“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
There is a lot of comfort in this statement spoken by Jesus. It is an all-inclusive statement. ALL who labor and are heavy laden can go to Jesus and find rest – no matter what our past and no matter how many sins we have committed Jesus will accept us. Jesus makes this point again in John 6:37 when He said, “…and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” There is no need for pre-qualification to accept Jesus as our savior. There is not a background check or an interview process. We can truly come to Jesus “as we are” and find rest.
It is truly a blessing that Jesus accepts us in whatever state we are in when we approach Him as our savior. However, we have to also come to the understanding that Jesus and God expect us to change. We cannot simply come to Jesus desiring grace and continue lives of sin. During Jesus’ ministry many individuals ask Him how they could become His disciple. In many of these recorded instances Jesus made it clear that discipleship requires sacrifice and change. To a couple of examples, in Matthew 16:24 Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me.” In Luke 18:18-22 Jesus instructs a rich young man to, “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” In the first passage Jesus explains that anyone wanting to follow Him must first “deny himself” and in the second passage He gives a specific example of what that may entail. For the rich young man it involved selling his possessions. To follow Jesus the rich young man had to place aside his love for possessions – he had to change.
Paul also spoke of the need for change in several of his epistles. In Ephesians chapter 4 and Colossians chapter 3 Paul paints a contrast of two characters – the “old man” that exists prior to an individual being raised with the Christ and the “new man” that should exist after their spiritual resurrection. The change that Paul talks about is not simply the product of grace but is the product of the individuals transforming their conduct and their thinking. Paul instructs in Colossians 3:2 to, “Set your mind on things above, not on the earth.” When we enter into a Christian life we have to change the very things we think about. We have to change the things we pursue. We have to change the way we conduct ourselves. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:24, we must “…put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
In other passages in the Bible this prescribed change is expressed by the term, repentance. One example is in Acts 2:38 when Peter tells the multitude in Jerusalem to, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized…” It is common that this term, repentance, is viewed as synonymous to asking forgiveness. But asking for forgiveness and repenting are different. Asking for forgiveness is simply a reaction to what we have already done. Repentance is reaction to what we have already done but is also a commitment to change. When Peter prescribed repentance to the multitude in Acts 2 he wasn’t telling them to just ask for forgiveness but was instructing them to change. In Acts 26:20 Paul says he, “declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” Paul’s message of repentance required works befitting repentance – in other words, their actions had to change to a manner that followed after God.
This process of change is something that should begin from the moment we accept Jesus as our savior and continue throughout the remainder of our lives. Thankfully, we can access the grace of God by coming to Jesus Christ “as we are” but God does expect us to change once we come to Jesus. He expects to put aside our former lusts, to deny ourselves, to put off the old man, put on the new man and be holy.
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at eh the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming to your former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct , because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16.