Earning Eternal Life

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." (Mark 10:21)

Jehovah God was born into the world as Jesus Christ to accomplish three things for the human race:

to receive temptations from the hells in Himself and overcome them, restoring order to the spiritual world;

to Glorify His human;

and to teach new truths about heaven and the life that leads to it.

Today we are going to concentrate on what the Lord Himself taught about the things that we must do to earn eternal, spiritual life.

One thing we discover as we go through life and meet many different people is that there are many, many different ideas about the life after death, and what we must do to earn eternal life. It should go without saying that as Christians, we should put the greatest store in those things that Jesus Christ Himself taught, rather than those ideas that have come from the reasonings and self-serving doctrines of men.

If you read through the gospels, and look at what Jesus Himself had to say about the kingdom of heaven, and how to get there, you will soon begin to wonder how the doctrine of salvation by faith alone could have ever become established in a Christian church, that is, in a church that follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is because whenever He speaks about how people can come to heaven, which He does in dozens of places, He always talks about obeying the Ten Commandments, turning away from the love of material possessions, and doing good works for others.

It’s also true that these things must be done from an acknowledgment and belief in God in order to contribute to salvation, but that is because unless a person has a belief in God, someone or something greater and more powerful than himself, he only does these things for the sake of himself and some possible future reward. To do this is self-centered and destructive of spiritual life. For this reason, Jesus also pointed out that faith in Him was essential for salvation, because without it, the obedience to the law and the works of charity are contaminated with selfishness and the love of merit and are therefore not saving.

From the historical view, we should also remember that the doctrine of faith alone only entered the Christian church 1600 years after that church was established, and it was not the result of a new understanding of Christ’s teachings, but a doctrine born of man’s ingenuity from the need to destroy a harmful heresy. It is sad to see how many people believe they are Christians, when in fact they are instead following the doctrines of men, for, as the Heavenly Doctrines teach, they had paid no attention at all to any one of the things which the Lord Himself taught so many times about the good that flows from love and charity (AC 1017, 2371:6).

So what did Jesus Christ Himself teach about heaven, and what we must do to go there? There are many teachings we could study: He compared men to trees, and said, "You shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). He said that "Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them" (Matthew 7:24) is like a wise man who built his house on a rock which survived the wind and rain. Notice that it is not faith alone that sees you through the storm, but reading God’s Word and following its teachings.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record an incident where a wealthy and successful young Jewish man approached the Lord and asked Him straight out what he had to do to get to heaven. The Lord’s answer to him was equally direct and to the point, and something all of us should study carefully if we wish to go to heaven ourselves.

The young man asked Jesus, "What should I do to inherit eternal life," and the Lord responded by telling him to obey the commandments, naming all but one of those on the second table. The young man assured him that he had kept these commandments all his life. The Lord then told him what he still lacked if he wished to have eternal life. He said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." (text)

In this brief passage, recorded in three gospels, and supported by dozens of other, similar, passages, the Lord’s own way to spiritual life is laid out for us.

The first, and therefore most important step, is obedience to the Ten Commandments, for unless our external lives are in order, there is no chance of bringing our spiritual lives into order. It is said of the rich young man that Jesus "loved him" .This was because the man said that he had kept these commandments from his youth, and the Lord loves those who keep His commandments.

The first step to eternal life is to keep the commandments. The reason for this is plain: the Lord cannot enter in a disorderly mind, nor can He teach in a state of confusion and noise. This is why He sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Him. John did not teach any new doctrine, he only called the people to repent of their sins, to look to the Mosaic law which governed the Jewish Church, and to bring their lives into order because the Messiah was coming.

All teachers face the same problem. If the students are playing and talking with one another, they will not be listening to the teacher, no matter how interesting the subject is. Before learning can take place, the teacher has to stop the disorder, restore a state of order, and then finally begin to instruct.

How can the truths of the Word enter our minds with any lasting meaning if our lives are full of disorder, if we are lying, cheating, stealing, and committing adultery? Do not these evils fight and drive out the truths, replacing them with all kinds of excuses that try to justify our evil ways? This is why simple obedience to the Ten Commandments, because it brings a state of external order, is the first step towards spiritual life.

Eventually, in the process of time as our spiritual states improve, we will no longer follow the Ten Commandments only as to the letter, but will begin to follow them in the spirit, that is, not only obey them in our day-to-day acts, but also begin to see their application on the moral and spiritual planes.

The next step is to turn our hearts away from riches, and the things of this world, from opulence and positions of power – except insofar as they look to use and the benefit of others. We must learn to see the things of this world as tools for doing good works to others, and not as objects to obtain and possess.

The second step is perhaps more difficult, or is made more difficult by the nature of our modern world with all its alluring comforts and attractions. There are so many things to acquire, so many things to do that bring pleasure to the natural man that it becomes difficult to lift our minds above them.

