I tend to find though, is that Paul's words are consistent with Christ's. The real problem is that often people tend to read only the parts of what Paul says that they like, and often miss the meaning because you have to read all of what Paul says, not just those things that support your position. The passage about women obeying thier husbands is a good example. Most folks read that part, but miss the rest which says, husbands must obey their wives too. Enjoy your faith journey.


    Catholic Defender

  15. Great point, CD. I've often said if I am forced to take ONLY the words attributed to Jesus OR Paul's words, I will take the words of Jesus every day and ten times on Sunday – but that I'd rather take the synthesized message by interpreting Paul's words in light of Jesus' words.

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