(Article for publication week of 10-31- AD 2012)
“And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ “ (Luke 23:43).
A dear minister of old astutely and accurately commented on this text, “the Bible gives us one account of a “death bed” conversion, so that none need despair, but only one that none might presume.” When a man dies who had no visible evidence (to us) of being saved, this account gives us hope that he could have been converted in his final hour. However, this is no basis for unscriptural presumption, nor unreasonable conjecture. You who are now unconverted, flee to Christ today, for indeed today is the day of salvation. Do not vainly imagine that you may have some final opportunity to repent and believe in Christ. But I repeat, we are not without hope even when a man dies in whom we saw no evidence of his being saved. God’s surprising grace may be discovered even at the final hour. Christians have good reason to always be hopeful, but never presumptive.
The account of the conversion of the dying thief proves to us that there are none too sinful for God to save them. The Lord Jesus Christ died for the chief of sinners. Though your sins be as scarlet, they indeed shall be as white as snow. Here was a sinner as sinful as he could be, but he cried for mercy in his last hour and Jesus showed him mercy.
We also see in this account that salvation is indeed all of sovereign grace. It was too late for the dying thief to go to church. It was too late for him to get baptized. It was too late for him to amend his ways, or attempt moral reform. It was too late to “do penance” (so-called). It was too late for this man to do anything to save himself, or help save himself. But it was not too late for Christ to have mercy on his poor soul. This man was completely helpless in the matter of the salvation of his soul. But friend, that is where you and I are. We are just as sinful as the dying thief, and just as powerless to do anything to save ourselves or help Christ save us. But praise the Lord, that is the kind of folks Christ saves- those who know they are vile sinners, and know that they have no merit of their own.
But I want to show you another thing about the dying thief’s conversion. That is, that there is no prescribed prayer for a sinner to repeat, or formula for true faith in Christ, in order to be saved. The dying thief just simply pleaded, “Lord remember me”! You see salvation is not in our praying, but it is in Christ Alone, the true object of saving faith. In fact when we read the various accounts of conversion in the scriptures, we see that no two sinners said or did the same thing when they were converted. One dear sister said not a word to the Saviour but simply lay at precious feet and wept (Luke 7:38). Dear readers, salvation is not in your praying, or weeping, or raising your hand, or signing a card, or shaking the preacher’s hand, but it is Christ Alone. Saving faith is simply looking to him and coming to him by faith, however it may be expressed verbally or nonverbally.
Now get this. The converted thief has been in heaven with Christ now for two thousand years, although he was a Christian but a few hours. What a glorious gospel! What a surprising conversion (every one is)! What a wonderful Saviour! I want you to know that every one who believes in the Saviour of the dying thief will also hear those blessed words, “today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” and shall be with Him forever. Thank the Lord for sovereign grace and the Saviour of Sinners.