That God pardons us, and is merciful, isn't something new. In fact, it was known long before the time of Jesus.
God’s prophet Ezekiel spoke of God's attitude towards forgiveness, saying, "I say to the righteous, 'He shall surely live,' but if he trusts in his righteousness, and still does wicked things, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered. Because of the wicked things he has done, he shall die." (Ezekiel 33:14)
And another prophet, Isaiah, says: "Let the wicked man abandon his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YAHWEH, so he may have mercy on him, to our God, for He will freely forgive." (55:7)
If the idea that God forgives the sins of those who repent was fully known to the Jewish people before the time of Jesus, how, then, can we say Jesus saves those who sin?
Jesus says: "I am the light of the world:" (8:12) “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And, "Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
When Jesus called people to the hope of eternal life, he said they must change their evil ways, putting behind them all evil things they were doing before. This was to make them qualified for the eternal happiness they would have with God, because God is the opposite of evil.
Jesus’ teaching was practical – telling us what we should DO to attain eternal life, not just what to BELIEVE about it.
The Apostle Peter spoke to his fellow Jews, telling them: “God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from evil ways.” (Acts 3:26)
This was how they were to be blessed or saved by Jesus: by listening to the preaching of his Apostles, who spoke in his name, and who urged them to stop sinning.
The Judeans expected great earthly riches from their Messiah. Instead, Jesus and his Apostles said they were to gain great moral blessings by knowing the Gospel, and by becoming holy and good through their actions. THIS was what would qualify them for eternal life with God.
It is THIS way that Jesus saves sinners: by calling them to turn back to God from their misguided ways, towards walking in the holy ways God wishes all of us to walk.
If we learn from Jesus, whose words and example are set before us by his life and teachings, we can begin to work towards virtue and holiness and doing God’s will above self-centered actions and immoral actions. Then, if strive to keep on the narrow road, eternal life may be ours, God willing.
But many aren’t satisfied with this plain and simple way of salvation, which is spelled out by Jesus and the Apostles, who obeyed his teachings. Instead, they want to be saved, but continue to sin. Many want eternal life after death, but wish to live opposed to God while they’re still alive.
So, by twisting a few verses, they fail to see the role of Jesus as a teacher of righteousness who calls us to obey and do good works. They imagine it was his goodness ALONE that allows God to forgive His creatures, and that if we only believe this, we can gain an “instant salvation" that gives us a loophole that lets us continue to sin, but still get a reward from God. They want to pretend that Jesus is the only one who needs to obey God, but not us!
They want to “trust” in another’s righteousness, but continue to do evil things! Didn’t Ezekiel warn us of this very mistake?
This is wrong because our heavenly Father has always been merciful towards his children, and is ready with open arms to receive them to his mercy simply when they repent, without the actions of any other person on their behalf.
The sufferings of our Master, Jesus, he did by obeying God, and this is a powerful example for us, convincing us to change our attitudes and reconcile us to God – but his suffering did not change God’s mind about us, since God was, and remains, always ready to show us kindness and mercy.
It’s foolish to passively expect God to grant us salvation; and even more foolish to believe we can demand it from a position of laziness – refusing to repent and change our lives, as God requires us to do.
We have to make ourselves ready and qualified for salvation by adopting a holy attitude and actively building virtuous habits.
And these changes can’t happen within us unless we actively want them to happen. It’s this constant striving for moral perfection, working in goodness, imitating our Master and Example, Jesus, that Jesus calls us to do.