Yes, Eternal Life is that Simple: Accept the Free Gift Now!

I was asked a great question after church recently. It involved a simple issue that we often misunderstand as Christians.  It is one that gets to the heart of some people’s issues with the doctrine of grace.

How is it fair that bad people can go to heaven if they repent on their deathbed?

I had spoken about the thief on the Cross during the message that morning.  He was one of the two guys who were executed next to Jesus.  Both of them start off their terrible morning mocking and cursing Jesus as they are dying. Seems strange, doesn’t it?  They have heavy iron nails pounded through their wrists and feet and they take time to revile Jesus.  Sin does strange things to people.

The one we refer to as the thief on the Cross, however, at some point has a change of heart.  He rebukes the other criminal for mocking Jesus and appears to repent for his deeds.  He then looks to Jesus before he dies and asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus enters into His Kingdom.   Talk about a last minute appeal to God.

Yet, Jesus hears his desperate cries.  He tells the thief that he will be with Jesus in paradise that same day.  It is a remarkable turnaround.

The question that this account raised was how that criminal who was being rightly executed for his crimes could see Jesus in paradise immediately after his death? How is this fair?

The thief was a very bad guy, after all.  He spent his life in rebellion against God.  He even mocked Jesus as the crucifixion began.  In his bad column from life was a whole lifetime of evil.  In his good column, pretty much nothing that we would view as substantial.

How is it fair that this criminal is allowed into heaven even though he did absolutely nothing good in his life?

Seems logical, right?  It appeals to our sense of justice and fairness to want to make the thief work for his ticket into paradise, doesn’t it?  Bad people getting saved is a good thing.  But it seems like they should have to work really hard to make up for their life before they can be like us normal people, right? Our ideas of fair play and justice rebel against them getting off without working for it.  How does this make sense?

Bad people getting saved is a good thing.  But it seems like they should have to work really hard to make up for their life before they can be like us normal people.  Our ideas of fair play and justice rebel against them getting off without working for it.  How is this fair?

The answer to the question is both wonderful and challenging.

Yes, the thief did absolutely nothing to deserve salvation.  He was a thief, a blasphemer and likely a murderer.  He could never do enough or be good enough to deserve heaven.  From his works, he deserved eternal punishment and does not get what he earned.  Instead, he is given an eternal reward for free.

No, he did not deserve what he received, but that is the whole point.  Eternal life is not something anyone deserves.  Rather, it is something that we receive for free.  It is God’s grace, His free gift to us despite us…because of Jesus.

Jesus gave His life on the cross next to the thief.  He is the one to focus on when the question of who earned anything.  He is the one who did the hard work.  Only He deserved heaven as He is the only perfectly righteous one.  He did everything necessary to save Himself and earn a free and easy trip to eternal life.

Instead, Jesus secured a place in heaven for sinners like us by willingly dying a horrible death.  Jesus worked hard and earned God’s favor so that we who can’t don’t need to.

The only thing the thief needed to do was to agree with what was so abundantly, clearly true.  That Jesus is Lord.

That an innocent man gave His life as a sacrifice.

This is the heart of the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace.  It means that salvation is a gift freely given to those who do not deserve it and could never earn it.  If we pay for it, it is not free after all.

The wonderful simplicity of this truth can be challenging.  Really bad people like the thief get to heaven after a lifetime of terribleness.  It seems unfair somehow.  Until of course we take a long look in the mirror and see how terrible we have been on an everyday basis.  Lying, cheating, and lusting are all sins, we know, but when we do it they are not that bad, right?  We need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the thief or the worst murderer.  Though their crimes are certainly worse than our sins, murder is worse than lusting, we are just as helpless as they are before a sinless God.  Arguing about degrees of sin misses the point entirely.

Until of course we take a long look in the mirror and see how terrible we have been on an everyday basis.  Lying, cheating, stealing and lusting are all sins, we know, but when we do it they are not that bad, right?  We need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the thief or the worst murderer.  Though their crimes are certainly worse than our sins, murder is worse than lusting, we are just as helpless as they are before a sinless God.  Arguing about degrees of sin misses the point entirely.

We need God’s grace and mercy just as much as the thief or the worst murderer.  Though their crimes are certainly worse than our sins, murder is worse than lusting, we are just as helpless as they are before a sinless God.  Arguing about degrees of sin misses the point entirely.

Since we have sin on our record, big and little, we need God’s free gift as much as the thief and the murderer.  Jesus died just as much for us as them.

It is a simple concept. It is a simple offer made by the One who gave up everything to earn the right to make it.  His life exchanged for ours.  His mercy and forgiveness exchanged for our simply accepting what is true.  Jesus is Lord!

Grace can blow your mind and change your life if you grab hold of it.

Salvation is free to me, wow, we can never forget that fact.  But our salvation cost Jesus greatly, wow, we can never forget that fact.

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