Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Contents: Salvation, By Faith Or Faith-Plus-Works

This is a seven-post Bible study on whether salvation is by faith or faith-plus works. Here is an index to the sections:

1. Introduction, Matthew 1:21 - Matthew 18:24-35

2. Matthew 19:16-26 - Luke 18:28-30

3. Luke 19:7-10 - John 17:8

4. John 17:14,16 - 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

5. 1 Corinthians 9:27 - Hebrews 3:18-19

6. Hebrews 4:1-7 - 1 John 5:4

7. 1 John 5:5 - Revelation 22:18-19, Verses on Election – Being Chosen by God

Salvation, Faith Alone or Faith Plus Works - Part I

Is our salvation a matter of faith-plus-works or of faith alone?

I decided to look at this matter to clarify for my own mind – and for anyone else who is interested – what the New Testament teaches about it. Also, I wanted to understand what, if anything, we need to do for our salvation.

Because I was trying to understand this from the human point of view, in other words, to know what I need to do, I did not consider the various passages that refer to predestination, because it seemed to me that predestination is looking at salvation from God’s perspective. If you are interested in verses about predestination, I’ve listed some of them at the bottom of this article.

The two viewpoints, as I understand them, are that, 1) Salvation is purely a matter of faith in Christ; there are no works we can do to earn it, and 2) Salvation is a matter of faith in Christ and doing good things.

As I began studying I discovered points at which disagreement could result purely from misunderstanding. Now, I don’t mind disagreeing with people, but it seems a good first step to make sure we are not simply misunderstanding, and I began to wonder if a lot of the disagreement is, in fact, just misunderstanding. So, let me outline a few points at which confusion may result in disagreement.

1) What Do We Mean by the Concept of “Works” as it Relates to Salvation

If by “works” we mean any action whatsoever that we need to take to have salvation, then, yes, salvation is by faith and works. For example, the Lord tells us to “repent and believe.” If we consider the acts of repenting and believing to be “works,” then, yes, salvation is by faith and works.

However, that is not what I mean by “works.” What I mean is: “Any action on our part that earns us merit towards salvation.” So while repenting of my sins is critical, it doesn’t earn me any merit towards salvation.

2) What Do We Mean by the Term “Faith” as it Relates to Salvation

If by “faith” or “belief” we mean simply acknowledging that God exists, then clearly salvation is not by faith alone. After all, the demons believe in God and they tremble.

But in this discussion when I refer to “faith” I mean a repentant trust in and loving surrender of our lives to God for forgiveness of our sins through the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice. We can intellectually believe everything right about Jesus but not be saved if we do not submit to it. “I believe” includes, “I submit to.”

3) Are Good Works Necessary for Salvation?

To this question a person who says salvation is by faith-plus-works would say yes, but the person who says salvation is by faith alone may say yes or no, which is confusing, so let me try to clarify.

He may say “no” because he means that salvation is not attained in any way by our works.

Or, he may say “yes,” because salvation will result in works, and if there are no works there has been no salvation.

It is kind of like asking if sunshine is necessary when the sun rises. Well... sunlight does not cause the sun to rise, so you might answer “no,” but on the other hand if there is no sunlight then the sun hasn’t risen, so you might answer “yes.”

So, for this discussion I want to define “works” as “any actions on our part that earn us merit towards salvation,” and I want to define saving “faith” or “belief” as “trust in and loving surrender of our lives to God for forgiveness of our sins through the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice.” If you define these terms differently, you may, of course, reach a different conclusion.

Okay, with definitions out of the way, I now want to defend the assertion that, “Salvation is by faith alone.”

My first point is the thief on the cross next to Jesus. The thief expressed his faith in Jesus and Jesus told him he would be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:40-42). The thief did nothing but believe. He couldn’t do anything else because he was nailed to a cross.

But, someone might say, the thief would have done good things if he had been let down from the cross. He would have been baptized. He would have been kind to the poor. He would have been honest.

Absolutely! Salvation comes through faith and works come as a result of salvation. The thief believed – we know this by Jesus’ response – and he would have lived a better life if he had been let down from that cross. So, if I am capable of performing good works (unlike the thief on the cross) but do nothing, then I have not been saved. If I say I believe but am not trying to live a good life, then in fact I don’t believe and I need to go back to step one and believe!

I recall a quote I read ages ago that says: A man acts in accordance with what he believes, not with what he merely pretends to believe. That is exactly what I am saying.

Faith precedes action. In fact, this almost must be, for there is no reason to even attempt to remain faithful to God if we don’t believe in Him, much less in the face of trials and temptations. You don’t serve or love someone you do not believe exists.

My suspicion is that in many cases people who say you cannot be saved without works simply mean: “You cannot say you are saved and live an evil life. You must do good!”

To which I would reply, “Amen!”

Below I’ve listed New Testament passages that seem to speak to the issue of salvation, and some passages that simply speak generally to the importance of faith, and I have tried to explain why some difficult passages do not contradict that.

My basic answers to these difficult passages are that ...

  • Works are what happen when we believe in Jesus. When the sun comes up we get sunshine; when we believe in Jesus we do good things. In John 14:23 Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” And in Matthew 12:33-35 He says: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
  • Real believers in Jesus will, despite stumbles, despite even denying Jesus at times (see Peter) remain in their hearts faithful to Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:8 says God will keep us strong to the end and 1 John 5:5 says that we will overcome the world if we believe in Jesus.
  • In those instances in which it appears a verse is saying that people may lose their salvation, they may in fact only be losing what they think they have. So, in Luke 8:18 Jesus says that “whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
  • Some passages are addressed to particular groups of people, and groups may indeed lose their part in the kingdom of God. So, suppose a church begins teaching that Jesus was merely a good man. At some point that church has stopped – as a group – being part of the kingdom of God, though the few members left who still believe in Jesus are still very much saved.
  • Some warnings of punishment refer not to hell but to life on earth. God does promise to discipline His children (Hebrews 12:4-11) for their benefit. Discipline is not hell.
  • Some passages that tell us to work for eternal life can be understood as meaning that we should believe. So, in John 6:27 Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils but food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Then He goes on in John 6:29 to explain what that work is: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The Verses

Matthew 1:21
An angel tells Joseph the Child that Mary conceived is from the Holy Spirit, and the Child will will be named Jesus [“Jesus” means, “the Lord saves”] because “He will save his people from their sins.”

Salvation is through Jesus; we need to believe in Him.

Matthew 3:2 and Matthew 4:17
First John, and then Jesus, calls for people to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Repentance implies faith. We can’t seriously say we are sorry to a God we do not believe in. Also, repentance is part of saving faith; for we are believing in God to forgive us for our sins. Repentance does not earn us merit; it just says to God that we want to receive it.

Matthew 3:7-10
John the Baptist is unimpressed with the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for baptism; tells them to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, and not to lean on their ancestry. Trees that don’t bring forth fruit will be thrown into the fire.

