There is rampant friction among Christians of all ages surrounding the notion that a person can live his life in any fashion, repent before he dies, and God will mercifully forgive him and grant him eternal salvation. When all is said and done, God will admit him into His presence, overlooking his actions, sins, and the trajectory of his entire life.
Yes, he will.
This is sound theology founded upon Divine Revelation and Sacred Tradition. God’s merciful love is indeed unfathomable, extended to every sinner, regardless of sins. His infinite mercy is not foolishness, though it can appear so as he offers it without limit to all who truly repent and return to him. The discord among many Christians is grounded in a resentment towards God and those forgiven along with the false notion that salvation is something God “owes me” rather than the culmination and perfection of a divinely crafted relationship lived out in faith and works.
Sanctification is in danger when Christians assume we are the ones who have it all together. Forgiveness is needed for all of us. For this reason, mercy is the glue which holds together the binding of the book we call the Bible. Salvation history is replete with examples of God’s incredible mercy which is personified by the divine rescue mission of Christ. At every turn, the Trinity is in pursuit of our souls.
Make no mistake, through our free will we can truly separate ourselves from the love of God and choose ourselves over him eternally, but in the midst of our freedom he continuously offers his mercy and love for us to accept. This is not a manifesto on universalism but an outline of gospel truth. Repentance, continual conversion, and acceptance of his invitation to radical relationship is what it means to follow Christ, to be a disciple. To place faith at the forefront of your life means you allow him to consume you with his gaze. We are bound to the one who created us because of his love for us; our religious Christian Faith is our response to that love.
That love is perfectly and literally exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ. Perhaps most famous among his teachings on mercy and warnings against resentment is the parable of the Prodigal Son. After breaking his familial bond with his family, spending all his inheritance, and ending up all alone, the wayward son makes his way back to the father. And yet, “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
We are invited to picture the father pacing outside of his home each day peering off into the horizon, squinting his eyes—hoping and wishing for his son to return. When the son arrives home, contrite and begging for forgiveness, his father abundantly forgives him and throws an extravagant party.
Of course, this beautiful lesson on love and mercy is not the only one offered in the parable. The son who was faithful to his father all along resents his father’s extravagant celebration of the prodigal’s return. He was, after all, “good all along” and felt he received little reward. The father replies to him,
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”Luke 15:31b-32
It can be tempting to resent those who “got away with” sinful lives and still find Christ, or to resent God for forgiving them because it is not “fair.” This is the same temptation found in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who resent those who get paid the same amount as those who worked all day long (Matthew 20:1-26). This is the wrong question and incorrect perspective. Doing the good and living in right relationship is not a punishment. Being bound to Christ is always a gift, not a penalization, even if it certainly comes with trials.
The focal point is the abundant mercy of the Father who wants everyone to be with him, not the amount of time which some worked. Love is not wrapped up in timetables, but with the intimacy which comes with simply being with the other.
Responding to the invitation to discipleship is not about getting away with as much as we can before we are judged, but being with the God whose love can never be exhausted.
Being saved is not one moment in a life which defines us eternally, but a gift from God, which naturally calls for lifelong commitment to a relationship with the Trinity. If we truly knew who was calling us we would see that being bound to him for as long as we can on this earth is not something to resent, but a grace to rejoice in. After all, we were all lost at some point in our lives and we are all being pursued, chased down by the Father, who does desire to save and sanctify us, but who more simply and profoundly just desires to be in relationship with us now, and always because “his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).