Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 7 Page 20 July 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles
By Louis Rushmore

What About the 
Thief on the Cross?

I am doing Bible study and came across your website.  It is just awesome and I have found it so beneficial.  Please know I will pray for it's continued success in reaching individuals such as myself and those who have never been exposed to the word.

My question for you is this.    I believe the Bible gives us examples that in order for us to be saved we must repent of our sins and be baptized.  I think Christ reaffirmed this when he, who had no sin, was baptized.  I am having some confusion understanding the basis for the idea that you simply must have the faith, believe, ask God's forgiveness and you are saved which is the belief a friend has.  She pointed out to me that baptism is not alway necessary because on the cross, Christ told the theif that on that same day he would (the thief) be in heaven with him because of his faith.   Could you explain this to me?  Thank you.  - Patty Reeves


Dear Patty Reeves,

Thank you for the kind remarks regarding our webstie: Gospel Gazette Online. We hope that it continues to be useful to you as you broaden your knowledge of God’s Word. Please feel free to ask me any religious questions for which you desire a biblical answer. I will do my best to oblige.

You are correct that the New Testament teaches that baptism is necessary for one’s sins to be remitted. From the time Ephesians 4:5 was penned by the apostle Paul throughout the balance of the New Testament (through our present time), there is only one baptism authorized. That baptism is the same baptism of which Jesus spoke formerly in Mark 16:15-16 when giving the Great Commission. There, faith and baptism are presented as equals connected by a coordinate conjunction, the result of which is the remission of sins. The one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 is the baptism practiced in Acts 2:38 on the birthday of the church where repentance and baptism are joined preceding the remission of sins. This one baptism is water baptism as Acts 8:36-39 clearly indicates (and which followed professing that Jesus is the Christ and after which resulted in rejoicing). First Peter 3:20-21 also clearly indicates that the one baptism is in water and that baptism saves.

Obviously then, baptism in water (an obedient response to the command to be baptized, Acts 10:48) saves because it is at baptism one’s sins are remitted (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21). Acts 22:16 states that baptism washes away sins. Additionally, baptism is the point at which one’s sins are removed because: (1) Through baptism, one puts on Christ (like putting on a garment, Galatians 3:27); (2) Through baptism, one is symbolically placed into the death of Jesus Christ where his blood was shed (Romans 6:3-5). The blood of Christ ultimately is what saves one from sins (Revelation 1:5; Acts 20:28). (Incidentally, this one baptism is immersion or a burial as Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12 show.) (3) Through baptism, souls are saved and subsequently added to the church, which is the body of the saved, by Jesus himself (Acts 2:47; 20:28).

Baptism, of course, is not effective without first hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17), believing what the Word (Gospel) teaches (John 8:24), repenting of sin (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30) and professing Jesus to be the Christ (Romans 10:9-10). Also, baptism loses its effectiveness if Christians do not remain faithful (Revelation 2:10). Baptism, though, is the point at which one’s sins are taken away. Baptism is the culmination of obedience for which Jesus saves souls (Hebrews 5:8-9). Contrariwise, Jesus will punish the disobedient when he returns (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

The reason that people living today are required to be baptized is because baptism for the remission of sins is part of the Gospel of Christ, intended for the age in which we live. Before the Christian Age, God authored two previous religious laws for mankind: Patriarchy and Judaism. Both of these are contained in the Old Testament. Under both Patriarchy and Judaism, God-given religion employed animal sacrifices, among other differences from the Christian religion. The Book of Hebrews contrasts Patriarchy and Judaism with Christianity and teaches that animal sacrifices were shadows pointing to the great sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices were not able to remit sins (Hebrews 10:1-4). So, the blood of Christ proceeded backward to Patriarchy and Judaism to save those who complied with the laws under which they lived, as well as saves those who live in the Christian Age who also obey the perfect law of liberty or Gospel.

The New Testament (Gospel), then, replaced the Old Testament (2 Corinthians 3:6-11; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14; Romans 7:1-7; Hebrews 8:6-13). The thief on the cross, and Jesus himself, lived and died under Judaism and before the beginning of the church, the Christian Age and before the Great Commission baptism was effective. Jesus had not built his church yet during his earthly ministry; it was still future (Matthew 16:16-19). The first mention of the church as in existence is in Acts, after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and Ascension.

Therefore, since no one now living is authorized by God to practice either Patriarchy or Judaism (because God replaced them with the Gospel or New Testament), no one today could possibly be saved like the thief on the cross. Everyone now living is amenable to and must obey the Gospel, (which includes baptism).

People who believe that the thief on the cross represents faith only are sadly mistaken, since he as a Jew was a practitioner of Judaism. He lived and died under Judaism, and before his death repented and was forgiven by Jesus, under Judaism. Further, the only time the New Testament couples the words “faith” and “only” is to teach that “faith only” is false (James 2:24).

I hope that the above helps. Please tell me more about yourself and your background. Where do you live on planet earth? With what religious affiliation are you familiar? I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Yours in Christ,

Louis Rushmore


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