John says fruit is in keeping with repentance – fruit is the necessary result of repentance because repenting means saying that we regret being bad and that we want to be good. Therefore, real repentance must lead to positive change in our lives.

Matthew 4:17 – See entry for Matthew 3:2

Matthew 5:3,10
Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit and those who have been persecuted for righteousness.
The poor in spirit are those who humble themselves in faith before God. God grants them heaven.

Matthew 5:10
The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are persecuted.

Jesus holds forth a comforting promise to those who are persecuted for their righteousness; they have a place in heaven. The meaning of Matthew 5:10 is further revealed by comparing it to Luke 6:23, a parallel passage, which says of the persecuted that: “great is your reward in heaven.” So, when Jesus promises heaven for the persecuted He does not mean that those who are not persecuted are excluded from heaven, but rather that the persecuted will receive a great reward when they get to heaven.

Matthew 5:13
Jesus says God’s people – and it seems relevant that he is speaking primarily to Jews here – are like salt and that if they lose their saltiness, they are only worth being thrown out and trampled by men.

I doubt that being thrown out means being banished to hell because the analogy of being “thrown out” seems less emphatic than that; it seems to be more about being discarded than being punished. Further, if it referred to hell then who are these men doing the trampling? Not devils, surely, as in hell the devils themselves will be suffering, not handing out suffering.

I believe this passage means that if we – in this case particularly the Jewish nation of Jesus’ time, or, more generally, we as individuals or as churches – are not influencing the world for Christ by being faithful to Him, then we are of no use and will be discarded as tools for God’s work in the world. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul expresses this concern and says he disciplines himself so he may not be set aside from service for God.

So, I think this passage describes the earthly consequence of losing our saltiness, our godly savor. This view is supported by a corresponding verse, Luke 14:34, in which the context (Luke 14:26-27) is clearly discipleship – if you loose your saltiness you are no good as a disciple.

Matthew 5:19
Whoever breaks the least of the laws and teaches others to do the same will be least in the kingdom of heaven. Keep the laws and be great.

In the Sermon on the Mount, from which this passage is taken, Jesus is talking about the true, inner law of love and mercy and of the Spirit. We cannot annul this inner law except to our hurt. Also, Jesus does not say such a person would be excluded from the kingdom of God, just that he would be the least in the kingdom.

Matthew 5:20
Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees to enter heaven.

In this passage Jesus advocates not a super-Pharisaical righteousness, but a humble trust; a difference in type from the Pharisees, not in degree. Our righteousness must be a humble and faithful surrender to Christ.

Matthew 5:22
Call your brother “fool” and you risk hell.

I think Jesus’ point is that all sins risk hell, even harsh language, and by using this example he includes everyone as a sinner – for who hasn’t used harsh language? – and shows us our need for His forgiveness.

Matthew 5:29-30, 18:1-9, Mark 9:42-48
Better to tear off an offending body part than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Jesus is saying that we should abandon anything that prevents us from turning to Him. But He is also pointing out that it isn’t some outward body part that prevents us from turning to Him, it is our hearts. So, he points unbelievers to their hearts’ condition, to their need for forgiveness; He is not saying amputation is a way to avoid hell. I believe Jesus was answering people who refuse to repent and try to avoid blame by saying something like, “Oh, well. I can’t help it. I’ve just got sticky fingers.” To this Jesus says, if I may paraphrase, “Really? Is that what is what is holding you back from repentance? Then you better cut off you hand.” It is a shocking way to make them realize both the seriousness of their sin and that it is not their hand, but their inner being, their heart, that told their hand what to do, and so it is their heart that is at fault and needs to repent.

In both Matthew 18:1-7 and Mark 9:42, Jesus first warns the people of dire consequences of sinning – particularly of causing one of his little ones to stumble – then tells them to discard anything (hands, eyes, feet), whatever causes them to sin and thereby prevents them from surrendering their hearts to Jesus.

Matthew 6:14-15
Forgive if you want to be forgiven by God.

If we really believe in Jesus then we will be forgiving. If we aren’t more forgiving than before we professed Jesus, then we were never really saved in the first place and we need to go back and surrender our lives to Jesus.

We see this principle in John 8:39, in which Jesus tells the people that if they were really Abraham’s children then they would do the things Abraham did. Also, in John 8:42, where Jesus says that “if God were your Father, you would love me.” So the point Jesus is making is that if we say we are Abraham’s, or God’s, then we will act in a way that would please Abraham or God. In the same way, here, if we really are God’s, then we will forgive as God wants us to.

Also, this passage, from the Lord’s Prayer, focuses on our daily lives. God disciplines those He loves, so if we are hard on others by refusing to forgive them, then God may well find it necessary to be hard on us by not forgiving us in order to teach us to forgive others. So, even those who are saved may need to be disciplined to build a more consistent pattern of forgiveness into their lives.

Matthew 7:1-2
Don’t judge; you will be judged by the way you judge. As you measure, it will be measured to you.

The comment about Matthew 6:14-15 also applies here, but this passage may also be understood as meaning that other people will judge us in the way we judge them. It may even mean that those who go to heaven will be judged and assigned greater or lesser positions based on how they judged on earth.

Matthew 7:13-14
Enter by the narrow gate and narrow path.

We are to enter by faith in Jesus and walk in His path.

Matthew 7:21-23
There are many who prophesied for Jesus, drove out demons in his name and performed miracles, but who never knew Jesus.

Works do not result in salvation. It isn’t that these people didn’t do enough for Jesus; it is that they never knew Jesus in the first place. Matthew 7:21 says that only those who do the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven will enter the kingdom, and John 6:29 explains what God’s will is: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Matthew 10:14-15
Whatever town does not receive the disciples will receive a worse fate than Sodom and Gomorrah.
The disciples bring the good news of Jesus and if the people of a town do not receive that good news and believe in Jesus they are lost.

Matthew 10:22
Whoever endures to the end will be saved.

This does not mean that the person who slips will be lost.

This is in the context of Jesus describing both the persecution the disciples are about to endure and also apparently the persecution of the last days. With that in mind I think His meaning becomes clearer if we put the emphasis in this sentence on the word “will.” So, “Whoever endures to the end will be saved.” In other words, In the midst of your pain and the persecution you are enduring, stay strong to the end and don’t doubt for a moment that it will be worth it! It will! You will be saved. Guaranteed!

Two more interpretations are worth mentioning:
- Believers who physically survive the final earthly tribulation – as war, disease and natural disasters make the earth virtually uninhabitable – will not, after enduring such trials for their faith in Jesus, then be left alone in a desolate world, but will be saved from that. Christ will return and that person will be saved – body, soul and spirit.

- Once believers are removed from the earth during the final days – the rapture – those who become believers after that time will live under different rules and must endure to the end or be lost.

