Luke 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Just before his last breath the thief on the cross heard these words from Jesus—simply because he acknowledged him as his Messiah and King. He had had no opportunity to do any good works in obedience to the Lord—he simply put his faith in Jesus Christ. And so he was saved “by grace through faith.”
But elsewhere in Scripture we see something different in operation.
Luke 12:46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
From servants “who have been given much, much will be demanded.” Conversely, from servants who have been given little, little will be demanded. Servants can be none other than believers who serve our Lord Jesus Christ. In Luke 12 Jesus warns that some of his servants will be “cut to pieces and assigned a place with the unbelievers.” These represent believers to whom were given much—who unlike the thief on the cross were given time to live on earth and opportunities to serve their master—who failed to produce fruit for the Lord. Consequently they were assigned a place with the unbelievers.
Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
“Faithful and wise servants” who carry out what is commanded of them will be given authority to reign with Christ in his Kingdom. What will happen to servants who love the world (1 John 2:14-15) and are not faithful to carry out the tasks entrusted to them?
Matthew 24:48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The wicked servant will be “assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In the parable of the “talents” the master summoned three servants and gave them bags of gold each according to his ability. The first two servants were faithful to invest their master’s gold and both doubled what their master had entrusted to them. But the third servant was not and hid his master’s gold in the ground.
Matthew 25:24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
What was the consequence of the third servant’s disobedience?
Matthew 25:26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Unlike the thief on the cross who had absolutely no opportunity to serve the Lord before he died and was taken to paradise, this third servant was in fact given a bag of gold—opportunity to serve his master. But due to laziness leading to the excuse of fear of failure he did not invest the master’s gold. And he suffered the consequences. Many believers have opportunities to serve the Lord, but because they are lazy they do not.
Matthew 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This guest was invited to the wedding banquet and actually showed up, but was not chosen because he was not properly attired. What does it mean to wear “wedding clothes?”
Revelation 19:8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Proper “wedding clothes” therefore refer to accepting the invitation to the Lord’s wedding banquet, and then “putting on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). The wedding clothes include performing “the righteous acts of God’s holy people.” True saving faith will result in righteous acts in obedience to God’s commands. Otherwise like the improperly attired gentleman at the wedding banquet of Matthew 22, we might stand “speechless” before the Lord.
Faith without works is dead.
Some of us will be like the thief on the cross with little or no opportunity to serve the Lord by doing good works, yet we will be saved. Others among us will be exposed to wonderful teaching from Scripture and given opportunities to serve. Such believers must show themselves to be faithful and fruitful with righteous acts. Many of us are invited, but few of us will be chosen. Those of us who will be chosen from among the invitees to the wedding banquet of the Lamb are those who will be wearing the proper wedding clothes—righteous acts.
A Hindu living in an impoverished village in India who accepts Christ into his or her heart after hearing the gospel might be like the thief on the cross. They will likely have little opportunity to serve the Lord, yet will be saved. But believers who enjoy God’s material and spiritual blessings in America and the West—who have abundant opportunities to serve—will be highly accountable.
Luke 12:48 …From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Our Lord Jesus Christ says to the Church of the Last Days:
Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”