Unravel The Confusion

The other day I listened to a radio preacher talk about how one obtains eternal life. He used Mark 10:17-21 as an example of Biblical repentance to obtain eternal life. In this passage, when the rich man asked Jesus,“Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ reply was “… sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up thy cross, and follow me.”(KJV)

The preacher’s explanation of the verse was that unless unbelievers repent and turn their lives over to Christ, they cannot have eternal life. Sadly, he gave a false interpretation of the passage. Christ’s command to the rich man to sell all he had was specific and literal, not figurative. It applied to those living during and shortly following the time Christ was on the earth, preparing to establish the kingdom promised to Israel. That is why in Acts 4:32-35 you find the command obeyed literally by believers:

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. … Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (KJV)

Do you know of any church-going people today who have actually sold all their possessions and given their money to the poor? Most likely not, because those are not the instructions God has given for us today during what the Bible calls “the dispensation of grace” (Eph 3:1). They were instructions given when “the kingdom of God” was “at hand.” (Mark 1:15). Other verses in the four gospels also apply specifically to that time. Consider Matthew 6:25-26:

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. … Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

If the above verses apply today, how do they reconcile with the following instructions that God gave through the Apostle Paul?:

“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8 KJV)

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians. 3:10 KJV)

The key to understanding the commandments of Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (the four gospels) is to realize that Christ’s earthly ministry was to the nation of Israel concerning their promised kingdom, not to the world at large. That is why Jesus said to the Gentile woman,“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 KJV). The gospel of our salvation was revealed by the risen Christ Jesus through the Apostle Paul, “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13 KJV), as he explains in Galatians 1:11-12:

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The details of the gospel that was given to the Apostle Paul for us today are outlined in the first five chapters of the book of Romans, but Romans 3:23-26 summarize them well:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [fully satisfying sacrifice] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (KJV)

This passage teaches us that it is Christ who does the work and God who does the justifying. The only response that God will accept from us is belief in Jesus as the fully satisfying sacrifice for our sins. The gospel today is clear. No works whatsoever are required for salvation:

“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 KJV)

Separating the words of Jesus Christ to Israel (during his earthly ministry) from the message of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to the church of today will unravel any confusion about the gospel. The wonderful gospel of the grace of God will become clear.