Even worse, as we obtain more and more things, we find that more and more of our time is taken up caring for those things. More and more in today’s world people believe that both husband and wife must work to bring in enough income to pay for all the things that we feel are required for life in the modern world. And then, after we have them, we also find that so much of our time is taken up in caring for and maintaining the things that we have that we have less and less time for other people. It can get to the point where our possessions rule us, rather than being there to serve our needs.

However, we must be careful not to fall into the error of believing that the things of the natural world are snares set out by the devil, we must not believe that in order to become spiritual we must shun all things of the world. What we need to do is to maintain our sense of balance. The things of the natural world have been provided by God for our use, and our pleasure. There is nothing inherently evil in any object in the natural world. What makes it good or bad is the way it is used, and only the user can make that choice according to their own freedom. Our responsibility is to endeavor in all things to look first of all to the use that is being served.

We need to remember that everything that the Lord said was not only true in the natural sense, but also contained within it a spiritual sense. To "sell all that you have" represents giving up all those things that we have that are entirely from ourselves and our hereditary nature, that is, giving up our evils and falsities. We should not regret giving up such things, and if we are successful, the Lord will give us "treasure in heaven" instead. (See AC 5886:5)

In the spiritual sense, "to give to the poor" signifies to do the works of charity. (AE 893:4) So, while we are not specifically commanded to sell all our material possessions and give the money to the poor, we are being told that we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by the delights of the natural world, that we must look to the uses that can be performed through our possessions, that we must give up false ideas and evil desires that come from our proprial nature, and finally, that we must not do this for our own sakes only, but that we need to be charitable to others, as well.

The third step is to "take up the cross" which is a well-known image of temptation. To "take up the cross" means to take on some extremely difficult burden for the sake of the end, in the hope that some good will result. We see in this the symbol that represents the combats of temptation, where we fight as if from ourselves against the influence of hell in our lives. If we persevere, then the Lord’s power will drive away hell and flow in with heaven.

Temptations are difficult times, for what is happening is that things that we love are being tested, challenged, and eventually removed and destroyed. The intention and hope is that when good people persevere in temptations, it is their evil loves that are removed and destroyed, but when one fails in the trials of temptation, it is good loves that are destroyed by evil ones.

Temptations are difficult, but yet they are the only way that evils can be removed from a man’s life, and be replaced with goods; therefore they are the only means whereby a person can prepare for spiritual life. It is comforting to know that we do not have to fight these battles alone, for the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that in temptations the man does not fight; but the Lord alone fights for the man, although it appears as if it were done by the man; and when the Lord fights for a man, the man conquers in all things (AC 8159:5).

The final step is to follow Him, that is, to do all these things not for selfish reasons, so that other people will like us, or so that we can do more business with them, but to do them for the reason that the Lord has asked us to. If these steps are to lead to heaven, they must be taken for the right reason, that is, from the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth. This is where faith in Jesus comes into the formula, but it is only saving faith when it is coupled with acts of charity done in humility, and for the sake of others, for no one is able to shun evils as sins unless he acknowledges the Lord and goes to Him, and unless he fights against evils and so removes (the lusts for evil) (Life 66).

And how do we acknowledge the Lord? Not by merely calling on his name and saying "Lord, Lord" but by doing the will of the Father. Or, as the Heavenly Doctrines put it, to acknowledge the Lord’s Divine Human and to do His commandments is to follow Him, because only those who do this can be conjoined to the Lord. (AE 864:2)

What does Jesus Christ Himself teach as the way to heaven? To obey His commandments in letter and in spirit; to turn our hearts away from material possessions and natural power, and do good to others; to conquer in temptation, and to do these things out of love for the Lord, and the desire to do His will. Come, take up the cross, and follow Me. Amen.

1st Lesson:DEU 6:1-9

"Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, {2} "that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. {3} "Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the LORD God of your fathers has promised you; ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ {4} "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! {5} "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. {6} "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. {7} "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. {8} "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. {9} "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

2nd Lesson: Mar 10:17-22

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" {18} So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. {19} "You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’" {20} And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." {21} Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." {22} But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

3rd Lesson: Life (Potts) 66.

We read in Mark: That a certain rich man came to Jesus, and asked Him what he should do to inherit eternal life.…

It is said that Jesus "loved him." This was because the man said that he had kept those commandments from his youth. But because he lacked three things, which were that he had not removed his heart from riches, had not fought against concupiscences, and had not yet acknowledged the Lord to be God, the Lord said that he should "sell all that he had," by which is meant that he should remove his heart from riches; that he should "take up the cross," by which is meant that he should fight against concupiscences; and that he should "follow Him," by which is meant that he should acknowledge the Lord to be God. The Lord spoke these things as He spoke all things by correspondences. (See the Doctrine of the Holy Scripture, n. 17.) For no one is able to shun evils as sins unless he acknowledges the Lord and goes to Him, and unless he fights against evils and so removes concupiscences.