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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Golgotha | Main | The Big Three »

    The Thief on the Cross by Pastor John Samson

    Luke 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.”

    I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called "bad deeds' would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn't it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

    What would a spokeman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation - and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

    Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here's my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

    This thief's salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

    As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus' words, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" removes all doubt.

    Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, "Don't you fear God?" Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

    He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved - "we indeed suffer justly" he said.

    He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, "he has done nothing wrong."

    When he turned to Jesus and requested, "Remember me when You come into Your kingdom" though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

    In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

    So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

    As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

    What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!

    Posted by John Samson on January 13, 2010 03:37 PM

    Comments

    I understand and perfectly agree with your point. The problem is that you seem to be unaware of the amazing ability that the religionists have to justify their points of view and to prove with sophisticated reasonings that, in any case, the thief "deserved" his own salvation, making of his statements, repentance or faith a meritorious work sufficient for his salvation. The muslims would say that the thief was an Islamic martyr killing infidels in order to further Allah's cause. "Certainly" the promised virgins would welcome him in paradise. The humanist would say that he was saved because he was a victim of an injust society and that his crimes were understandable and forgivable. The Buddhist would say that he was enlightened and, transcending the impermanence of physical reality and guilt, earned his own nirvana, or become reincarnated and he would have given anyway a chance to redeem himself. etc. etc. Do not downplay what people could devise in order to deny the Gospel. Be assured that they would find the way to contradict Biblical Christianity!

    Hi Paolo,

    I am very much aware of how people distort the gospel - and that is indeed something I wished to illustrate in my article. Man's religious systems cannot simply allow the biblical text to speak for itself, yet based on Scripture alone, the thief was justified by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone. The contrast between this and every other system is clearly seen.

    John,

    brillant stuff here!

    I was especially touched by these words in the first part of the sentence:::>

    "....As God opens our hearts....".

    That is the amazing fact of that story.

    Just when did God open up his heart?

    What I find equally amazing in the reality of that event is what Jesus to Pilate after Pilate chided Him for not answering him.

    "Do you not know" Pilate spat!

    "Oh, but, you do not know" Jesus calmly spoke!!

    The one thief seems to have gotten the understanding Pilate didn't have?

    Anyway, I was blessed reading this today!

    May God richly bless you and keep your mind furtile with Truth and truth telling by sermon and otherwise!

    Bless you!

    I translated this reflection into Italian and I pt in in my own blog: http://paolocastellina.blogspot.com/2010/01/il-malfattore-appeso-in-croce-che.html

    G'day John
    Are we in exactly the same situation as the thief on the cross?

    I think that he represents us in some ways, but not others.

    I find it disturbing when people say that if the thief could have instant assurance of salvation, we also can have this same assurance if we:
    Ask for forgiveness, but do not continue to live as Christians
    Don't bother to be baptised, because the thief didn't need to be
    Never darken the doors of a church because the thief didn't
    etc
    etc

    Hi David,

    Unlike the thief, most of us are not pinned to a cross and so the fruit of true faith (works) can be exercised. If no works follow from the profession of faith - then the faith was not genuine/authentic. Only true faith justifies - and true faith will show itself in works. Yet we are saved the same way as the thief- being justified by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28; 4:4,5).

    Holiness is the fruit and not the root of salvation.

    Salvation is certainly all of grace :)

    To be justified as this, must we feel the full of our sinfulness and its full judgement as did the thief hanging on the cross of death? Can we yet sin after and still have this kind of assurance remain? Where all our sin has yet to be seen as just in knowing we deserve death? I had known my heart had no good and even my life but not my sins at that time! And have sinned since! Can assurance be as full as the thief if one sins after he has been justified?

    Thanks be to God for this post; it has refreshed my heart and strengthened me in my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and gave Himself for us.

    Dear John,

    I am making a translation of your article on the thief crucified with Christ into the Indian dialect of Malayalam.

    If the Lord provides for the printing, we shall take 10,000 copies to be inserted in the newspapers in the morning of Good Friday next year.

    I am also looking for an appropriate picture for the front cover of the tract.

    Thank you for the article.

    In His abundant grace,

    Pappy Daniel.

    Hi, although i have alot i could say about the thief on the cross. I just want to comment on david's statement. not only you but alot of people asume that once one has asked for forgiveness,that is nothing more to do. In my experience if you recieve that forgiveness, you will want to be baptised.

    The thief was saved while the Old Testament was still in effect. He is not an example of salvation under the Gospel at all.
    The truth is that the thief was saved under a different law and dispensation than we are under.
    Col 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way,nailing it to the cross.

    Walter,

    Obviously you are expousing some sort of hyper dispensationalism that is foreign to the teaching of the Bible.

