Just when I think I have finished this topic, something stirs up in my brain, and I want to say more. This time I want to look at it from a more personal view...the view of ourselves being forgiven. I'm looking at this from a Mormon perspective, just wanted to warn you.
I think that most people have read about Jesus dying for our sins, and that we all can be forgiven through that "atonement". Many religions believe that the only thing He asks in return is that we believe in Him. They refer to the moment they accepted Jesus as their Savior as the moment they were "saved". I have even heard some say that to say there is anything we personally can do to earn our salvation is a "slap in Jesus's face". They say his Atonement is a free gift to all, and all we have to do is believe.
This way of thinking always brings a question to my mind. If all you have to do is believe, then why do we even have the word "repentance"? Why is the Bible full of the word "Repent"? Here is a definition of repentance that was in my Bible dictionary:
"The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined. Without this there can be no progress in the things of the soul’s salvation, for all accountable persons are stained by sin, and must be cleansed in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is not optional for salvation; it is a commandment of God."
A slap in the face to say we need to repent? I think it is a slap in the face to say we don't need to repent. I think it is offensive to God for us to think that all we have to do is believe, and we can continue to hurt others, continue in evil ways. How could God be God if He allows people who do evil things to join in heaven with the truly pure in heart, simply because they believe? That isn't justice, that isn't mercy.
There are some who are covered unconditionally by Jesus Christ's atonement. His atonement covers those who cannot understand: little children, the mentally incompetent, the "heathen nations" who never have even had a chance to hear about God. I believe it covers those who are under severe mental stress, such as severe depression; those who are unable to think clearly for whatever reason.
The other aspect is that God knows our hearts. He knows our intentions. He knows are potential. He knows the pains we have suffered, things that have shaped who we have become. His judgement of us will be just.
I read an analogy once that I have thought about many times. A little girl went to her Dad and asked if he would buy her a new bike. He told her that bikes cost a lot of money, and he didn't have the money, but if she would save up her money, perhaps one day she could buy her own. She began to save all the money she could. Then one day she came to her Dad and said, "I have saved all my money, can we buy my bike now?" He took her to the store, and when they went to the register he asked her to bring out her money. She brought out a handful of change and placed it on the counter. She gave all the money she had, but it wasn't enough, so her Dad made up the difference. This is how Jesus Christ's atonement works for us. We give all we can to try to repent, and if we have done all we can do, His atonement will cover what we can't do. Think about the addict. They may have to try every day to stop. But if they give all they have, then He will make up the rest.
Yes Jesus Christ's atonement is a free gift to all, but that gift came at a precious price, the value of which is equal to more than just saying we believe. He doesn't just want us to believe, he wants us to become. He wants us to become better people.