Learning from the story of how the convicted criminal became the first person to enter the Kingdom of God with Jesus, we learn that just keeping the commandments is not enough. Instead, it appears that there is something much more that stands above keeping the commandments. Besides, we know that because of our weaknesses it is very hard to keep the commandments of God. Sometimes it just seems impossible. But there is one thing we can do. Everyone in the world can do this simple act. And it's very easy to do.
According to the teachings of Jesus will be saved that person who will see himself or herself as a sinner. The person who can repent with all heart. Repent honestly, sincerely and not hypocritically.
Remember, this was what John the Baptist was preaching too as recorded in Matthew 3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." He didn't say keep all the commandments, but said "repent." In fact, our Lord Jesus reinforced this exact message in Matthew 4:17 by saying "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
Thus, there must be something about repenting that is at the core of the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, but for some reason I don't hear about repentance on TV. I don't hear about repentance what I turn on the radio. I don't even hear about repentance much when I go to church. Do you?
Yes we have confessions. But how often do we see people going to a priest, confessing their sins and then on Monday they do such a thing in their workplace that one remains amazed.
We know the Pharisees kept the commandments. There were many people in the time of Jesus who lived according to the commandments. But very surprisingly, it was the repenting convicted criminal who became the first person to enter the Kingdom of God, not these "righteous" people who stood under the Cross or lived in Jerusalem at that time.
According to the teachings of our Lord Jesus and Church Fathers, if there is no true repentance one cannot keep all the commandments and it is this simple act of repenting and humbling yourself that nears you to the Kingdom of God not just the act of performing the commandments.
Human beings are called by their Creator Father to sincerely repent for their since and humble themselves. Repent from opposing the will of God. Repent from continuously going against our nature and doing things that are counterproductive to our well being. Repent for not letting our Creator Father to enter our houses. Repent for not regarding regarding our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and strangers, who are also the members of the same Big Family. Repent for denying the love that made us. Repent for filling our lives with our own false pride that that deceives us and kills us.
Every single person can be saved. Even if you repent sincerely at the very last moment. But... the problem is that we never know when our last moment is and if we will have time for sincere repentance at the last moment.
Repentance is the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. What is sin is a subject of an entire new story, but generally it's denying the love of God and living a careless life of self-deception.
But wait a minute. What happens to keeping the commandments and doing good works? Saint Isaac the Syrian summarizes this in one good thought, which I will paraphrase here. He says the Kingdom of God is given not those who keep the commandments and do good works, but to the humility that is born out of keeping the commandments and do good works. Did you hear that? He says "to the humility." Good works and keeping the commandments are indeed very important. Lord Jesus talks about them repeatedly. In fact, in John 14:21 he says "whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me."
Therefore, keeping the commandments and doing good works are never discounted. But we see in the Gospels that they are in wain if there is no sincere repentance and humility born out of it. Repentance is the acknowledgement of our sinfulness. It means being aware of our sinful way of life and honestly asking for forgiveness.
But how often do we see the apposite. How often do we see the following attitude in the people. "If you ask me, am I a sinner, I will answer yes! But never tell me or call me a sinner. I will show you..." Here is another attitude. "I know that certain things are wrong in me, but who doesn't make mistakes? Who is always right?" Is this attitude helping ourselves? Only self-justification and comparing ourselves to others, instead of the comparing yourself to the highest known standard of holiness in the universe.
We, the human, see ourselves sinners externally, perhaps also in our minds, but we don't see often people being aware of their sins in their hearts.
Back to the original question of this story about how to keep commandments that are hard to keep. My dear reader, if we focus only on commandments we won't go far and hardly will reach to the final destination. There hasn't been anyone on earth, that sincerely and honestly kept all the commandments of God, except Jesus Christ.
Instead, as you come to know God and experience His Love, humble yourself and be aware of your past and present sinful life. Ask for His help and forgiveness. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted," says Jesus in Luke 14:11 because God opposes the proud and only gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 .
Inspired from one of the lectures of A. I. Osipov.