Matthew 10:28
Fear God, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Jesus is preparing to send out his disciples to face trials, and I think He wants to bolster their courage by contrasting the insignificant power of man, who can only kill the body, with the vast power of God, who’s power extends far beyond this life; who can destroy both soul and body in hell. It seems very unlikely, though, that Jesus is threatening the disciples, for just before this verse (Matthew 10:26) is an admonition not to be afraid of people, and just after it is an admonition (Matthew 10:29-31) not to be afraid of God, since God even cares for the sparrows, and “you are worth more than many sparrows.” More likely, if there is a threat involved, it is a threat against those who would oppose the disciples’ message and an encouragement for the disciples to fear for the souls of those who oppose them and so to preach their message well.

So, we should fear God in the sense that we should show a deep respect for God’s power and majesty, but not fear Him in the sense of worrying that He means His children any harm. Fear and fearlessness can coexist. For example, in Luke 1:50 Mary says that God’s mercy is on those who fear Him, and then just a little further on, in Luke 1:74, Zechariah says God rescues us so we can serve him without fear.

Matthew 10:32-33
Jesus says that anyone who acknowledges Him before men He will acknowledge before His Father in heaven, but anyone who disowns Him before men, Jesus will disown that person before His Father in heaven.

Jesus is speaking to the disciples before He sends them out, describing the type of people they will encounter. Those who disown Him here on Earth, in public – “before men,” as He says – He will disown before the Father.

I don’t believe this means that a person who says in a public gathering that he has nothing to do with Jesus – when he really does – is ultimately damned, otherwise Peter would have been damned for his denial of Jesus. Judas, however, also publicly disowned Jesus and he apparently was lost forever. The difference appears to be that Judas fell forever because he had never really trusted Jesus in the first place, while Peter really had trusted, and because of that Peter bounced back and again began living out his faith in public, “before men.” Faith results in works.

Matthew 10:37
If you love family more than Jesus you are not worthy of Him.

This warning comes directly after Jesus says that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household, and apparently it means that we are not fit for service for Jesus if we surrender our commitment to Him for the sake of peace in our family. Putting family before Jesus, especially a family hostile to Jesus, is essentially putting the world before Jesus.

Matthew 10:38-39
If you don’t take your cross and follow Jesus you are not worthy of Him. Whoever finds his life will lose it; whoever loses his life will find it.

As He does throughout Matthew 10, Jesus is instructing His disciples in how they are to serve Him as they go out among the towns of Israel, and when He says that they are not worthy of Him if they do not take up their cross and follow Him, He means worthy to serve Him. I don’t think he is talking about salvation.

And when He speaks of those who find their lives and those who lose their lives, I believe He means that those who find their deep fulfillment in the things of this life, including their own families, will lose out on the joy of living for Jesus, and, in fact, will eventually lose all the things they love. But those who set the things of earth aside – at least from being at the center of their hearts – to focus on Jesus, will find a new life of joy in following Him.

Matthew 12:33-37
A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. A tree is recognized by its fruit. The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. We will have to give account of every careless word on the day of judgment.

It is our hearts that are judged. What we do outwardly – our words and actions – are evidence of our heart. If we really believed in Jesus, it will show.

Matthew 13:1-5 and Matthew 13:18-23 (also Mark 4:4-9 and Mark 4:14-20)
The seed sown in shallow soil springs up but then withers.

In this parable the seed is the Word of God and the soils are the various types of people who hear the Word.

When it says that the plant that sprang up in people’s lives died, does that mean those represented by the shallow soil lost their salvation?

Well, the seeds which sprouted and then withered in the heat died because “they had no root” (Matthew 13:6,21 and Mark 4:6, 17). In other words, God’s Word had no real connection to their lives. They had a sprout and maybe a few little leaves that could be seen by the world, perhaps some nice acts and happy emotions and kind words, but good as those can be, it was all superficial, there was no root to really connect God’s Word to their lives. So, no, they don’t lose their salvation because then never had it; they never really gave their lives to Jesus.

Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18-20
Jesus gives Peter (and later all the disciples) the keys of the kingdom, to bind and to loose.

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives Peter the keys and in 18:18-20 Jesus gives the keys to all the disciples. We know this because in Matthew 18:1 we are told that all the disciples asked Jesus a question, and Jesus is responding to them.

It seems very unlikely that binding and loosing means directly assigning people to heaven or expelling them from heaven. Even Jesus said (Luke 4:43) that He “must preach the kingdom of God,” and if He needed to do so to bring people into the kingdom of God, then it is hard to believe that the apostles could simply say, “You’re in,” or “You’re out,” regardless of whether the person believes.

It seems more likely that the binding-and-loosing keys mean that the disciples may declare things – including people – to be either approved or disapproved, and when done in obedience to God, that decision is ratified in heaven.

So, in Acts 15:10 the church council loosens the Old Testament law, and at other points in the New Testament believers are bound (required) to act in certain ways.

In Matthew 18:18-19, binding and loosening is used in the context of church discipline, of embracing people into the church – the earthly kingdom of God – or expelling them from the church. On earth the kingdom of God should be pure, but practically, it is a mix of real and fake, good and bad. However, church leaders hold the keys Jesus gave them because they have the responsibility to keep the kingdom of God as pure as possible by including or, sadly, excluding people, as necessary. And, of course, people being people, sometimes this authority is abused, as in 3 John 1:9-10, which is why I say that to be valid the authority must be exercised “in obedience to God.”

Binding and loosing may also be used in the sense of deciding to which individuals or groups we should proclaim the gospel. So in the Book of Acts we see Peter repeatedly using the keys to announce the good news to the Jews (Acts 2), to the crippled beggar (Acts 3), to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4), and to the Gentiles (Acts 10). But we can also see that it may mean deciding not to proclaim salvation to people who are not ready to appreciate it, as, for example, when Jesus tells his followers not to throw their pearls to swine (Matthew 7:6).

Matthew 18:1-9 – See entry for Matthew 5:29-30

Matthew 18:3
Unless we change and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

I think becoming like little children is believing. We must acknowledge that, like little children, we don’t know it all and aren’t good enough to enter heaven on our own; we must trust in Jesus.

Matthew 18:18-20 – See entry for Matthew 16:19

Matthew 18:24-35
In this parable of the unmerciful servant, God is described as a king who shows mercy to a servant, then punishes that same servant after he refuses to be merciful to another servant.

If we believe in Jesus, then we have surrendered our lives to Him and His leading. He shows mercy to us and then He wants us to show mercy to others. By accepting His mercy we are saying that we believe that the whole concept of mercy is a godly thing that we also must practice.

The unmerciful servant in this parable recognized that the king was merciful and pretended to believe in mercy until he got off the hook, but then he revealed his true unmerciful self. But the king saw through his deception and punished him severely.