    The whole point of Paul's teaching in Romans 3 and 4 is to show that justification by faith alone is the biblical gospel and this was the case in both Old and New testaments, exhibit A being Abraham, who believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

    There are not two gospels.. only one, and justification is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Old Testament people were justified by faith in the One to come (which all the types and shadows pointed forward to); New Testamant, through faith in the One who has come, not of works, lest any man should boast.

    right before Jesus died on the cross,he made it very clear that salvation is by grace plus nothing.I've always used this story, to try explain to people that salvation is the knowledge of we are born in sin, and nothing but faith in what Christ did on the cross can save us, the sinner's prayer. the Romans road of salvation, 3:23 5:12 6:23 10:9 and 10. Romans 8:1a,that's a very important,,,,,,. God's plan of salvation has been attacked by Satan in many ways, Jesus said enter in at the narrow gate, because the wide gate leads to hell. Jesus said few be that find it. Revelation 7:9 tells us there is a great multitude of saved in white robes, percentage of all the lost and saved it's few that except God's plan Ephesians 2:8,9.Cain tried it, his works,good deeds,baptismal Regeneration,works to keep your self saved, which the old timers called progressive santifacation, we are saved by Grace and kept byhe is Grace. Cain had every chance to do what God said to do, offer blood sacafice. He refused, got mad at his righteous brother. Man is still getting mad at God's plan. In the book of James 2:20 is talking about what the world sees not what God's sees. Only God's knows for sure who is really saved. This is what's so dangerous about The doctrine of Lordship salvation teaching,Christians do and can get in to serious sin,but there is a sin unto death and Hebrews 12:1-13. God deals with his children, and only he knows who they are. Let me end by saying i am thankful for my mom and dad,but it was my Mother who got up early on Sunday morning and got 4 children ready to go to Sunday school and Church and my dad took us and dropped us off, until one Sunday he was invited by a phone call on sat. night he came and was saved in the near future, cause my mom had turned on that little black and white zenith t.v. every time Billy Graham came on t.v. back there in early 1950's, yes God's makes it clear those who plant and those who water are any thing but God who gives the increase.God bless.


    Jesus told the man on the cross he would be in the paradise with him that day. Recall Jesus told someone who asked that he must sell everything he has, give it to the poor, pick up his cross and follow him. The man on the cross was on the cross at the end of his live and his work was the believe and repentance to Jesus. It appears that God has the last say.
    Then to ponder if it be works what about the devil or what about

    religions who kill and think they are doing it for God. Perhaps God is

    saying if you believe in me alone I will have the last say. God is the

    judge.


    Read this elsewhere..
    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2010/01/the_thief_on_the_cross_by_past

    .php

    "Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could

    announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him

    in Paradise!"

    First he was near the blood of Jesus and repented. Jesus being the son of God must have known his heart, sincerity and his life. He said to love your enemies and your nab our. That is what he taught. And on that cross Jesus also said forgive them for they not know what they do. But it is written that the Jews would be trampled on by the gentiles until the return of Christ. So God (His father) has the last say as well. The other important fact is Jesus said that lots of people say yes to God but do not do his will. He said they read the letter of the law. But disobey the heart of the law.

    The ultimate CASE that is demonstrated in all the work of God. through Jesus Christ is that the love of God (The eternal) living God is rich and beyond anything we can imagine. He can give that type of love but people can do the opposite. Yes God is REAL!!

    People need to repent and worship in Spirit and truth. Recall John the baptists telling people to repent. It's time to Repent. Repent. And love your nab-our as yourselves. The lord said VANITY is vain. Thank you Jesus.

    Wonderful insight on your article John.

    Interesting. The Word never uses the phrase "saved by grace alone" but it does say "by grace through faith", and the only place the word mentions "faith alone", it condemns it as erroneous. God bless.

    Cecelio,

    Allow me to quote from R. C. Sproul - Knowing Scripture; InterVasity Press, p. 83, 84

    "In Romans 3:28 Paul says, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." In James 2:24 we read, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." If the word justify means the same thing in both cases, we have an irreconcilable contradiction between two biblical writers on an issue that concerns our eternal destinies. Luther called "justification by faith" the article upon which the church stands or falls. The meaning of justification and the question of how it takes place is no mere trifle. Yet Paul says it is by faith apart from works, and James says it is by works and not by faith alone.

    To make matters more difficult, Paul insists in Romans 4 that Abraham is justified when he believes the promise of God before he is circumcised. He has Abraham justified in Genesis 15. James says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" (James 2:21). James does not have Abraham justified until Genesis 22.

    This question of justification is easily resolved if we examine the possible meanings of the term justify and apply them within the context of the respective passages. The term justify may mean (1) to restore to a state of reconciliation with God those who stand under the judgment of his law or (2) to demonstrate or vindicate.

    Jesus says for example, "Wisdom is justified of all her children" (Lk 7:35 KJV). What does he mean? Does he mean that wisdom is restored to fellowship with God and saved from his wrath? Obviously not. The plain meaning of his words is that a wise act produces good fruit. The claim to wisdom is vindicated by the result. A wise decision is shown to be wise by its results. Jesus is speaking in practical terms, not theological terms, when he uses the word justified in this way.

    How does Paul use the word in Romans 3? Here, there is no dispute. Paul is clearly speaking about justification in the ultimate theological sense.

    What about James? If we examine the context of James, we will see that he is dealing with a different question from Paul. James says in 2:14, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" James is raising a question of what kind of faith is necessary for salvation. He is saying that true faith brings forth works. A faith without works he calls a dead faith, a faith that is not genuine. The point is that people can say they have faith when in fact they have no faith. The claim to faith is vindicated or justified when it is manifested by the fruit of faith, namely works. Abraham is justified or vindicated in our sight by his fruit. In a sense, Abraham's claim to justification is justified by his works. The Reformers understood that when they stated the formula, "Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.""

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