‘Today, I will be with you in Paradise’
With His death on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ made sure that a sinner who repents and confesses his sins will be forgiven by God as though the sinner had not sinned at all.
Repentance, however, must have visible progress on the part of the sinner. A repentant sinner must show sincerity on his decision to repent, just as what was displayed by the convict who was crucified with Jesus Christ.
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’
But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don't you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’”
-- Luke 23:41
A sinner must show certain things to prove that he is indeed repenting. First of all, there must be fear in his heart. In the Old Testament, a man was considered blessed if he showed fear of God.
“Praise the LORD.
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who finds great delight in his commands.”
-- Psalms 112:1
Secondly, he must realize that he is a sinner and that he has done wrong and it is only right that he is punished.
“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
-- Luke 23:41
Confessing our sins also shows that we believe that God is holy and blameless and that man is sinful. King David, a man after God’s own heart, also acknowledged his sins, despite his close relationship with God.
“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.”
-- Psalms 51:3
Third, one must acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The convict to the left of Jesus Christ referred to Jesus Christ as “Lord” even though, being a wicked man, he was not used to such holy terms. The different translations of this verse refer to the man as a “malefactor” or a “criminal.” The Scriptures do not mention anything about the lifestyle of this man or how long he has been living a life of crime, but when he showed sincere repentance, the Scriptures did show that Christ did not waste any time in accepting his repentance.
Fourthly, because the man knew that he was going to die soon, that it would profit him nothing if he died in sin and he is unsure where his soul will go, he asked Christ if his repentance would bring him to Christ’s Kingdom.
“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”
– Luke 23:42
It was as though the man was asking something incredibly big and wonderful when compared to the small act of voicing out his repentance. But the Lord answers and helps the repentant sinner, that even on the moment of his death he should not lose hope that his sins can be forgiven.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”
-- Isaiah 57:15
In addition to this, when Christ forgave the man of his sins, He made sure that those whom God has forgiven have a wonderful place to go to the moment that they die and leave this earthly plane.
“Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
-- Luke 23:43
Some teachings, however, go against Christ’s words. There are those so called teachers and teachings which state that a man’s soul will go to the Purgatory when he dies. They teach that the Purgatory is the recipient of the souls of men who have sinned venial sins or the sins that they consider as “forgiveable, pardonable, and excusable.” However, the Christ and the Scriptures does not mention anything of the Purgatory and instead states that the destination of the souls of the unrepentant sinners is Hell.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
-- Matthew 10:28
Christ clearly said that the destination of those people who are not saved or are not sure of their salvation as preached by God’s sent ones is Hell and those that are saved will go to Heaven.
There are those preachers, however, who do not assure their members of salvation. They preach that salvation can only be assured on the Day of Judgment. The Scriptures, however, do not teach that salvation can be gained on the Day of Judgment. What the Scriptures teach is that salvation is gained “now” or the very moment that one who hears the Gospel from the sent ones of God receives Christ as their personal Savior.
For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
-- 2 Corinthians 6:2
Sadly, there are also those who do not bother with their salvation anymore; they do not think it is that important. Or they say that they are living their lives and doing good things as much as they can and that their good behavior may be enough to grant them passage to Heaven. Also some people do not think that the immediacy of one’s salvation is important because there are those false preachers who teach them wrong things.
But in the teachings of the sent ones of God, the assurance of salvation is concretely shown by the criminal who was crucified with Christ. The man had all his life been candidate for eternal damnation, but when he met Jesus Christ that fated afternoon he was immediately assured of citizenship in Heaven. The sent ones of God teach the same thing: that whosoever receives the gospel that they preach is saved.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
-- 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Regarding this, whenever a believer is about to meet death, just like the repentant criminal on the cross, Jesus Christ will simply always repeat what He said: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” The reason being, that the salvation that the believer receives is not because of their works, but they were saved by God’s grace by their faith.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
-- Ephesians 2:8-9
The salvation of all those who believe and will believe is God’s will, so that they won’t be condemned anymore, because they are already Christ’s. This is also the purpose of their faith, the salvation of their souls.
“For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
-- 1 Peter 1:9
By Pastor Jim Rull