A gentlemen in Sabbath School keeps asking a question: “If salvation is by faith alone then what do we say to a thief who says they accept salvation but want to continue stealing?”
The underlying motive of the question is to make us doubt that salvation is by grace through faith alone. However, the answer is not that difficult to explain.
A person who loves God and has placed their life in His hands must know that when they accept Jesus as Savior they must also accept His Lordship over their life. This means that it is the desire of their heart to obey what Christ commands. Christians struggle with sin, give in to bad habits, fall into temptation, and most are blind and stubborn when it comes to cherished sins. However, we must accept that Jesus is Lord and make it our desire to serve Him with our hearts, minds, and soul. When we accept Jesus as savior we must also acknowledge Him as Lord.
This in no way conflicts with the gospel of Grace through faith in Jesus because our salvation is never dependent on what we do for God. It is genuine faith that requires we love and trust God with our entire life and are willing to do as He commands. If a thief claims that Jesus is savior but is unwilling to accept Him as Lord then I question the sincerity of his or her faith.
At the same time, we are all guilty of sin in our lives, and we never actually measure up to our own standards, not to mention the divine standard of sinlessness. We can be tempted to judge the person who has obvious sins as we try to hide our own secret passions of the soul. Only Jesus can motivate us to mature as Christians and give us the power to overcome temptation.
The more we focus on Jesus and the love that He revealed when He shed His blood on the cross, the more our hearts will be receptive to giving up bad habits. We must recognize that sanctification is a growing process that takes an entire lifetime and our salvation is never dependent on how well we perform in the Christian life. But the point of this message is that our hearts will be willing to accept Jesus as Lord only as we accept Him as our savior.
Stephen Beagles (2021)
Founder and Director of Gospel Adventist Ministries