What About The Thief on The Cross?

“Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” – Acts 16:32-33

opened bible on wooden surfaca

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We’ve been discussing restoration of New Testament Christianity so that we can do what the early Christians of the first Century did. Throughout the book of Acts, we’ve seen what people did in response to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They believed, they repented, and they were baptized. They also verbalized that belief in Christ.

So, why is it today that people don’t want to do those same things? Why do people teach that all a person needs to do is believe in Jesus to be saved, when that’s not even what He taught? That’s not what the apostles taught either. And that’s not what people did to be saved.

Enter the Philippian jailer who tried to kill himself when the prisoners’ chains came off and the prison doors were opened after Paul and Silas praised God at midnight in the jail. After Paul persuaded him not to harm himself, the jailer “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'” (Acts 16:29-30).

So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:31-32).

What was the jailer’s response? “Immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33). He asked them what he needed to do to be saved, they spoke the message of Christ, and he and his family responded by being baptized. It’s clear. A person must be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16).

Notice that earlier in the chapter, Lydia’s response was the same. The text says, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:14-15). That’s the response to the gospel: baptism, accompanied with repentance and belief.

So then, you may ask, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then what about the thief on the cross? Recall when Jesus was being crucified with two criminals, that one of them said to Him, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus’ reply was: “Assuredly, I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

People usually bring up the thief on the cross to discuss to say they can be saved just by asking the Lord. That’s not what the Bible teaches. Notice a few things about the passage regarding the thief on the cross that make him an example that we are unable to follow today.

  1. The Old Covenant was still in effect during the time that the thief was on the cross. A testament (or will, or covenant) is not in effect until after a person dies (Heb. 9:16-17). Jesus’ will and testament for us was not in effect while He was on the cross. So His will that states that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved did not apply to the thief on the cross. It applies to us today, however (Heb. 9:15).
  2. Jesus had the power to forgive sins while on earth (Matt. 9:6). He still has the power in heaven; He simply employs that power by way of baptism and repentance (Acts 2:38). While He walked the earth, Jesus could pardon a person’s sins by speaking the word. He chooses today to forgive sins and save people in a different way (1 Pet. 3:21).
  3. If we know the truth of God’s Word and what He wants for our lives or if we have access to that information in any way, then we should not wait until we’re taking our last breath to try to get right with God when we are unable to do exactly what He’s commanded to be saved. Christianity is about living life for Jesus. It’s about being faithful and serving the Lord and others and being faithful until death – not being faithful at death (Rev. 2:10). It’s up to the Lord to decide what happens to someone who waits until their dying day to try to get right with God without repenting, without confessing His name, and without being baptized. But while we know what to do and while we have the opportunity to do so, we ought to go ahead and do it and not wait until it’s eternally too late.

Let’s strive to not be like the thief on the cross and to not wait until our dying breath to try to get right with God. Let’s be like Lydia and the jailer who, when they heard the Word of Christ, responded with repentant hearts by being baptized.

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16



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