Luke 23:42-43 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This is of course a very famous incident, but what strikes me right now is how informal the man’s confession of faith was. Not only was he never baptized in water, he never “said the right words,” by the standards of many churches today. However, speaking of someone who was nailed to a cross “coming into their kingdom” was a very high level of faith! Don Francisco created one of his very moving narrative songs about this, speaking of the man being grateful for the privilege of dying beside the Christ. When we create formulas for salvation we can miss out in both directions. Many would say that someone who did no more than this man “couldn’t possibly be saved,” whereas a sad number of people who have been through the formula actually aren’t saved at all, because they haven’t committed their heart to Jesus as Lord. We’ve got to remember that God looks on the heart, and externals tend to mean very little.
I find this both challenging and encouraging. It’s challenging because formulas are far easier to deal with than heart commitment, and so much easier to confirm! It’s encouraging to realize that some of the people to whom I’ve ministered, though they didn’t go through the formula, may well have made an internal commitment that God will deem sufficient for their salvation. I’m reminded of a vision I had at the time Emperor Hirohito was dying. I was at a Charismatic prayer meeting in a Catholic home with a dozen or so people, and we were praying for him. I knew that he had heard the Gospel many times, and I knew that his daughter-in-law Michiko was a genuine believer, even though hemmed in by the Imperial Household Agency. It was a very brief vision, but I saw, and heard, Hirohito say, “Michiko, you were right.” Immediately I felt God saying, “That’s enough.” I cannot be definitive, but I will not be surprised to find Hirohito in heaven, despite all the atrocities of WWII for which he bore some real responsibility. I’m also reminded of someone I knew who had tried to commit suicide by hanging, but the rope broke. He said that at the moment he stepped off the chair, he cried out, “Jesus!” in his heart. He never attempted suicide again, but he was certainly convinced that suicide was not an unforgivable sin. I am not to ignore the Biblical indicators of saving faith, but I am not to be formulaic. I am to offer myself as a tool of the Holy Spirit, so that He may work in people’s hearts and minds to bring them to repentance and faith for salvation. What that is going to look like is up to Him.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all You are doing in and around me, and even through me. On this Good Friday may I genuinely meditate on all that You have done, for me personally and for all mankind, in sending Jesus to the cross and then raising Him from death, so that Your grace may be fully operative in and through me, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!