Special letter and response section

The Thief on the Cross


[Editor's note: The following is a letter from a God-hater and a response.]

In Luke 23:32-43 we find an interesting scenario. We find two malefactors (criminals) being crucified along with Jesus; one on each side of Him. One of the criminals is "railing" on Jesus. The other one rebukes him and declares that "we are being dealt with justly, but this man has done nothing amiss." This same criminal then turns to Jesus and says, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Jesus answers, "Today wilt thou be with me in paradise." Some interesting considerations are brought to mind as we reflect on this event.

1. Why only one of the criminals confesses his guilt and then (off-handedly) calls for kind consideration by Jesus on his behalf?

Obviously, knowing the doctrines of Grace: Predestination and Election, we can easily explain the penitent criminal's response. However, there are some theological questions that must be dealt with.

We know the penitent criminal could only become such (penitent) by the "quickening" power/activity of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we can quite simply sum up this event by saying, "The dying criminal was quickened by the Holy Spirit because he was one of God's elect. The quickening by the Holy Spirit enabled the criminal to realize that he was a sinner deserving of the punishment he was about to receive. This realization caused him to turn to Jesus for forgiveness - even though his repentance and request for forgiveness are not what we would call "classic."

Now, we come to the major issue - or it seems to be so in some Christian circles. Did the criminal on the cross understand "Sovereign grace" vs. "Free-will"? Did he comprehend the danger of not believing "the right way"? Did he realize that if he came to Christ as a "Free-willer" rather than a "Sovereign Grace-er" he might not see heaven? Just what, exactly, was his theological bent?

What we can easily do, when we are caught up in theological discourse, is miss the whole point set before us. The simple truth given to us regarding the criminal on the cross is this: God can reach out and rescue one of His elect at any time and in any circumstance that He chooses. He gave John the Baptist the Holy Spirit just before he was to be born. He gave the criminal on the cross the Holy Spirit just before he was to die. Had the criminal then been asked about his theology, he would have no answer. Theology played no part in his salvation, and - theology plays no part in our salvation. It matters not if one is a "free will-er" or a "sovereign grace-er". If one has not been quickened by the Holy Spirit, then one is not saved. It is just as simple as that. There are no exceptions to this rule. "Except a man be born again (from above) he cannot enter into the kingdom...cannot see the kingdom." (Jn. 3:3-7). When Saul of Tarsus was struck down on the road to Damascus, he never came up expounding "sovereign grace" or "free-will." He had to go spend some time in the desert to learn about "theology".

So, we find - as this little scenario teaches us - that "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 3:9), not of theology. Also this - it should, anyway - eliminates all the judgmentalism that manifests itself by the disclaiming of certain persons' salvation because they are "free-willers." Salvation is "of the LORD". It - absolutely - is not "of the theology." I could go on and on with this theme, but I think for readers who are not "over the edge" the case presented is pretty clear and very sound. Something to munch on, hey?

J. Blackburn

Tullahoma, Tennessee


[Editor's response] Thank you for your letter. It reminds me of the fact that I have wanted to write an article regarding the thief on the cross. So many self-righteous religionists use the thief on the cross to promote their God-hating heresy that there are some regenerate persons who are ignorant of the gospel. Perhaps God will use this to open your eyes or the eyes of others reading this.

God says that those who do not believe the gospel are unregenerate (Mark 16:16). Thus, the thief on the cross believed the gospel. God says that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17). Thus, the thief on the cross believed the righteousness of God. God says that those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel are unregenerate (Romans 10: 3). Thus, the thief on the cross was not ignorant of the righteousness of God. God says that the righteousness of God is manifested in salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, without the deeds of the law, showing God to be both just and justifier (Romans 3:21-26). Thus, the thief on the cross believed in the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, without the deeds of the law, and believed that God is just and justifier. He knew that it was the work of Christ alone that made the difference between salvation and damnation.

And what of your brothers in Satan, the universal atonement advocates? Do they believe the gospel? They do not believe that it is the work of Christ alone that makes the difference between salvation and damnation; instead, they believe that it is the work of the sinner that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. They do not believe the gospel. They are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. They are unregenerate. And all those who think that these people are regenerate are unregenerate themselves, because they either do not believe that the work of Christ is an essential part of the gospel or they do not believe that every regenerate person believes the gospel.

