In Luke 23, we meet a criminal who was crucified next to Jesus Christ. Without even realizing it, this man dispelled virtually every false notion out there on how to be saved. Let’s consider him and his brief exchange with the Saviour.
He was probably Jewish, for he spoke of a Messianic Kingdom and of fearing God, as opposed to, say, Jupiter. The Scriptures do not tell us his name, but I just call him Chris because he reminds me that I was just a dying criminal until I met Christ (I know, I know… Chris is not a popular name for Jewish guys — get over it). Because this man repented, we might be tempted to view him rather favorably, imaging that he was not all that bad. Perhaps, we romanticize, he was a law-abiding citizen up until yesterday when he stole a loaf of bread to feed his hungry child. However, though he’s called a thief in Matthew’s Gospel, the Greek word actually refers to an armed robber. He was vicious. He was violent. He was predatory. This was a really bad guy.
Yet, this really bad guy received a promise unparalleled in the Gospels; the assurance of being with the Lord Jesus in Paradise that very day. And how did he receive that promise? By grace through faith — he simply put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just that simple! He acknowledged his sin, he acknowledged his sentence, and he acknowledged his Saviour. That’s all he did. However, what’s just as compelling in this account is what he did NOT do to be saved.
Most religions teach that one must live a good life to be saved, but our friend here did not live a good life. In fact, he was crucified for living a bad life. Many Christians believe baptism is necessary for salvation, but he wasn’t baptized. Growing up, I was told to confess my sins to a priest and to pray to Mary. The chief priests were standing near the dying criminal and Mary was right in front of him, but he didn’t say a word to any of them. Why not? Because they couldn’t help him. Lastly, while he surely was penitent, he did not do penance. In fact, he couldn’t do a minute of community service or give a cent to charity because he was naked, penniless and nailed to a cross.
No, our new friend’s salvation was all of Christ and nothing of him. He became an “accidental theologian,” unwittingly teaching the world for twenty centuries how to be saved by simply looking to the Saviour and asking forgiveness. So, when some misguided preacher makes you second-guess your salvation by attaching to it some man-made requirement, just listen to the dying criminal when he says, “Remember me…”