As Jesus told the people (John 8:39), if they were really Abraham’s children then they would do the things Abraham did. In the same way, here, if we really are God’s, then we will forgive as God wants us to. If we don’t show mercy – though of course we may fail at times – then it seems very unlikely that we ever surrendered to Jesus at all.


Salvation, Faith Alone or Faith Plus Works - Part II

Matthew 19:16-26, Mark 10:17-31
A rich young man asks how to have eternal life and Jesus tells him to give away everything he has and follow Him.

I don’t believe Jesus is saying that people must always physically give away all they have in order to gain eternal life, but rather that they should give up anything that prevents them from turning to Jesus. Much like Jesus’ admonition to cut off an offending body part, or to give up their families and to hate their very lives, so here I think he means that nothing should be allowed to stand between ourselves and God. Everything we have and are should be His.

At the end of this passage, when Jesus says that it would be harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, the disciples were amazed and asked (Matthew 19:25), “Who then can be saved?” Apparently they figured that if a camel can’t make it through the eye of a needle, well, neither can a mouse, and if that was the case, then how could anybody be saved? Jesus replies that while it is impossible for the rich (and others, the “mice,” so to speak) to enter the kingdom of heaven on their own, God can get them in.

Further, it is interesting that Jesus didn’t tell the rich young man to give away enough so he would be down to a modest lifestyle; He said to give away all, which would make him poorer than almost everybody, and it seems highly unlikely that Jesus meant that people may not have any possessions if they expect to have eternal life. Again, His meaning appears to be that we should completely give away anything and everything that prevents us from turning to Him.

Finally, we see that elsewhere that rich people – such as Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8-9) and apparently Joseph of Arimathea – entered in without physically giving up everything.

So, it isn’t the riches directly that are the hindrance, but the all-too-common idolatrous attitude toward those riches that makes people feel self-sufficient and unwilling to surrender to Christ.

It is also interesting that he rich man asked what he should “do.” I think Jesus wanted him to see that he couldn’t win eternal life by his own efforts. I think he first told the man to keep the commandments because he wanted the man to admit that he had failed to keep the commandments, so that he would understand his need to trust Jesus for forgiveness. But it seems the young man was rather self-confident. Yes, he said, he had kept all those commandments, which suggests he had a very shallow notion of the meaning of the commandments, so Jesus takes him further down into his heart, to what gave him his confidence, his wealth, and told him to give it all away. That hit home – he understood his confidence and love were in something earthly, something other than God. That misplaced confidence, Jesus was saying, was hindering him from surrendering and following Him.

Matthew 20:1-16
The generous vineyard owner gives those who worked less time the same amount as he gave to those who worked for him during the entire day.

As Matthew is writing specifically to Jews, it appears that in this parable Jesus was referring to the Jews as those who worked longest for God, and to various Gentile groups – who would hear the gospel later – as those who began working at later hours.

However, if Jesus is referring to individuals in this parable and if the payment given to the workers does equate to eternal life, then – since all the workers were equally rewarded – it seems clear that the amount of work we do does not qualify us for eternal life. Instead, what appears important is that we do it for the vineyard owner. If we have given our lives to the Vineyard Owner (God), then we will naturally work for him; if we don’t work for Him then we haven’t really ever given our lives to Him.

Matthew 21:43
In this, the parable of the evil tenants, he Kingdom of God will be taken from Pharisees and given to those who produce its fruit.

The Book of Matthew is addressed primarily to Jews, and Jesus is warning that the kingdom of God will be switched from being on a national basis (Israel) to being a spiritual basis (church).

Matthew 25:1-13
Parable of the ten virgins: Five virgins were wise and brought enough oil to last until the bridegroom arrived; five were foolish and did not. The foolish virgins were excluded from the wedding feast.

Again, as the Book of Matthew is addressed primarily to Jews, it seems that the foolish virgins represent those in Israel who had the oil of the old covenant, which by itself was not enough, but they didn’t have the oil of the new covenant. They never knew Jesus. The wise virgins had both.

Matthew 25:14-30
Parable of the talents: The servant who did nothing with the money he was given is thrown out.

The Master in the parable indicates that anything would have been enough, that the servant could have simply given the money to a banker for interest, but the servant did absolutely nothing. There is nothing of the love of God in this servant’s heart. He did nothing because he does not love the Master.

Matthew 24:45-51
The master will reward the faithful servant, but will cut up and cast out with the hypocrites the unfaithful servant.

Jesus describes one servant as “faithful and wise” (24:45) and then describes his actions. Next he describes the other servant as wicked (24:48), then describes his actions. By describing their natures first, Jesus suggests that the servants’ actions were a result of their natures.

Supporting this view, Jesus warns that the wicked servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites, the reason is most likely because the wicked servant is a hypocrite. He pretends to be something he isn’t – a good servant.

If we give our lives to Jesus He will change our nature and we will do good. We’ll slip up, yes, but our general inclination will be to do good. If we just pretend, like the hypocritical wicked servant, we may do all sorts of evil.

A question remains: Why does Jesus describe both the good and wicked as “servants.”

I think it is because Jesus – especially in the Book of Matthew – is mostly addressing Jews, God’s chosen people on earth, His servants. So, if Jews are the servants in this parable, Jesus may be saying that those Jews who obey their master are faithful and wise, but those who are wicked can expect to be rejected.

Matthew 20:28
Jesus came to give his life a ransom for many.

By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we can be saved if we believe in Him.

Matthew 23:12
Jesus says that whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
A humble faith in God is what He wants; humble because we are trusting in God, not ourselves.

Matthew 24:13 – See entry for Matthew 10:22

Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3
John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John’s baptism is a public declaration of repentance and belief in Jesus (Acts 19:4). Repentant trust in Jesus saves, not water. The water is important as a tangible, public step of obedience in response to repentance, but repentance is the focus. Mark 1:5 says the people were baptized as they confessed their sins, and in the baptismal passage, Luke 3:7-8, John the Baptist emphasizes the need for repentance when he tells the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Mark 2:5
Jesus sees the faith of the people who bring the paralytic (and the paralytic, himself, I think) and says his sins are forgiven.

They had faith and were forgiven. It is not recorded that they specifically asked for forgiveness, but they got it by their faith.

Mark 3:28-30
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven.

I think the only sin that isn’t forgiven is the sin of not being willing to be forgiven, and that is done by blaspheming the Holy Spirit, by rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit who seeks to draw us to Christ, by treating the Spirit as unclean, unholy, irrelevant, or even by just ignoring Him.

Mark 8:34-37
You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus. If you lose your life for Jesus and the gospel you will save it.

Faith in Jesus involves giving our lives to Jesus, and giving our lives to Jesus means following His leading, even through difficult times. If we are unwilling to take up our cross then we haven’t really believed in Jesus in the true sense of giving Him control of our lives. See also Matthew 10:38-39.

Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26
If you are ashamed of Jesus and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

Being ashamed of someone means being uncomfortable being associated with him. It seems unlikely that a person who does not want to be associated with Jesus ever really believed in Him in the first place. At the very least, this passage must mean that such people are not living for Jesus as they should, and that if they are believers at all then they are the kind about whom Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where he says everyone’s work will be tested by fire and, “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Mark 9:19
Jesus laments his “unbelieving generation.”

This verse is not directly related to salvation, but it shows that faith is critical and Jesus is concerned about the people’s lack of faith.

Mark 9:23-24
Jesus says everything is possible to the one who believes, and the father of the demon-possessed boy says he believes but needs help with his unbelief.

Though not directly related to salvation, in this passage Jesus shows the centrality of faith by encouraging the worried father to believe.

Mark 9:42-48 – See entry for Matthew 5:29-30

Mark 9:42
If you cause a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble, it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and be cast into the sea.

This is apparently directed at nonbelievers.

Mark 10:14-15
Jesus rebukes the disciples who tried to prevent people from bringing little children to him, saying that people must receive the kingdom of God like little children.

We must be trusting, like little children, to receive the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:17-31 – See entry for Matthew 19:16-26

Mark 13:13 – See comment on Matthew 10:22.

Mark 13:22
False Christs and prophets will perform signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that was possible.

Mark is indicating the extremely persuasive nature of these false miracles, false miracles strong enough to deceive even those God has chosen, if that was possible. By adding, “if that were possible,” Mark seems to be indicating that it is not possible, probably because while the fake miracles are strong enough to deceive the elect, God will protect his chosen ones.

Mark 14:24
Jesus’ blood is poured out for many.

By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we can be saved if we believe in Him.

Mark 16:16
Believe and be baptized and you will be saved. Do not believe and be condemned.

Does this mean if you are not baptized in water that you will not be saved?

No. The thief on the cross whom Jesus said would be with him in paradise was not baptized, yet was saved, so then, important as it is, water baptism is not a crucial element in salvation.

The term “baptism” is used in various senses in the New Testament, senses that do not all include water. For example, Jesus even seems to refer to his crucifixion as a baptism (Luke 12:50) and suggests to his disciples that they will be baptized with the baptism he is baptized with (Mark 10:39), apparently a reference to the martyrdom of several of them.

While Mark 16:16 is a debated passage, if we accept it as written I think we should understand the first part of this verse – the part that says we should believe and be baptized – as meaning that if we really believe, not just believe in an intellectual sense that Jesus existed or is the Son of God, but believe in the sense of surrendering our lives to Jesus, then Jesus will baptize us in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and we will be saved. And of course, if we really believe, we should follow Jesus’ example and be baptized in water as well.

But does this baptism of Jesus’ require physical water?

Again, the thief on the cross was not baptized in water, but certainly a baptism in the Holy Spirit may coincide with a baptism by water, just as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus when he was baptized with water. But, as we have seen, baptism does not necessarily refer to water, and in Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist intentionally contrasts his baptizing with water to Jesus’ baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire, again suggesting the baptism Jesus provides does not require water.

Luke 1:50
Mary says God’s mercy is on those who fear Him.

Those who surrender their lives to God will fear Him in the sense that they will show a deep respect for His power and majesty, but not fear Him in the sense of worrying that He means His children any harm. This kind of fear and fearlessness can coexist. So, in this passage we see Mary praise this respectful type of fear, and then just a little further on, in Luke 1:74, Zechariah says God rescues us so we can serve him without fear.

Luke 1:69, 74-75
Zechariah prophesied in song, saying that God has “raised up a horn of salvation” (1:69) to rescue the people from their enemies and enable them to serve Him in righteousness (1:74-75).

The horn of salvation is “in the house of His servant David” (1:69), making it clear that the salvation Zechariah refers to is Jesus.

Luke 1:77
Zechariah says Jesus will give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 2:11
Christ is Savior and Lord.

Luke 2:29-31
Simon holds the child Jesus and says of Him that his (Simon’s) eyes have seen God’s salvation.

Luke 2:30
Simon identifies Jesus as God’s salvation.

Simon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Christ, takes baby Jesus in his arms and says Jesus is God’s salvation.

Luke 2:38
The prophetess Anna speaks of Jesus to those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 3:3 – See entry for Mark 1:4

Luke 3:6
Luke, quoting Isaiah referring to Jesus, says all flesh will see the salvation of God.

Jesus is the salvation of God! All flesh will not necessarily be saved – people must believe to be saved – but all will see.

Luke 3:7-14
John the Baptist warns that repentance must be accompanied by fruit.

John says the people should produce fruit “in keeping with repentance.” If you really repent then your life will change. If your life does not change then that should be a warning to you; perhaps you simply need to know the kind of fruit you should be producing, or perhaps you have not really repented and given your life to God.

Luke 3:16-17
John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire and gather His wheat into His barn and burn up the chaff.

Jesus will one day separate the wheat from the chaff. If you believe, you are wheat; if you don’t, you are chaff.

Luke 5:20
When Jesus sees the faith of the sick man and his friends who lowered him on a pallet through the roof, Jesus forgives the man’s sins.

Luke 5:24
Jesus tells the Pharisees that he has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Luke 5:32
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance.

Luke 6:23 – See entry for Matthew 5:3,10

Luke 6:35
Love and do good to your enemies and expect nothing in return. Then you will receive a great reward and you will be sons of the Most High.

I think this means that if you do this you will be acting out what you really are – sons of the Most High, and you will receive a “great reward” rather than, perhaps, a lesser reward. It is as if a proud father were to say after his son did something commendable, “Now, that’s my son!” Not that he wasn’t his son before, but rather that he has just shown it.

Thought experiment: Suppose you live in a small town where everyone gets along and you don’t have any enemies, are you not a son of God because you don’t have any enemies to do good to? Clearly not. This, again, refers to our willingness to love and do good. If we really believe in Jesus, we will do good, even to our enemies. If we don’t believe in Jesus, we won’t.

Luke 6:37-38
Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and be forgiven. Give and you will be given to.

If we trust in Jesus we will do what God wants us to do and not judge, not condemn; we will forgive and give. Luke 6:35 says that loving our enemies is being a son of the Most High, and 6:36 says showing mercy is imitating our Father. So, doing these things is what children of God do. If they do not exhibit these attributes in any way, are they really children of God at all? Did they ever really believe? Most likely not.

Luke 6:43-45
A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Figs do not grow on thorn bushes.

Good actions are the results of salvation, not a precondition. Good works are a result of who you are.

Luke 6:46
Jesus asks why people call him Lord but don’t do as he says.

Jesus is saying the natural outflow of trusting in Him as Lord is to obey.

Luke 7:50
Jesus tells the woman who poured perfume on His feet that her faith had saved her.

Luke 8:12
The Word sown in the heart leads to believing and being saved.

Luke 9:24-25
If you lose your life you will gain it.

Losing our lives means giving our lives to Jesus, believing and trusting in Him.

