“The only key to heaven is to follow the Ten Commandments: true or false?”
The answer is false.
The law could be a way into heaven, but only if you kept it perfectly. At least, that’s how I understand passages such as Rom 2:6-8, John 5:29, and Matt 7:21-23.
Yes, there is a hypothetical possibility that someone could be saved by being good, but the tricky part is that you have to actually obey the law to qualify, and God has clearly revealed that no one has ever done that. Jesus put it bluntly: “No one is good but God” (Mark 10:18). Paul wholeheartedly agreed (cf. Rom 3:10-18).
How could that be? Such blanket condemnation rubs us the wrong way. Don’t we all do some good, some of the time? Yes, but as James explained, “whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (Jas 2:10). Our standards are flexible. God’s standard is absolute. One sin is all it takes to make you a sinner. In other words, the law doesn’t grade on a curve. You either get 100% or fail. And we know that everyone has sinned at some point: “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The law is there to help prevent that self-deception by revealing your sin (Rom 3:20) and condemning you to death for them. That’s why Paul called the Ten Commandments “the ministry that brought death” (2 Cor 3:7). Rather than be a key to heaven, the law is the grounds for your condemnation.
As painful as that is, the law serves the good purpose of showing you why you need saving. God uses the law in the way a doctor may test a skeptical patient for cancer—to demonstrate how deathly sick she is. Yes, you may be considered a good person according to a worldly standard, but don’t ever get that confused with God’s perfect standard.
Since that door to heaven was closed, God had to find another way of saving humanity. By sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for your sins on the cross, God opened a different way of salvation through faith. If the law can convince you that salvation by works is impossible for a sinner like you, it can point you to Jesus and the gospel of grace. As Paul said, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24 NASB). The law is a paidagōgos, a “legally appointed overseer, authorized to train (bring) up a child by administering discipline, chastisement, and instruction, i.e., doing what was necessary to promote development.” The law can train you to see that you only have one hope: to be justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom 3:28). That was certainly my experience.
Returning to the original question, the key to heaven is not obeying the Ten Commandments but believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. As He told us:
“Truly I tell you, anyone who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.