Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the account of the rich young ruler that came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to “have eternal life” (Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). Our title consists of both a command by the Lord and a question by the young man. In answer to the young man’s question the Lord told him to “keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). This is certainly a good answer to the question, for it is only by obeying the word of God that one can be saved. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). None of us would dare to even insinuate that we do not have to keep the commandments of God. However, the question asked next by the young man is also a good question. He asked, “which?” (Matt. 19:18). In other words, which commandments of God were he supposed to keep? This points us to our subject of consideration for the remainder of this article.
Not every person is to keep every commandment of God found in the Bible! The initial reaction of some may be to gasp in astonishment that one would say this, however let us give it some thought. In Gen. 6:14 we find the command, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood…”. This is a command. It is a command of God. But, it is not a command that we are to keep. In Gen. 22:2 we read where Abraham is told to take his son and offer him as a burnt offering to the Lord. This is a command. It is a command of God. But, it is not a command that we are to keep. Why are we not to keep these commands? The answer is simple, they were not given to us. Paul told Timothy that one must “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). We must learn the scriptures well enough to know what applies to us and what applied to others.
One of the greatest shortcomings of our age in regard to this subject is the failure to recognize the distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant is the old Law of Moses, that which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The new covenant is that of the gospel of Christ. It was never the plan of God for the old one to last until the end of mankind, but for it to be superseded by another. The apostle Peter quoted Moses concerning this when he said, “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you” (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22). The prophet Jeremiah prophesied, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31) and was quoted by the Hebrew writer (Hebrews 8:8-12).
Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection and all that He did was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. When on the cross, he said “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). By way of His death, he broke down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, abolishing in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Eph. 2:14-15). That old law was blotted out, taken out of the way and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). A change of law occurred with His death. “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead…” (Heb. 9:16-17). “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Why the change of law? First, the old law was given only to the nation of Israel (Deut. 5:1-5). The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Secondly, there was no salvation under the old law. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4). Their sins were remembered every year (Heb. 10:3). The sacrifice of Christ provided eternal life for those who would submit to His covenant (Heb. 9:13-15).
Now, in answer to the question, “which?” that the rich young ruler asked, he was told to keep the old covenant laws, for that was the law under which both he and Jesus lived. The answer to that same question for us is, the gospel of Christ, for that is the covenant man has been commanded to lived by since the last days began on that first Pentecost following the death of Christ (Acts 2:16-17). Since that day, one must find New Testament doctrine and practice for all that is taught and practiced in the realm of Christianity. Look to the New Testament to find what to do to be save. Look to the New Testament to find how to worship. Look to the New Testament to find how to live the Christian life. (Send any questions or comments to: email@example.com)