The Rich Man and Salvation


“The rich man in Matthew 19 had kept all the commandments, but when told to sell all he had, he went away sorrowful. Was he lost? And if so, how can any of us be saved? None of us is half as good as this man was?”


This question shows a very common fallacy in the thinking of many people about the basis of salvation. The rich man asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16, New American Standard Bible). Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and named most of the Ten Commandments. The man replied, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” (verse 20). Jesus replied, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor” (verse 21a). At this, the young man went away grieved and very distressed, “for he was one who owned much property” (verse 22).

Notice the man’s premise: “what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” In effect, Jesus told him, “Obey God.” He replied that he had done that, but wanted to do more!!! The point is simple: You can’t do more than obey God. And our salvation is not based on how much we do, or even how well we do it! It is based on trust in the Lord and depending on His mercy: “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). That shows the problem the rich man had. He wanted to be saved by how good he was and how much he did.

No one can be saved by how good he lives or how much he does. The reason for this statement is simple: No one is good enough to be saved. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace” (Romans 3:23, 24a). Anyone who is saved will be saved in spite of how he lives, not because of it. Our salvation is based on the grace of God and our response to it. Certainly, our response must be submission to His will (obedience), and many passages show that (Matthew 7:21 – 27, Luke 6:46; Romans 6:16 – 18; 1 Peter 1:22; etc.). But God saves us in spite of our sins, not because of our good works and how much we do.


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