As Christians when we read this verse we tend to think that Jesus is talking about non-believers, but this could just as easily apply to most Christians. Each week we go to church and listen to someone preach the gospel and we even talk about how wonderful the sermon or Sunday School lesson was we heard but the great majority of the time we quickly forget what was said or, even if we do remember, rarely put into practice the things we were taught.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk about how we are guided by living prophets and we listen to and quote their words with the same reverence as the scriptures yet too often these teachings don't always change our behavior. Even though we hear and read the words of God, and even though we participate in discussing them at church, they don't always influence the way we live.
For example, we have been told countless times of the need to repent of our sins, and everyone knows this is an important part of the gospel, and yet very few people actually repent when they sin. They may know they've sinned, they may feel bad that they sinned, and they may even make an effort not to commit that particular sin again, but they rarely, truly repent unless it's for something that has had a profound, life-changing effect on them.
Another example is the importance of doing missionary work, which we have been repeatedly told is the duty of every member, and yet very few people take this duty seriously, even though most of us are very well familiar with this principle and even agree with. This is what the Lord meant when he said that we hear with our ears but don't understand and we see with our eyes but don't notice. We intellectually know the principles of the gospel with our mind, but it doesn't penetrate into our heart where it becomes part of our way of life.
There are many members of the LDS Church who are faithful in living many of the principles of the gospel but even among them there are those who are more faithful to some of the teachings of Christ than others. In fact, each of us are at different levels of faithfulness in our devotion to living Christ-like lives and none of us are even close to measuring up to the stature of Christ. As Paul told the saints of his day, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. And the reason why can be summed up in one word - commitment.
Commitment is the essential ingredient needed in order for anything to get accomplished. Without it a person will give up when the going gets tough but with it, nothing can keep a person from succeeding. If that is so, then it's vitally important that we understand what it means to be committed and how we acquire such a commitment.
Commitment is defined as an obligation, duty, or responsibility that we voluntarily take upon ourselves and pledge or solemnly promise to keep. In the scriptures the word commitment is referred to as being faithful.
At the time of our baptism we make a commitment to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and to keep his commandments which he has given us. That is a promise we voluntarily make to God and we bind ourselves to keep it by way of a covenant. Yet there is not one person who keeps that promise as completely as they should and that's because we are not completely committed to Christ.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is made up of many different things that we are required to do but it's not easy to do everything that's required of us. It takes time and effort to understand each principle before we can even begin to practice it, let alone master it. That's why we can become committed to one principle of the gospel and not be equally committed to other principles. For example, we can become committed to the principle of tithing but not be committed to the principle of genealogy, or be committed to doing our home teaching or visiting teaching but not be committed to going to the temple. Some people are committed to reading their scriptures every day but not to doing missionary work.
But there is another aspect that's just as important and that is the level or degree of our commitment. For example, there are those who come to church every week but who don't accept callings or, if they do, don't put much effort into it, while others do their duty in fulfilling their callings but don't do much extra. And then there are those who put their whole heart and soul into doing their calling, going beyond what is expected of them. These are examples of different levels of commitment. In other words, some people are more committed to certain principles of the gospel than others.
Jesus illustrated this with the parable of the sower in which a man went out and sowed some seeds. But as he did, some fell by the wayside, some fell among stony places, some fell among thorns, and some fell on good ground (Matthew 13:3-8). These can also represent the four different levels of commitment. Some people have little to no commitment to Christ and are easily distracted by and follow after worldly things. Some people make an attempt to do as they should but as soon as things become a little hard, they give up. Then there are others who are committed but only to doing no more than is necessary. And then there are those whose commitment is total and they put their heart and soul into what they are doing.
So the real question we need to ask is: How do we become committed, both in the number of things we promise to do and in the level of our dedication to doing them?
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk a lot about our God-given right to decide for ourselves and we proclaim that this right is so sacred that not even God will force us to do what is right. If this is a true principle, then it is clear that the decision of whether or not we want to commit ourselves to following God's commandments is entirely up to us. And with so many commandments, we have the freedom to choose which, if any, we will voluntarily commit ourselves to keeping. Therefore, the decision whether we will keep all, some, or none of them is entirely ours.
For that reason, the very first step in committing ourselves to living any principle of the gospel is that we have to make a deliberate, conscious decision to make a commitment. And to do that we have to want to make it because if that desire is not there then any commitment we might profess with our lips will be nothing more than empty words. This is why so many newly baptized converts fall into inactivity so quickly. They may believe the message of the restoration and the doctrines of the Church but they have not truly committed themselves to living the principles of the gospel. As a result, when they find themselves having to actually do something to demonstrate their belief, they give up because it requires too much effort.
And this same situation exists even among faithful members of the Church. They may truly be committed to living many of the principles of the gospel but none of us live all the commandments as we should, and the reason why is that we don't have a desire to live a particular principle. This is one of the main reasons why, when we hear a sermon or a Sunday School, priesthood or Relief Society lesson, that we don't put the principles being taught into practice and make it part of our daily life. We may understand the principle intellectually and know that we should live it but there is no genuine desire of the heart to want to live it.
