3 Uses for The Thief on the Cross

The thief on the cross was a scummy guy. Luke calls him a “malefactor” which is the KJV word for “criminal.” Matthew calls him a thief. He must have been a notorious thief to get crucifixion.

We don’t know much about him. Luke is the Gospel that gives us the most information and the only Gospel that records his conversion or repentance or whatever word people use to describe his about-face.

The Thief on the Cross comes up in three main ways, two of which are horrible and probably cause the Thief on the Cross to roll over in his grave:

1) It’s never too late to come to Christ for salvation. There is always time, even if you are scum of the earth, forgiveness is near.
2) Hey, the Thief on the Cross waited until just before death to get saved, that’s my plan too! I’ll live it up in sin and then right before death I’ll come to Jesus and I’ll be good to go.
3) Good works are not necessary fruits of salvation, that’s legalism and works-righteousness! Look at the thief on the cross!

Number One is the only legitimate usage of the Thief on the Cross.

Number Two just shows hard-hearted rebellion that is trying to game the system. If you know that much about Scripture and willfully decide to play this game, I don’t think it will go well for you. Also, not everyone has hours to die to make this plan work anyway.

Number Three is probably the most common usage out of the Thief on the Cross. I’ve heard it many times and it gets me riled each time. I’ll explain more tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “3 Uses for The Thief on the Cross”

  1. “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. -Matt. 7 :17-21

    A person who has no desire to know or do God’s will, reveals that their heart hasn’t been changed by the power of God. A person who is truly trusting in Christ as their Savior, Lord, and heart treasure, will be radically changed by the grace that God has shown them, by living a life that glorifies Christ. If a person continues in living as their-self as the center of their life, only proves their heart has not been transformed.

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for making us think about this story. I look forward to your next lesson.

    What impresses me about the excuses you mention is that it shows how blinded we become by sin, to the point that we think we can outsmart God. This in itself shows a complete misunderstanding of what salvation is all about. Therefore, whoever pursues this course, will obviously not be saved…it’s doomed from the start.

    Salvation is a work that God works for us and in us, when we are fully disgusted with our bondage to sin and longing to be free. He gives the faith, he does the work. It’s not something we can turn on or off at will (although we can certainly put ourselves in places where we are more likely to receive His grace…but even then it is His Spirit that prompts us and encourages us). We have to accept it when it comes to us, and refusing to do so grieves the Holy Spirit, and makes our hearts harder, so that it is more difficult to receive Him the next time.

    I also think that anyone who thinks that they can fool God by repenting at the last moment, will eventually become so joined to their sinful pleasures, that they’ll either lose any fear of God at all, and therefore not repent (if they even had the time before dying), or they will come to see themselves as “not so bad”, and therefore think they are fit for heaven as they are. But assuming that such a person would try to repent on their deathbed, it would just be fear-based, not faith-based, and therefore, like Cain’s offering, just “filthy rags”.

    The thief on the cross who repented was not such a case. He saw Christ’s divinity and sinlessness at a time when almost nobody else did. That was real faith! His faith was not based on what the majority were doing, for the majority at the cross were denying Christ. He saw the glorious character of the suffering, meek Christ, and recognized it as divine. He wasn’t looking for miracles. Like the apostles, he was drawn to Christ because of the “words of life.”

    He saw it all, and in contrast saw his own desperate need. He admitted his guilt, that he deserved the cross for his sins. There was no attempt to lessen the sentence, to complain about getting punished, or to escape the penalty. He probably didn’t even know much of what Christ’s kingdom would be about, but he knew Jesus was called a King, and he saw that unearthly, kingly character, and said in his heart, “That’s the kingdom I want to be part of.”

    Then, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he did the only works he was capable of doing at that time, which was to openly confess his own guilt, and his need of a Saviour. This was not an insignificant work…even Peter, the apostle, failed to confess Christ in this trying time. It was a bold, courageous work, and God chose to record it in the Bible as a memorial of what real faith looks like.

    I think those who use this story as an excuse for not doing righteous works, obviously have no idea what real faith is, nor love for Christ. They only want the reward of heaven as cheaply as possible. They, in essence, sell their Lord for 30 pieces of silver. In no way would they confess Christ under the same circumstances that the thief was in.

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