The story of the criminal crucified with Jesus is one of Scriptures’ most dramatic conversion stories (Luke 23:32-43). About to die, the man had no time to clean up his life. Yet, because he believed in Jesus, he went to be with Him (Luke 23:42-43).

This story of God’s grace illustrates the truth Paul presented to the Ephesian believers in Jesus: “It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved! . . . God saved you by his grace when you believed. . . . Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done” (Ephesians 2:5,8-9).

The reality that believers are saved by grace, through Jesus’ work, is central. But this principle could lead some to argue that living good lives is unimportant—unnecessary even.

As a condemned man, the criminal on the cross couldn’t do any service for God after he believed. But Paul has clearly taught elsewhere that those who’ve been saved by Jesus will do the work God has prepared for them to do. “[God] has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10). As John Calvin put it, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” If we say we believe in Jesus, but fail to do things that demonstrate this, one might question whether our claim to believe is true (James 2:14-26).

In another letter, Paul reiterated the truth that Jesus died “to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14).

And Christ gave us yet another reason to be eager to do good works: “so that everyone will praise [our] heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). When we serve by His power and leading, God is truly pleased (Hebrews 13:16).

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Genesis 19:15-29