Nobody is perfect, and therein lies the rub. There is no such thing as ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. We all need repentance. We always need repentance because we always fail to measure up to what the Lord has asked us to do. We are that lost sheep that needs the Shepherd. We are that prodigal son. We can choose to live very good lives, but we still require the grace of the Savior to gain a place in the Father’s kingdom. We can choose to stop breaking commandments, and our lives will be better for that decision, but we still need the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to become clean. That is the reason we focus on the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A declaration that Jesus is our Savior is a good start, but Jesus required a lot more than lip service from His disciples. Discipleship is a process. Last night I was reading in Hebrews, and this group of verses impressed me:
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;
I thought about the “deceitfulness of sin” that can harden our hearts and tell us that because we can’t be perfect we should stop trying—that as long as we speak kindly of Christ, we can ignore His commandments. We take courage from those who strive daily, as we do, to keep the commandments to the best of our ability, knowing we will stumble, but that He will protect us as we diligently seek Him.
I was reminded of the words of Jesus in John 14:
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
31 But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.
Jesus often talked about how He kept the commandments of the Father. He very clearly tells his disciples that if they love Him, they must show Him by keeping His commandments. He also gives Himself as an example. He kept the commandments of His father. He also says the commandments are not His, but the commandments of His father. Why would we expect salvation without keeping the commandments of the Father?
I read a quote written in someone’s Bible that said something like, “Grace is not grace if works are required”. This reminded me of an occasion when I spoke with some missionaries (not of my church) in Guatemala who couldn’t accept that God would put conditions on salvation. They laughed at me for thinking He could. It was strange to see how different our thoughts were on this topic. They were preaching the gospel in a country far from home so they obviously felt it was important to do what they were doing, yet they made it sound like service to the Lord was optional—once you are saved, you do what you want as long as you continue to declare that Jesus is your Savior. Perhaps they didn’t think that way, but that is how I perceived their side of the discussion. They seemed to look at me as though I was limiting the grace of God because I believed that salvation was less like flipping a switch, and more like a process or a cultivation that requires energy and effort over time. I do not believe my efforts supersede the grace of God, or that they buy my salvation in some way. But, I believe the Lord requires his disciples to do what He has asked.
Sometimes I see a verse like this that might seem to imply no conditions:
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Upon further reading I find verses penned by the same author that explain the need to forsake wicked ways and unrighteous thought. When we return to the Lord, He will have mercy on us. If we return to wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, it follows that we forsake the Lord:
2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
It is especially difficult to say Jesus put no conditions on salvation when He so often spoke of those conditions. We can declare His name publicly and still not be doing the will of the Father. Our actions, words, hearts, and thoughts must be humbly directed to do His will, and not our own.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 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.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.