I heard it said once that the Bible teaches there are actually two ways to obtain eternal life. The first is by faith in Jesus Christ. And the second is by perfect obedience to the law of God. So there are two paths to heaven – you can trust in Christ, or you can keep the 10 Commandments in their entirety.
But what about this second way to eternal life? Is it possible? I’ve never met anyone who’s claimed to have kept God’s law flawlessly. But many people think along these lines: “Sure I’ve done some bad things but overall I’ve led a decent life and I’m not a bad person. I’ve tried to do good and if God is fair he’ll see that the good outweighs the bad.” That’s the reasoning of someone who’s seeking God’s favor and eternal life by the second way, on the basis of doing good.
In the passage I preached from last Sunday evening, Galatians 3:10-14, the apostle Paul compares these two ways of seeking eternal life. He begins with the way of law-keeping and says that that way leads to cursing, not blessing: For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse… (v.10). Not only that, but keeping the law cannot justify us, that is, make us right with God: Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law… (v.11). So the way of law-keeping leads not to life, but to cursing and condemnation.
But the way of faith in Christ? This the way – the only way, it turns out – to obtain salvation and eternal life. Paul says in v. 11, quoting the Old Testament: The righteous shall live by faith. And the reason why faith in Christ brings life is because Christ endured the curse that we deserve for our sin: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ (v.13).
If someone could keep the law perfectly, he would live forever. Again, Paul quotes from the Old Testament: The one who does them (that is, God’s commandments) shall live by them (v.12). The problem is, nobody can keep God’s law because by nature we are sinners at heart. Even if we might keep most of the 10 Commandments most of the time on the outside, we would still be found law-breakers because the law also demands perfection of heart: of thought, will, and motives. To be saved, we need grace, we need a Savior who died for our sins and lived a perfect life for us. We need Christ; apart from him we are lost and dead in sin.
So for sinners – that is to say, for all of us – there is really just one way to obtain eternal life, the way of faith in Christ. Are you trusting in Jesus alone as your Savior from sin and your hope of salvation and everlasting life? Or do you think a decent and upright life will suffice? The Scriptures are clear: the way of the law is a dead-end, but the way of faith in Christ is the road to eternal life, joy, and peace.
Which way are you going?
Soli Deo Gloria!