What does it mean to have “saving faith?”

We have four gospels in the Bible for a purpose. Each contains its own message to fulfill the purpose for which it was written. Matthew and John were both concerned with how Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures. Luke, on the other hand, wrote to show that even in death Jesus was the forgiving Messiah. Jesus forgave those who sought Him up to His final minutes on the cross. Luke 23:39-43 says,

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (NKJV)


This passage tells us something very important regarding one of the criminals and something incredible about our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Criminal’s Dialogue

Jesus was crucified between two criminals. Often we are told these men were thieves, but the text calls them criminals. Perhaps these men were even guilt of insurrection against the Roman government. At any rate, they were evil men with hardened-criminal intent. These were not nice men. They were sinners. The exchange between Jesus and these men was short.

Both criminals seemed to know something about Jesus. The first blasphemed Christ and, in his self-serving style, acknowledged that Jesus may be the Christ. He challenged Jesus to prove this by saving Himself and then for good measure to save the criminals. Jesus did not respond to this man.

The second man also knew who Jesus claimed to be. The difference between these two criminals is that the second one believed Jesus was who He claimed to be. From this sensitive sinner we learn three important qualities that lead a person to salvation through Jesus, the Christ.

  1. The sensitive sinner had an almost uncanny ability to diagnose the problem. If we are sick, we need treatment. But we cannot receive just any treatment. We must receive the treatment that fixes the problem we have. Thus, a treatment requires a diagnosis. This criminal cut to the heart of the problem. Upon hearing the blasphemy of the first criminal, he quickly diagnosed the problem—“Do you not even fear God.” In order to come to God, we must first fear God. To draw near to God, we must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:6).
  2. The sensitive sinner recognized the need for justice. This man recognized that he was a sinner and he was about to receive “the due reward of” his actions. At the same time he recognized that Jesus had not sinned—He was not a sinner. Jesus was the only one who could satisfy God’s standard for righteousness (Rom 3:25-26); therefore, only Jesus could serve as the substitute for sin (Rom 5:6; 10:13). This man knew that a penalty was due as a result of his sin—he recognized that justice needed to be done.
  3. The sensitive sinner recognized the answer he was searching for was in Jesus Christ. This man believed that Christ was who He said He was. He knew that Jesus was about to die, yet he had the faith to know that Jesus would come into His kingdom. The criminal just didn’t know when that would be. He asked Jesus to remember Him. This sinner gave Jesus the glory and honor that was due Him.

At this point, the sinner realized that his answer would not be found in religion or in pleasure (he had probably tried both); rather, it could only be found in Jesus Christ. He had seen sin and he had seen justice. The only thing that could help this man was to recognize his need for the Lord Jesus Christ. And he did.

The Messiah’s Response

Jesus did reply to the second sinner, but His response was very short. Three truths are implied in His response.

  1. Jesus received the sinner. Jesus did not rebuke the sinner or belittle him. Instead, Jesus only accepted him.  Jesus’ words were positive and in essence He said, “Since you trust in Me, I will receive you unto Myself.” Wow! The sinner did not have anything to offer Jesus and he was not going to live long enough to “prove” himself worthy. Even so, Jesus received Him. So, the message is clear: We trust Him and He receives us!
  2. Jesus forgave the sinner. Jesus was about to die and He still had time to forgive this man who was seeking for answers to his debauched life. He reached out in his time of need to Jesus and Jesus forgave him. No questions were asked. The man’s motives were not challenged. Because the sinner recognized his need as a sinner and then asked Jesus to “remember” him, Jesus forgave him.
  3. Jesus bestowed a hope for a better world on the sinner. The sinner was willing to wait until Christ came again to set up His millennial kingdom. The sinner was fine to hang in limbo until then. But that was not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus told him that “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” No waiting for Christ to return. It was all going to happen today. Jesus assured the criminal that blessing will not need to wait for the full coming of the kingdom, but will start this very day.

How about you?

Are you ready to begin receiving the blessing of Christ today? The sinner demonstrated saving faith in action. Saving faith involves:

  • Knowledge of who Christ is
  • Acceptance of His person and work
  • Trusting in Christ alone for salvation

This is what one of the two sinners did. The one blasphemed Jesus while the other trusted in Christ alone for his eternal destiny.

Which one are you?

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