Luke 9:26 – See entry for Mark 8:38

Luke 9:48
Whoever receives a child in Jesus’ name receives Him.

In order to receive a child in Jesus’ name, you have to believe in Jesus and be motivated by Him.

Luke 9:62
No one who puts hand to plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (or fit for service in the kingdom of God).

Jesus wants his servants to be single-minded in service to Him, not distracted from plowing a clean furrow by looking back at the world. While this does not indicate that someone who is not single-minded in his service to Jesus will be excluded from heaven, it does suggest that such a person may not be used by God – or not used much – to advance his kingdom in this world.

Luke 10:20
Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice that their names are written in heaven.

Jesus seems to be indicating that the disciples have heaven guaranteed; it is not something that they will have to strive for throughout the rest of their lives to earn. If there was a chance their names could be erased from the book of life for their missteps, it wouldn’t make much sense to rejoice.

Luke 10:25-28
When a lawyer asks how to have eternal life, Jesus asks him what is written in the law. The lawyer answers 1) Love God, 2) Love your neighbor. Jesus commends him on his correct answer.

Loving our neighbor is a natural outflow of our love of God. If we love God we will love others.

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus says to the busily-working Martha, who complained that Mary was not working, that Mary’s way is best – to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him.

I think Jesus is saying that if we trustingly and attentively wait on Him, everything else flows from that – the life He wants us to live and the work He wants us to do.

Luke 11:41
Give what is within as charity and “all things are clean for you.”

I don’t think this refers to eternal life, but means we should give with love. Jesus wants us to give not out of compulsion or habit – outwardly, that is – but from the heart – “give what is within.” I believe this is supported by the following verse, Luke 11:42, in which Jesus says the Pharisees were neglecting justice and the love of God. So, if we are acting out of godly love, God counts what we do as clean.

Luke 12:4-5 – See entry for Matthew 10:28.

Luke 12:42-46
Jesus says that the faithful servant will be rewarded for doing his duty; the unfaithful servant will be cut in pieces and assigned a place with unbelievers.

The reason that the unfaithful servant is “assigned a place with unbelievers” is because he is an unbeliever, like Judas, who appeared to be a believer, but was not.

Luke 12:47-48
The servant who knows his duty and fails to do it receives many blows; the servant who didn’t know and sinned receives few blows. To whom much is given, much is required.

This is at the end of a parable about a master returning home and finding his servants either ready, or not. It comes right after Luke 12:46, which says the calculating, cruel, drunken servant is cut into pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers, apparently because he was, in fact, an unbeliever. This seems to refer to hell.

But in verses 47 and 48, Jesus turns from the intentionally rebellious servant to the neglectful servant; the servant who really does believe but is either lazy or ignorant. In this case it appears the punishment is temporary, “many blows” for the one who knew what to do and didn’t do it, and “few blows” for the one who didn’t know. This does not seem to indicate hell because the number of blows is limited. So, the blows may be similar in concept to the fire in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, where Paul says everyone’s work will be tested by fire and, “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Luke 13:6-8
The parable of the fig tree keeper: Fertilize the tree first, if it still fails to produce, cut it down.

Since Jesus is speaking to Jews, it appears that the fig tree being cut down may be a warning of the earthly destruction that would soon come upon the Jewish nation.

Luke 13:23-28
Jesus says to strive to enter by the narrow gate, and that at some point the Master will lock the gate and ignore the entreaties of those outside. The people will say that they ate and drank with Him and He taught among them, but the Master of the house will say, “Depart from me, I don’t know you or where you come from.”

Jesus is responding to a man who asks if only a few people will be saved, and judging from Jesus’ comments in verses 28-30, it appears more specifically that the man was wondering if only Jews will be saved.

Jesus responds by telling him to strive to enter through the narrow gate. He seems to be saying that, yes, the gate to heaven is narrow and not everybody will enter and be saved, however, if he is counting on coasting to heaven on the basis of his birth as a Jew, he is mistaken.

Just as is true for Gentiles, he needs to surrender his life to Jesus. He needs to force himself out of the thoughtless crowd, to overcome any lethargy, any reluctance, all distractions, and make sure he knows Jesus. Notice that when the Master of the house finally turns people away, it is because He does not know them. We need to make sure Jesus knows us by giving our lives to Him.

Luke 14:26
You must hate your own family – and your own self – to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point. To actually hate your family would violate Jesus’ commands to love others. I believe He means that we are to value Him far above all things, including ourselves, if we want to be one of his disciples. Also, this may simply address the question of who is suited to serve as disciples to Jesus and not particularly who goes to heaven.

Luke 14:33
You must give up all your possessions to be Jesus’ disciple. Jesus says we must count the cost and make a good choice, as the king with a 10,000-man army does when faced with a king with 20,000-man army.

Jesus is addressing a large crowd (Luke 14:25), so he is speaking to all kinds of people, some of whom are not suited to be among his core disciples, and He wants these people to consider the difficulties these core disciples face. So, the opposing king with 20,000 men represents those difficulties.

Perhaps some of these people in the crowd are more suited to supporting the core disciples than actually being one. Perhaps, then, Jesus is paring down the number of close disciples to only the most suited, much as Gideon pared down his army to a mere 300. But just as that paring down did not mean that the rest of Gideon’s army was punished in any way, so I do not believe those who decide not to be part of the core group of disciples are punished in any way or excluded from heaven.

Luke 18:28-30
The disciples tell Jesus they have left all to follow Him, and Jesus tells them they will receive back much more in this life, and eternal life as well.

Jesus is promising an earthly reward to those who have given up family for the sake of God, and is assuring them they will not miss out on eternal life either.

Salvation, Faith Alone or Faith Plus Works - Part III


Luke 19:7-10
Zaccheus is eager to see Jesus, and when Jesus says He must stay at his house, Zaccheus is excited and repents and offers to give half his wealth to the poor and repay four times as much to anyone he defrauded. Jesus says salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham and that He came to seek and save the lost.

Zaccheus believed in Jesus – he “welcomed him gladly” – and that belief resulted in his generosity and his salvation.

Jesus says one of the reasons for his salvation is that Zaccheus is “a son of Abraham.” I think Jesus is saying that Zaccheus is showing exactly the kind of faith Abraham showed; he is a true son of his father Abraham.

Luke 19:12-27
The servant who does nothing with the mina is rebuked and has what little he had taken from him.

The master had told the man to do business with the money and he didn’t.

It seems doubtful that this passage refers to salvation, but if it does, a rebuke is not necessarily the same as hell. However, if this passage does refer to salvation, it appears the servant did not have faith since he did not act on it even though he had opportunity.

Luke 23:34
On the cross Jesus asks the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him because they don’t know what they are doing.

