The Thief on the Cross and Your Lack of Good Works

I have had discussions with people who try to deny the reality that salvation always results in good works. Why people would even argue the ineffectiveness of the Gospel is beyond me, but they do.

The Thief on the Cross is always trotted out as proof-text number one. “The Thief on the Cross didn’t do any good works and he was saved.”

Let me express my two primary arguments against this case.

1) There is a big difference between you and the Thief on the Cross.

The last person I had this argument with said they had been saved for 15 years. The Thief on the Cross didn’t do anything, so neither do I. Two huge points loom:

A) The Thief on the Cross had only a few hours of life left, you’ve had 15 years. Are you serious?

B) The Thief on the Cross was nailed to a tree! He didn’t have many options, it’s not like he could get off the cross and go on a missions trip.

If you are content to say that your many years of life as a Christian are comparable to a few hours of a guy nailed to a tree, I’m guessing the Judge of all things might point out some facts. Sounds like a guy hedging his bets and burying his talents to me (Don’t forget that he was slain by his master for this rationalized disobedience!).

2) The Thief on the Cross did good works.

Luke is the only Gospel that records the conversion of the Thief on the Cross. In this account, the Thief on the Cross does three of the tests the Bible gives to see whether you are saved.

1) Confess that Jesus is Lord. Test in 1 Corinthians 12:3 fulfilled in Luke 23:42
2) Confession of sin. Test in 1 John 1:8-10 fulfilled in Luke 23:41
3) Tell others. Test in Romans 10:9-10 fulfilled in Luke 23:40

Indeed the Thief on the Cross has done more works than most professed Christians.

Now, this man was not saved by works, he was saved by calling on the name of the Lord and that day he was with the Lord in paradise. The Thief on the Cross did have works that showed faith and that is the point.

Faith without works is dead (James and Paul). The Thief on the Cross had faith and it resulted in works. He was a different man dying on that cross than he was being nailed on that cross. The other thief did not get a blessing of being with Christ in eternity and his works showed his lack of faith.

Defending pathetic faith by using the Thief on the Cross is a really bad idea. It has no legs to stand on. We like to say Christ is our standard, not other people, but how quickly that ideal fades when we really want to keep sinning. Don’t disparage the name of this recipient of God’s grace by defending your sin.

Click here for a message I preached on this two weeks ago.

One thought on “The Thief on the Cross and Your Lack of Good Works”

  1. The article and sermon did not disappoint. Thanks!

    It strikes me also that really there were two thieves, and so when people use the thief on the cross as an excuse, maybe we should ask them “which thief?”

    The first thief also asked Christ for salvation: “If thou be the Son of God, save thyself and us.” Actually the Bible says, “he railed on him.” So it was more of a demand. It was also filled with doubt: “if thou be the Son…”; he was not open to seeing the divine attributes in the suffering saviour, nor did his heart beat in sympathy with that type of character. Freedom from suffering was all he wanted.

    There was no heartfelt confession of sin, or regret. The type of saviour he expected is one who would break out of the cross, and beat his enemies over the head. Just like the movies all portray the hero as doing.

    It was presumptuous, because he was not interested in fulfilling conditions, only in receiving the temporal blessings. His kind of “faith” was the same as that of the Jewish nation. “We have our own way of living our lives, just give us the power and freedom to do what we want, and we’ll handle the rest.”

    It really is the same type of attitude as those who use the other thief as an excuse.

    The second thief, on the other hand, made no demands. He probably trembled at the thought that his whole life had been devoted to sin, and could not imagine himself as a good candidate for Christ’s holy kingdom. So he didn’t demand…he just said, “remember me.” But it was exactly this humble, broken spirit that showed that the Holy Spirit was transforming him, and making him righteous.

    And Jesus, ever sensitive to the cry of true faith, recognized it as genuine, and assured him of his reward. Note that he did not promise him mansions and gold, but simply said, “you will be with Me in paradise.” “With Me.” That is what the second thief wanted, to study and follow Christ, and that is what he was promised: a chance to walk in the garden of Eden, communing with Christ, just as Adam and Eve used to do before the fall.

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