Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

Lk 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Those who deny the necessity of baptism for salvation today often point to the thief who died beside Jesus as an example or pattern to prove their point. Many overlook Jesus’ own teaching elsewhere and numerous other New Testament passages that connect baptism with salvation. They seem to think that the entire question is answered by this simple statement: “Well, the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized!” They may go on to stress their conviction that, because we are saved by grace through faith, even God cannot require that we meet any conditions.
A quick mention of the Passover will remind us that God’s conditions do not contradict His grace. According to Ex 12:1-13, the Hebrews were required to take lamb’s blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses. God would “pass over” every house where He saw the blood. The posting of the blood was required. It was a condition of their deliverance. Yet it did not earn their deliverance or contradict the fact that God saved them by grace.
Yet many teach that teaching the necessity of baptism as a required condition contradicts grace. One well-known author writes regarding this thief:
Self-righteousness means that human beings can do something to merit favor from God. Since this thief was nailed to a cross, what acts of self-righteousness could he do? He could not join a church, do good deeds, or even be baptized. He was in a helpless position. We also are in a similar helpless position since we are incapable of doing any sort of righteous act to merit God's favor. God sees our acts of self-righteousness as a filthy garment, if we are using them to gain favor from Him (Isa 64:6). 
He is saying that, if baptism were necessary to receive salvation, then it must be an effort to merit or earn God’s favor. It must be an act of self-righteousness. That author has concluded that, since we cannot earn God’s free gift by our own meritorious deeds, God cannot require baptism as a necessary expression of faith. God certainly required the Passover blood to be put on the door. Why could He not require other expressions of faith, such as baptism?
So, based on clear biblical teaching, we must challenge the popular belief that baptism is not essential. We will seek to show that baptism, like repentance or even faith, earns nothing. It is neither self-righteous nor meritorious. It is rather a necessary expression of faith which God requires of those who wish to receive His free gift. It is similar to the Passover observance in that baptism applies the blood.
Before we do that we must insist that the thief was saved by grace and not his own merit. He was forgiven by the blood Jesus shed, as a free gift of God. He knew that [1] he was guilty, [2] his death was near, [3] he could not undo his sins, [4] he could not earn forgiveness, [5] Jesus was innocent and undeserving of death, [6] there is a life beyond this life, [7] Jesus was the King who would enter His Kingdom, even though He would die, [8] Jesus had the power and mercy to “remember” him when that time came, and [9] it was not too late to ask.
Of course, since that thief knew about Jesus’ claims and His Kingdom, it is quite possible that the thief had heard Jesus’ teachings in the past. He may have been among the multitudes who actually were baptized – by John the Baptist – for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4-5). It is also true that Jesus forgave some individuals directly and personally while on earth (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48-50; John 8:10-11), before His death and resurrection. The thief was not the only one. Such granting of forgiveness was certainly His prerogative.
However, let’s go back for a moment. Jesus’ promise to the thief came only in response to the thief’s request. The thief asked.
Was that really necessary? It was. If he had not asked, Jesus would not have promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” His asking Jesus to remember him did not contradict grace. His question was not meritorious or self-righteous. He did not think he was contributing to his salvation; rather, he was confessing his spiritual bankruptcy and his need for the salvation that he could not earn!
Our point is simply this. Once Jesus gave the Great Commission, one thing is abundantly clear in Acts and in the New Testament letters. In the new covenant era, lost sinners are to repent and be baptized to ask God for the free gift of eternal life by His grace.
Mk 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Ac 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Ac 16:30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Ac 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
In fact, the New Testament even describes baptism as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Scripture makes clear that it is Jesus Christ, not we, who can provide this free salvation for which we ask when we are baptized.
1 Pe 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Ironically, many who deny the necessity of baptism still instruct others to pray the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” to ask the Lord for salvation. This is ironic for three reasons.
First, they see no contradiction between salvation by grace and the importance of asking. They would never think that the “Sinner’s Prayer” is an act of self-righteous merit or that it contributes in any way to the price of salvation. Nor do they think that repentance, which the “Sinner’s Prayer” also expresses, earns God’s free gift. Since baptism in the Bible is simply the way God has directed that we ask for salvation, how could it contradict grace, if the “Sinner’s Prayer” does not?
Second, the “Sinner’s Prayer” is not found in Scripture. No one in Acts or elsewhere was ever told to pray this prayer in order to receive salvation. Rev 3:20 is not written to the lost but to those in the church in Laodicea who had excluded Him. How could people ignore the consistent examples of baptism in Acts and substitute something for which there is no biblical example?
Third, what they ascribe to the “Sinner’s Prayer,” the Bible ascribes to baptism. Baptism is not an act of self-righteous merit. It does not contribute in any way to the price of salvation. It is an expression of faith, from a broken, lost sinner, that asks Jesus in effect, “… remember me when you come into your kingdom.” If it’s OK to say, “God will do this when you pray this prayer,” why is it not OK to say, “God will do this when you repent and are baptized?” Strange, isn’t it?
So the question is not just, “Are we saved by grace?” The answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” The question is rather, “Are there any conditions we must meet in order to receive God’s grace?” The answer to that question is also a resounding, “Yes!”
Do you need to be baptized? Let’s ask this first. Do you know, as that thief did, that [1] you are guilty, [2] your death is coming, [3] you cannot undo your sins, [4] you cannot earn forgiveness, [5] Jesus was innocent and undeserving of death, [6] there is a life beyond this life, [7] Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom, even though He died, [8] Jesus has the power and mercy to “remember” you in His Kingdom, and [9] it is not too late to ask?
If so, then yes! You need to be baptized.
Ac 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
Cory Collins

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great points, well said. Thanks!