Saved Like The Thief

What do you say to people who want to be saved like the thief without baptism? Doesn’t this contradict other verses? And, wasn’t the thief saved before the new covenant was created?

“And he was saying, Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom! And he said to him, Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42,43). While dying on the cross, the thief sought help from Jesus. Jesus promised this man that he would be in paradise with Jesus. With- out arguing over the meaning of paradise and if the thief was actually saved, let us assume Jesus did forgive and save him. Can others be saved in this same way?

First, notice that Jesus saved many individuals while He was on earth. For instance, when the woman came to Jesus and wet His feet with her tears and dried His feet with her hair Jesus told her she was saved. “And He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk. 7:50). This woman demonstrated love and faith in Jesus and was rewarded for her actions. So, people were saved in many ways when they approached Jesus during His life on earth.

“And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Heb. 9:15-17). Jesus brought a new covenant. This new covenant removed the old law and offered the promise of eternal life to those saved. Jesus had to die to create this covenant, and in fact, the covenant could not be in effect until He died. Everything Jesus did while alive on earth was under the old covenant. As God’s Son He could save whom He wanted as He wanted. But, after His death a new covenant was created. Now we are saved, not like the woman or the thief, but under the terms of the new covenant. What are those terms?

Hear what Jesus said to His disciples about the terms of the new covenant. “And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15,16). Jesus tells us that faith is necessary. He also tells us baptism is necessary to be saved. When people reject faith (and the baptism that will follow faith) they will be condemned.

A few days later, on the day of Pentecost, the people came to a point of faith and sought salvation. Notice what Peter told them concerning the terms of the new covenant. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:37, 38). The woman in Luke 7 was not told this, neither was the thief. But the good news that was to go into all the world included these simple terms: faith, repentance and immersion.

To be saved like the thief would require going back to the old law. It would require a personal encounter with Jesus, and it would require being nailed to a cross! None of that seems as simple as merely accepting and following the terms of the new covenant. Trust in Jesus, turn from your sin and be baptized into His name for the remission of your sins. David Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 52, No. 33, Aug. 15, 2003

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