One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:39-43 ESV)
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The thief was a person like any of us, dying a death he deserved for the crime he had committed, and in the midst of all of it Jesus had mercy on him. When he closed his eyes in death in this world he opened them in Paradise in the next. Powerful, heavy stuff that deserves to be preached often.
However, it is disturbing to me how often this story is used as an out for obedience to the clear commands for Christians found in the Bible.
So many people seem to view this man as the universal out, the story they can pull up to justify why they don’t do follow such New Testament commands as baptism, church attendance, communion, monetary giving, sin killing, and many, many more.
“Well, the thief on the cross didn’t do that and he still went to heaven, so I don’t have to do that, either.”
All I have to say to that is this : Grow up.
No, the thief wasn’t baptized. He didn’t attend church with other Christians. He didn’t take communion or give money to the church. He didn’t see fruits of sanctification, evangelize to the lost, learn theology, encourage others in their Christian walk, etc.
He didn’t have time.
Unless you are a brand-new Christian reading this post on your death bed, you have time for these things. (If you are on your deathbed, please switch to reading the Bible. I won’t mind.)
You have time to find a church, get plugged in, give sacrificially, read your Bible, learn theology, fellowship with other Christians, sing and pray to God, and take communion. You have time to be baptized as a physical and public sign of your faith. You have time to make war with your sin and time to tell others about Jesus.
It is true that you don’t need to do any of these things to be saved. Salvation comes by faith in Christ through His grace and cannot be earned.
If you don’t do any of these things, don’t want to do them, and feel no guilt for not doing them, though, you may have a problem.
Instead of figuring out how to use the Bible’s stories of God’s incredible grace and mercy to excuse your behavior, grow up. Find a church. Read your Bible. Get baptized. Tell others about the One who brought you from death to life. Not because you are checking things off a to-do list for salvation, but because you are willing to do anything that Jesus, your most precious treasure, has commanded and enabled you to do.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
(Philippians 2:12-16 ESV, emphasis mine)