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
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,