Now, I know my fellow evangelicals will rush to protest that it is the cross of Jesus Christ alone that opens the way to heaven for any person. No amount of personal righteousness could ever suffice. I believe this. It is grace alone—the unmerited and undeserved forgiveness of God—that opens the way for any of us to know God, let alone come into his kingdom. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9) Thank God for that.
However, you also find in Jesus and throughout the scriptures a pretty serious call to a holy life.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thessalonians 4:7)
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)
In fact, one of the most stunning things about Jesus is how such a gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving man holds—without so much as wavering—such a high standard of holiness. On the one hand, we have the beautiful story of a woman caught in the act of adultery—and how horrifying and humiliating would that be? The mob drags her before Jesus, ready to stone her (they actually did this sort of thing, and not that long ago; it still happens in some Muslim countries today).
It is brilliant, and poignant. The town square is now deserted; only the woman and Jesus remain. She is probably wrapped in nothing but a bed sheet and her shame. He rescues her from a terrible death, and then forgives her. It feels as if the scene could not be more powerfully reported. What more could be said? But wait, Jesus has one last word for her:
“Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
Yes, grace reigns in the Kingdom of God. But right there alongside it is an unflinching call to holiness. Go and sin no more.