Amazing Grace – How Sweet The Sound
One of the famous hymns of the Christian faith, if not the most famous hymn, is the one penned by John Newton titled, “Amazing Grace.” John Newton, who once lived a very sinful life, found grace so amazing that it led him to pen this wonderful hymn so familiar to Christians and many non-Christians as well.
However, centuries before John Newton wrote this hymn, the truths of this song would have well resonated with one man who found grace at the last hour of his life. Out of the seven recorded statements of the Lord Jesus, while he was on the cross, his comforting words to the repentant criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” [Lk 23:43] describes how this man found grace at the last hour. These words that came from the lips of Jesus have given hope to many a despairing soul.
As recorded in Luke 23:39-43, the entire incident teaches us that it is never too late for any repentant sinner to receive God’s marvelous saving grace. Let’s learn a few truths concerning repentance, faith, and their relationship to saving grace as revealed in this incident and then look at 2 applications.
I. The Evidences of False Repentance .
Upon examining the actions of the unrepentant criminal, we see 2 characteristics that demonstrate false repentance.
1. No fear of God. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah?”” [Lk 23:39]. Even at this stage, he did not fear God. Many are like him. No matter how much God humbles them through circumstances, they do not fear a righteous God, i.e., fear him enough to turn from their own sins.
2. Focus is only on earthly blessings. The unrepentant thief continues in Luke 23:39, “Save yourself and us!” He didn’t care to be delivered from his sins. His sole focus was to be delivered from his present sufferings. Many resemble this man. They come to Christ only for some earthly benefits: problems to be solved; relationships to be fixed; acceptance by others; receive health, wealth, and prosperity. However, all of these are not the right reasons for coming to Christ.
II. The Evidences of True Repentance [40-42].
In contrast, the actions of the repentant criminal reveal 3 characteristics that give evidence of true repentance.
1. Genuine Fear of God . “But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?”” [Lk 23:40]. According to Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32, both the criminals were initially insulting Christ. However, one criminal’s heart had started to soften as he observed Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus’ prayer even for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” [Lk 23:34] had started to work in his heart. All of this led to a healthy fear of God [Prov 1:7]. And this resulted in him turning from his sins.
2. Acknowledgment of Sin . “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” [Lk 23:41]. The repentant criminal did not blame his parents, society, or circumstances for his sins. He took full responsibility for his sins, as evidenced by the words, “punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”
3. Trusting in Christ Alone for Deliverance . “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”” [Lk 23:42]. Repentance alone will not save anyone. Those who are genuinely repentant will not only turn from their sins but will also recognize that their own efforts will not bring salvation. They will also trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins [Acts 20:21]. And that’s precisely what this repentant criminal did.
Notice a few truths that emerge from his request to the Lord.
a. Belief in the resurrection. Despite seeing Jesus on the cross, he fully believed that Jesus would rise from the dead and come back one day as King to set up his kingdom. His words, “when you come in your kingdom” [Lk 23:42], clearly indicate this truth. A picture of true faith!
b. Belief in a future judgment. He knew that in the future, he would face Jesus as the Judge for his sins [Acts 17:30-31]. That is why he kept saying, “remember me when you come.”
c. No reliance on good works for salvation. He did not say, “Remember my good works,” but “remember me.” He did not rely even one bit on his own good works for salvation. Instead, he depended only on Jesus to save him.
d. Not focused on earthly deliverance. He did not request Jesus to deliver him from the cross [like the other unrepentant criminal did], but only to show mercy in the life to come.
III. The Results of True Repentance and Faith in Christ .
The natural progression of true repentance and faith in Christ led to the reception of God’s amazing grace. Luke 23:43 reads, “Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” While the repentant criminal sought mercy for a time somewhere far in the future, he received instant mercy. He didn’t have to do any good works or endure further punishment after death. Instead, he was granted instant forgiveness, as the word “today” [literally, this very day] clearly indicates. It was not a false promise from Jesus since God “does not lie” [Tit 1:2]. Yes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Rom 10:13], and that too immediately!
1. It is never too late to receive God’s forgiving grace.
The repentant criminal stands as the classic example of this truth. If you have never repented and trusted in Christ, do not put it off. Some of you reading this may be thinking: “I am too bad to be forgiven.” If so, don’t despair. Jesus’ blood has the power to forgive every sin. The cross and the subsequent resurrection guarantee God’s provision and assurance concerning the forgiveness of ALL our sins. Others reading this may be thinking: “I will wait till the last minute and then fix my life.” The dangers of such thinking are many:
a. If you are not willing to give up your sins now, what is the guarantee that you will do so in the future? The heart only hardens over time.
b. You do not know when you will die. Remember, one criminal died on the cross with his sins transferred to Christ; the other criminal died on the cross still in his sins. A wise Christian once wrote, “We have one account of a death-bed repentance so that none need despair; we have only one, so that none may presume.”
2. Becoming a Christian does not guarantee earthly comforts but guarantees a wonderful heavenly life.
The repentant criminal was not delivered from the agony of the cross despite receiving forgiveness from Jesus. In other words, his earthly problems were not solved by coming to Jesus. However, since his hope lay in the life beyond and not in the present life, he gladly accepted his lot in life.
Similarly, every Christian’s true hope should rest in the coming life when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” [Rev 21:4]. We should joyfully be “looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” [2 Pet 3:13].