The robber was not saved because of his good behavior. He could not do good, nor had he ever done any good. His salvation was completely based upon the accomplishment of Christ’s death on his behalf. Please notice this. The qualification of a sinner for salvation is wholly related to Christ; it has nothing to do with the self. The robber was qualified to enter into Paradise not through any merit of his own. On the contrary, he had no merit at all. He was saved solely through the merit of Christ. If he had remained in the world, he should have grown in his spiritual life. This would have been the natural result of the new life he had received. However, he did not remain in the world; he did not have any works. The redemption of Christ alone was sufficient for him to go to heaven. After a man believes in the Lord, he should, of course, progress to good works which spontaneously come with the new life. However, good works do not make a believer more qualified to be saved. If he does not remain long in the world, he will naturally have no works. He need only depend on the merit of Christ to go to heaven. After someone believes in the Lord, he may perform many good works; but these good works do not help him as far as salvation is concerned. These good deeds will not add any merit to him or make him more qualified for salvation. Whether a believer dies immediately after believing or whether he continues in the world for decades, his qualification for salvation depends entirely on the merit of Christ’s shed blood which was for the redemption of sins. If he does not die, he should grow, because the life he received when he believed in the Lord must grow. Yet this growth will not help him become more qualified to receive eternal life. If he dies immediately, Christ’s merit is sufficient to allow him to enter into Paradise.
At Golgotha there were three crosses. In the middle was the cross of the Savior. On one side, there was the cross of the robber who was saved; on the other side, there was the cross of the robber who perished. The lives of the robber who was saved and robber who perished were separated by the cross of the Savior! These three crosses represent all the crosses in the world. These three crosses solve all the problems of sins in the world. The cross in the middle bore sins without hiding them. The cross on one side hid sins without bearing them, while the cross on the other side bore and hid sins. The robber who was saved was a sinner. He had sin in his heart and he hid his sin. But the Lord Jesus died for him and bore his sins. Therefore, although he hid his sins, he did not have to bear them. The Lord Jesus Christ has no sin. His death bore the sinners’ sins on their behalf. As such He did not hide the sins. He only bore the sins, the sins of others. He is the only person in the world who could do this. The robber who perished was a robber, so he too hid his sins in his heart. He did not believe that the Lord Jesus died for him; therefore, he did not receive the merit of the Lord Jesus’ bearing of his sins. For this reason, he had to bear his own sins. Hence, he both hid his sins and bore his sins. These two robbers typify all the sinners of the world. The difference between salvation and perdition is to believe or not believe in the substitutionary death of the cross. In the case of the robber who was saved, he hid his sins. But he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, he did not bear his sins. He had sins, but One died in his place. So he did not have to bear his own sins. The robber who perished was the same as the robber who was saved—both were sinners. However, he had to bear his sins himself and perish forever because he did not believe in the Lord Jesus’ death for him. The cross of the Lord Jesus separates all the sinners in the world into two big categories: the perishing and the saved. Those who believe in the cross are saved. Those who do not believe in the cross perish. On which side do you belong?
The robber who was saved was not saved through his goodness; he was a robber and had no goodness. The robber who perished did not perish through his own evil, because his saved companion was also a robber just like him. It was not a case of the better one saved and the worse one lost. The conducts of the two were no different. Their only difference was faith. Therefore, you need to see clearly that salvation has nothing to do with being good or bad. These two were both robbers; however, one was saved and one perished. The occupation of these two was the same—both were robbers. They were very much one in heart—they robbed together as partners. They murdered together and committed arson together. They were like a left and right hand. They cooperated with each other and helped each other. Even their destiny was the same—they were both taken by the Roman government. They were judged together and sentenced together. They even received the same punishment—they were both crucified on a cross. On the cross they mocked Christ in unison (Mark 15:32). I suppose it would be difficult in this world to find another pair of people like these two who lived together, died together, and were together in so many things. In their lifetime they traveled on the same path and received the same end in their physical bodies. However, their conditions in eternity are completely different and completely opposite from each other. After their death there was the difference of heaven and hell between them! One entered into Paradise, being called a son of God, and received eternal blessing. One was thrown into Hades to live with the devil and received eternal sufferings. At what point did this difference commence? It began during their last five minutes. One believed the Lord Jesus, so he had eternal life. One did not believe the Lord Jesus, so he was condemned. Please listen! The difference between salvation and perdition is not determined by your poverty, riches, foolishness, wisdom, tallness, shortness, honorableness, lowliness, goodness, or evil. Salvation or perdition is determined by whether or not you believe in the Lord Jesus’ substitutionary death.
Although in life the two robbers were very close, even inseparable, now they are separated forever! You and your wife may be very close to each other. If she has already believed in the Lord and if you do not believe, you will be forever separated! Do you have a saved mother? You may truly love her very much. However, if you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, I am afraid you will be forever separated from her! Do you have a deceased father who was saved? If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, you will never see him again! Do you have a little child whom you love? He is so young and innocent that he cannot yet believe. As such, he cannot now bear his own responsibility. The merit of the Lord Jesus’ substitutionary death has come upon him, and he is saved. For older ones, who can bear their own responsibilities, if you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, I am afraid that father and son, and mother and son will be separated and never be together again! Parents, please come quickly! Do you have relatives on the earth? If you want to be happily united forever, you must believe in the Lord Jesus. I am afraid that tonight, among those sitting here, many of you will be separated forever! Many loving couples will be separated forever! Many intimate friends will be separated forever! Many fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters will be separated forever! Alas! What a heartbreaking separation! What a sorrowful separation! There is no need to have such a separation! You must quickly believe in the Lord Jesus for your soul’s sake. You must quickly believe in the Lord Jesus for your loved one’s sake. You must quickly believe in the Lord Jesus for the sake of the dreadfulness of hell. You must quickly believe in the Lord Jesus for the sake of our heavenly Father’s mercy and love and Christ’s grace.
The matter of salvation should be decided before our breath expires. The robber was about to die. But he was not yet dead. He had the opportunity to be saved. Once he died, there would be no more opportunity. The Lord Jesus can save sinners. If He can save the robber, who can He not save? Therefore, do not fear that your sins are too great. You must believe in the Lord Jesus while you are still alive. You must confess Him as your Savior and Lord before the world. I urge you to make a decision right now. May the Holy Spirit help you make the right decision.
"Lord, right now I want to accept You as my Savior. Save me! Be merciful to a sinner like me so that I may not be condemned but may have eternal life."
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 06: The Christian (4), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)