Jesus prayed for those who were to some degree ignorant in crucifying Him, perhaps because they had been told and believed it to be the righteous thing to do. It was a prayer meant to be heard by both the Father and those around the cross, asking the Father to forgive them, and encouraging those around the cross to believe. Perhaps this prayer was answered during Peter’s sermon shortly thereafter in Jerusalem, when so many – perhaps even of those who crucified Him – believed in Jesus.

John 1:7
John the Baptist came to testify about the light, so that “all men might believe.”

In John 1 Jesus is identified as the light, and John’s whole mission in life was to encourage people to believe in Jesus. How critical it is to believe!

John 1:12-13
To all who received Jesus He gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:29
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John 3:3-6
You must be born again, of water and of the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh; the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

We are born again of the spirit when we believe in Jesus.

John 3:15
Everyone who believes in Jesus may have eternal life.

John 3:16
Whoever believes in the Son shall have eternal life.

John 3:17
God sent Jesus to save the world through Him.

John 3:18
Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned.

John 4:14
Jesus says the water He gives will become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:39, 41
Many Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony and by hearing His words.

John 4:42
Many of the Samaritans believe that Jesus is the “Savior of the world.”

John 4:48
Jesus laments that unless the people see miraculous signs, they will not believe.

In the middle of hearing a request to heal a sick boy, Jesus takes time to say how important it is to believe.

John 5:24
Those who hear Jesus’ word and believe in God who sent Him has eternal life.

John 5:25
Jesus says that a time is coming, and has already come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live.

This may refer in part to the final resurrection from the dead, but since it also says that the time has already come, it mainly seems to mean that if we respond to Jesus’ voice calling us we will live.

John 5:29-30
There is a resurrection of those who did good and of those who did evil, a resurrection to life or to judgment.

The good are those who believe in Jesus (and, because of that, live out their faith) and the evil are those who do not believe.

John 5:32-34
Jesus says John the Baptist testified about Him, and Jesus mentions this, “that you may be saved.”

John 5:38-40
They study the scriptures that testify of Jesus, yet refuse to come to Jesus and have life.

John 6:27, 29
Do not work for food that spoils but food that endures to eternal life, which Jesus will give you. The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

What we need to do, our “work” in this passage, is to believe.

John 6:29
Jesus tells the people that the work that God requires is “to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:32-35
Jesus is the bread of life who comes from heaven so those who come to Him will never be hungry and those who believe in Him will never thirst.

John 6:35
Jesus is the bread of life. The one who comes to Jesus will never go hungry and the one who believes in Him will never be thirsty.

John 6:40
The Father’s will is that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and Jesus will raise him on the last day.

John 6:47
He who believes [in Jesus, from the context] has everlasting life.

John 6:48, 50-51
Jesus is the bread of life. The one who eats this bread will never die but live forever.

Jesus equates believing in Him – following on the previous verse, John 6:47 – to eating His flesh. We need to take Jesus into our lives by believing in Him. In John 6:63 Jesus explains that He is speaking spiritually, not physically.

John 6:51
Jesus is the bread that comes down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.

John 6:53-58
Jesus said he is the bread of life and anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have have eternal life.

Jesus uses graphic, dramatic and unforgettable language to say we need to take Him into our lives. When the disciples are bothered by His words He explains (John 6:63) that He is speaking spiritually, not physically.

John 6:64
Jesus says, referring to Judas, that there are some do not believe.

Jesus makes clear that Judas did not so much fall away as simply not believe in the first place.

John 6:68-69
Peter says that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that they [the disciples] believe in him.

Jesus’ does not contradict that He has the words of eternal life, but denies that all of them (thinking of Judas) really believe.

John 7:31
Many in the crowd put their faith in Jesus.

John 7:38-39
Jesus says that whoever believes in Him will receive the Spirit.

It seems likely that those who believe and receive the Spirit that Jesus gives will be included in heaven.

John 8:12
Whoever follows Jesus will have the light of life.

John 8:19
To know Jesus is to know His Father.

John 8:24
Jesus warns that the Pharisees will die in their sins if they do not believe Jesus is the one He claims to be.

John 8:30
As Jesus spoke many put their faith in Him.

John 8:31
Jesus tells those who “believed” in Him that if they hold to his teaching they are really his disciples.

In this passage Jesus does not seem to be addressing those who really believed in Him in the sense that they have given their lives to Him, so it is not saying that if you slip up that you are lost.

Looking at John 8:37-49, these people did not believe in a trusting way because Jesus said they have “no room for my word” and they were doing “what you have heard from your father” (the devil), and they were “determined to kill” Jesus. God, He said, is not their Father because they do not love Jesus, and “You belong to your father, the devil,” and they “do not believe me” and “The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God,” and they answered Jesus and accused him of being a Samaritan and demon possessed, and Jesus said they “dishonor” Him. So, their belief was apparently just an acknowledgement of Jesus in some minimal fashion, not a giving their hearts to Him.

John 8:36
Jesus says that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:47
Those who belong to God hear what God says; those who don’t hear don’t know God.

John 8:51
Anyone who keeps Jesus’ word will never see death.

What Jesus wants us to do is believe in Him. If we do that we will never see eternal death and we will live the kind of lives He wants us to live. In verse 8:39, Jesus says that if the people he was talking to were Abraham’s children, then they would act like Abraham, and in 8:42 He says that if they were God’s children, then they would love Him (Jesus). In 8:44 He says they act the way they do because they belong to their father, the devil; and in 8:47 He says they do not hear what He says because they do not belong to God.

So, we need to be God’s children, and if we are children of God by believing in Jesus, then we will do what our Father wants, just as those whose father is the devil do what the devil wants.

John 9:41
Jesus says if you are blind you have no sin.

Jesus had just healed a physically blind man, who then believed in Him, so the man was given both physical and spiritual sight. Then, in John 9:39 Jesus says that he came into the world so the blind will see and those who see become blind (the Pharisees immediately recognized that he was speaking of them). I think when Jesus refers to making those who see become blind, He means that his message will be offensive to many (such as the Pharisees) and they will close their eyes to Him.

In John 9:41 I think Jesus means that those things we do that we do not understand to be wrong will not be counted against us, but this does not let us off the hook because there are so many things we do that are wrong that we do understand to be wrong.

John 10:3-5
Jesus is the true shepherd. His sheep follow him and will never follow a stranger.

Those who love Jesus, who belong to Him, will hear His voice and follow Him. It is not that they will someday be His sheep; they already are His sheep and because they are His sheep they will follow Him.

John 10:26-28
They do not believe because they are not Jesus’ sheep. His sheep hear his voice, follow Him, and he gives them eternal life.

John 11:15
Jesus says He is glad He was not there when Lazarus died, so that His disciples may believe.

Teaching His disciples to believe was so important that Jesus delayed going to heal sick Lazarus and actually let him die so that his disciples would believe when Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:43-44).

John 11:25-26
Jesus says He is the resurrection and the life and the person who believes in Him will live even if he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Him will never die.