But fortunately our Father in heaven has not left us alone to make this decision all by ourselves. Although he will not force us to do anything, He will nonetheless seek to persuade, encourage, guide, teach, and do all in His power to convince us to do that which is good and right. Of course Satan and our human nature will likewise seek to sway us to choose differently, but the more we strive to keep the commandments of God the more we will allow ourselves to be influenced by the whisperings and urgings of the Spirit.
That is the reason why we have been commanded to read the scriptures and to come to church. If we will read the scriptures with the intent to learn from them, and as we listen with an attentive ear to the sermons and lessons we hear at church, we are opening our heart for the Spirit to enter. And when that happens we become more susceptible to being inspired to become more committed to following those principles of the gospel that we have been neglecting. But when we read the scriptures without putting much thought into their words and we come to church without paying attention to the message that's being delivered, then we are truly seeing without seeing, and hearing without hearing.
But there is another reason why it is hard for us to make certain commitments and that's because of a human condition called pride. But it's not the kind of pride we usually associate with that word.
We can illustrate this by way of a comparison. In school there are three kinds of students. The first is the student who doesn't want to be there because learning is boring therefore they resist being taught by not listening and only doing their work through much encouragement, prodding, and supervision. The second kind of student are those who know they are there to learn and do listen and finish their homework as assigned but only because that's what's expected of them, not because they are excited about doing it. For them school is something they are required to attend and a chore they are expected to perform, even with those subjects they are not interested in.
Then there are those students who truly want to learn, especially about certain subjects. As a result, they not only listen attentively but look forward to doing their homework because they are truly interested in what they are being taught.
We find this same kind of behavior happing in the home. To many children, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, or keeping their room neat is something that they dread and must be constantly prodded into doing, while there are other children who do their chores without being told, but usually because of an expected reward that's been promised to them. Therefore, it is the reward they are working for, and the particular chore they've been asked to do is merely the means to getting what they really want.
But there are things that children like to do and even want to do and it is those things that they need no encouragement to perform. For example, some children love cooking and will actually pester their parents to let them help with the cooking. Just about every sixteen year old is overly anxious to learn how to drive a car and will beg to be taught how to do that. There are those who are interested in electronics or computers who will spend hours upon hours during their own free time tinkering with, tearing apart, putting back together, and experimenting with their favorite piece of equipment. And the reason why is because they want to learn as much as they can about a subject they are highly interested in.
And this same situation exists in the church. There are those who come to church, not so much to learn the gospel as they are to socialize with others of like faith. These are the ones who are doing other things during sacrament meeting instead of listening to the speakers and who either skip out on Sunday School or who willingly accept callings that require little or no effort.
However, most Christians come to church because that's what's expected of them and they do make an effort to learn the gospel. As Christians our homework assignment is to take what we learn in church and from the scriptures and put them into action in our lives. The degree to which a person does this depends on how serious they are about learning to behave like Christ.
It is usually these people who are working for their eternal reward. In other words, they are doing their assigned duty because of the reward that awaits those who have faithfully kept the commandments. As such, to these people, keeping the commandments is the means whereby they can inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is their reward for "enduring to the end," so they do what they must in order to get what they want.
And then there are those whose goal is to become more like Christ. These are the ones who come to church as often as possible, who diligently read their scriptures, and who use their free time to learn as much as they can about the gospel. While others may find this kind of behavior boring, learning about Christ is what excites these people, inspires them, and motivates them in all they do. But it's because of their great love for Christ that makes them want to learn more about Him and become like Him.
It has often been said that in order to learn we have to be teachable, or put another way, we have to be humble enough to be taught. Since pride is the opposite of being humble, those who are not willing to be fully teachable by the Spirit are, in some degree, letting their pride keep them from committing to live every principle of the gospel.
But pride is something that every person possesses, therefore it is something that each of us has to struggle to overcome. Therefore, committing ourselves fully to Christ is not something that comes without great effort. As such, it is an ongoing process that will no doubt continue even after we lay our mortal bodies in the grave. But, this process moves more quickly the greater desire we have to emulate Christ. In other words, the more interested we are in learning about Christ, the sooner we will become like Him. And the way we learn about Him is by diligently studying the words of both ancient and modern prophets, attending our church meetings, and participating in helping build the Lord's kingdom here on earth.
Our ultimate goal is not to live with God in heaven, and it's not even to become exalted beings, possessing all the power and glory that God has. Those are just the by-products that come from being righteous. This is no different than what makes someone a success in life. A successful person is someone who has the kind of attitude that produces successful results, but without that attitude someone cannot achieve true success. In other words, people become successful because of their attitude, not in spite of it.
In the same way, in order to become exalted, a person must have developed the kind of character that an exalted being is required to have. It is when that happens that a person is worthy and prepared to obtain an exalted position in the kingdom of God. It is those who love the Lord with all of their heart, mind, and soul who will want to learn how to behave more like Christ and who will gladly do their homework of practicing Christ-like behavior. And it will be these kinds of people who will be most susceptible to the promptings of the Spirit to commit themselves more fully to all the principles of the gospel. When we reach that point in our spiritual development is when we will truly have ears that hear and eyes that see.