The Faith of a Thief
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
If not for the declaration of Christ, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” we might rightly wonder if the thief on the cross had truly been born again. But by examining his words, we can see the elements of the true saving faith that all genuine believers possess.
See then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man.
He called Jesus ‘Lord.’ He declared his belief that He would have a ‘kingdom.’ He believed that He was able to give him eternal life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him.
. . .
See, for another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, ‘We receive the due reward of our deeds.’ He acknowledges his own ungodliness, and the justice of his punishment. He makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse his wickedness. He speaks like a man humbled and self-abased by the remembrance of past iniquities. This is what all God’s children feel. They are ready to allow they are poor, hell-deserving sinners. They can say with their hearts as well as with their lips, ‘We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.’
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 251ndash;253.
So, even without the spoken promise of eternal life, we can see three proofs of saving faith: knowledge of who Jesus is, trust in his ability to save, and repentance.
What It Means to Be a Christian
What I Believe