John 11:42
Jesus is about to resurrect Lazurus and prays aloud, saying he is praying this way for the benefit of the people, that they may believe that the Father sent Him.

John 11:45
Many believed in Jesus.

John 11:49-53
Caiaphas prophesies that it is better for one man, Jesus, to die than for the whole nation to perish. John says this is a prophesy that Jesus died for all the scattered children of God to make them one.

John 12:11
On account of Lazarus many Jews were putting their faith in Jesus.

John 12:25
He who loves this life will loose it but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Love your life and lose it; hate this life and keep it for eternity. The Father will honor any who serve Jesus.

I believe Jesus means this in the same way as when he says we must hate our families (Luke 14:26). In other words, that our love for family and our love for this life should be so overshadowed by our love for Jesus that it is like hate by comparison.

He says if we do love this life first of all then we will eventually lose it and have nothing to replace it with. If we love the world first, then we never really surrendered our lives to Jesus; we surrendered to the world. But if we hate it (in comparison to our love for Jesus and spending eternity with Him) then we have a God-life that we will keep forever.

John 12:36
Jesus tells the people to put their trust in the light while they have it so they may become sons of light.

John 12:37
John laments that despite Jesus’ miracles the people would not believe in him.

John 12:39-40
John says the people could not believe in him because their eyes had been blinded and their hearts had been deadened.

John 12:42-43
Many leaders believed in Jesus, but kept quiet because they loved men’s praise more than God’s.

It is unclear whether these leaders’ faith was real and weak, or false, but either way, John points out the critical importance of faith.

John 12:44-45
Jesus says that believing in Him is also believing in the Father.

John 12:46-48
Jesus says that those who believe in Him will not remain in darkness (12:46) and adds in 12:47-48 that those who do not keep His words, but reject Him, will be condemned on the last day.

John 12:50
Jesus says the Father’s command leads to eternal life.

And the Father’s will is that we look to the Son and believe in him. (John 6:40).

John 13:8, 10
Jesus tells Peter that if He does not wash him, he has no part with Him. He adds in 13:10 that if a person has bathed he only needs to wash his feet.

Jesus does not mean that people are alienated from him unless He physically washes their feet. After all, He was about to leave them and wouldn’t be physically present to wash feet. Rather, Jesus means that He must cleanse them spiritually.

Also, in verse 10 Jesus tells the disciples that there are two kinds of cleansing – a “whole body” cleansing, for heaven I would assume, and feet washing, for – I believe – serving Jesus on earth. Jesus seems to mean that when we believe in Him we are essentially clean, but we need to come to Him regularly to remove the dust of sin we gather as we walk through the world. So I believe Jesus is saying that we can have no part in His ministry to the world if we don’t keep coming to Him to be cleansed from the little daily sins that we commit.

John 13:19
Jesus says he is telling the disciples that someone will betray him, so that when it happens, they will believe “that I am He.”

John 13:20
Whoever accepts one whom Jesus sends, accepts Jesus, and whoever accepts Jesus accepts the one who sent Him.

Jesus sends His disciples to testify about Him. If we accept these messengers – which includes accepting their message about Jesus – we accept Jesus.

John 14:1
Jesus says to trust in God and trust in Him.

John 14:6
Jesus says He is the way, truth and life. He is the only way to the Father.

Works are not an alternate way. Jesus is the only way.

John 14:15
Jesus says that if people love Him they will keep His commandments.

If we love Jesus it will be natural to obey Him.

John 14:21
The one who keeps Jesus’ commands is the one who loves Him, and that one will be loved by the Father.

Keeping Jesus’ commands is not a precondition to loving Jesus and being loved by the Father, but rather, love is the precondition to obeying Jesus. We naturally obey Jesus if we love Him.

John 14:23
If you love Jesus you’ll keep His word and the Father will love you.

Loving Jesus is the motivation to keeping His word.

John 15:3,4-5
In this passage about fruitfulness Jesus says his followers are already clean because of “the word I have spoken to you.” He tells them to remain in Him and He will remain in them.

If we believe in Jesus we are already clean, and if we walk with Jesus we will be fruitful for Him.

John 15:6
If anyone does not abide in Jesus, he is thrown away as a branch and burned.

This passage is in the context of bearing fruit. As Jesus prepares for being arrested and for His final days on earth, He is teaching his disciples how to live. If we do not abide in Jesus we will bear no fruit and will – like dry branches – be discarded from participating in His work on earth. If we do bear fruit (John 15:8) we show ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples – it is the evidence of our faith. So, I don’t think Jesus is warning his disciples that they may go to hell (especially since he reassures them in 15:3 that they “are already clean”), but rather He is telling then how to live so He can use them on earth when he returns to heaven, and is telling them that if they do not abide in Him then they will be of no earthly use, and will be discarded from His great work.
So, while I doubt that the discarding and burning refers to hell, if it does mean that then we may understand that the one who does not “abide” (trust in) Jesus lacks faith and, according to John 14:24, does not love Jesus. If he did love Jesus he would have obeyed Him. If so, then perhaps Jesus means that there are those (the discarded branches) who appear to be part of the body (like Judas) but really are not; they are just dead wood attached to the body.

John 15:10
If we obey his commands, we will remain in Jesus’ love.

Are we then condemned if we do not always obey His commands?

No. This passage is in the context of daily life, not in the context of eternal salvation. It is part of a section of instructions about how we can be productive, how, if we, like the branch of the vine, remain attached to the vine, we will bear much fruit (John 15:1-8). Jesus emphasizes this here-and-now aspect by saying that he is telling us this so that we may experience full joy in Him (John 15:11). So, I would say that this passage means that if we obey Jesus’ commands, we are living in the flow of His love.

John 15:14
We are Jesus friends if we do what He commands.

Doing what Jesus commands is evidence that we are his friends.

John 15:22, 24
If the people had not seen Jesus perform miracles among them, they would not be guilty of sin.

The sin Jesus seems to be referring to here is the sin of rejecting Him.

Understanding that we have sinned makes us responsible for that sin. When Jesus made himself clear by speaking and by doing miracles, those who heard and saw had no further excuse. They needed to repent and believe. We may not be guilt of a particular sin if we are ignorant that it is sinful, but there are so many things we all do that we do understand to be sinful, that we are hardly off the hook.

John 16:9
Jesus said the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will come and will convict the world of sin because the world does not believe in Jesus.

John 16:27
Jesus says the Father loves the disciples because they loved Jesus and believed the Father sent Him.

John 16:30-31
After the disciples tell Jesus that they believe in Him, Jesus rejoices and says that they “believe at last!”

John 17:3
Jesus says eternal life is knowing the only true God, and Jesus, whom He has sent.

John 17:8
Jesus’ followers believed the Father sent Him.

In this prayer of Jesus, as He comes to the close of His earthly ministry, He rejoices that He has accomplished what the Father wanted – the disciples believe!