You wrote: "Had the criminal then been asked about his theology, he would have had no answer. Theology played no part in his salvation, and - theology plays no part in our salvation. It matters not if one is a 'free will-er' or 'a sovereign grace-er'. If one has not been quickened by the Holy Spirit, then one is not saved. It is just as simple as that. ... Also, this - it should anyway - eliminates all the judgmentalism that manifests itself by the disclaiming of certain persons' salvation because they are 'free-willers.' Salvation is 'of the LORD'. It - absolutely - is not 'of the theology.'"

First of all, had the criminal been asked what he believed, he would have confessed belief in the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Knowledge of God is not a prerequisite of salvation; it is an inevitable and immediate result of salvation. God does not save someone and then leave him ignorant of the gospel for a time, as you heretically suggest. IMMEDIATELY upon regeneration, God gives that person a KNOWLEDGE of the only ground of salvation. Thus, there is NO SUCH THING as one who has been quickened by the Holy Spirit who believes in salvation conditioned on the sinner. This goes for the thief on the cross, this goes for John the Baptist, this goes for Paul, this goes for EVERY regenerate person.

Consider the following statement: "Theology plays no part in our salvation. It matters not if one is a Muslim or a Christian. If one has not been quickened by the Holy Spirit, then one is not saved. It is just as simple as that. ... Also, this - it should anyway - eliminates all the judgmentalism that manifests itself by the disclaiming of certain persons' salvation because they are Muslims. Salvation is 'of the LORD'. It - absolutely - is not 'of the theology.'"

What is wrong with such a statement? If you were consistent, you would have to say that there is NOTHING wrong with such a statement. Substitute any number of things for "free-willer" or "Muslim." Substitute "Buddhist" or "Hindu" or "Mormon" or "JW" or "Roman Catholic" or even "Satanist" or "atheist." According to your warped, depraved view, you would have to say that there are some regenerate Muslims or Mormons or even Satanists! After all, "theology plays no part in our salvation," right? "Salvation is not of the theology," right? It doesn't matter what a person believes; it just matters whether or not they have been quickened by the Holy Spirit, right? There are Holy Spirit-quickened Muslims and Buddhists and atheists walking around, right? Who are we to judge a Muslim or a Satanist to be lost, since "salvation is of the LORD and not of the theology," right? After all, Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Mormons or JWs or Roman Catholics or Satanists or atheists are just ignorant of some theology, right? What blasphemous dung. "Something to munch on"? No - something to gag on. Something to vomit out.

The TRUTH is that when the Holy Spirit quickens someone, that person is given SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE. The Scripture bears out the fact that there is some ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE that every true believer knows and believes. And when he believes, he is NO LONGER a universal atonement "free-willer" or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Mormon or a JW or a Roman Catholic or a Satanist or an atheist or whatever he was before he was saved. In fact, when he believes the TRUE gospel, he REPENTS of his former belief and counts it but LOSS and DUNG for the excellency of the KNOWLEDGE of Christ Jesus his Lord (Phil. 3:8).

"And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3). What KNOWLEDGE is involved in KNOWING God and Christ, which is eternal life? "And ye shall KNOW the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). What is the TRUTH that God's people KNOW that sets them free? "... they have no KNOWLEDGE that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray to a god that cannot save" (Is. 45:20b). What is this KNOWLEDGE that these idolaters are missing? "For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to KNOWLEDGE" (Rm. 10:2). What is this KNOWLEDGE that these lost religionists are missing? "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. ... For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:3-6). What is this LIGHT that the lost people BLINDED to? What is the light of the KNOWLEDGE of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that has shined in believer's hearts? "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of DOCTRINE which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). What is that DOCTRINE that believers believed when they were made free from sin?

You try to make the fact that "salvation is of the Lord" incompatible with the fact that all saved people believe certain truths. In doing so, you twist the Scripture to your own destruction. Salvation IS of the Lord - it is totally, unconditionally, unilaterally, 100% of the Lord. Theology does not save. Theology does not play a part in the ground of salvation. Knowledge of doctrine is not a prerequisite to salvation. But when the sovereign God saves someone, he sovereignly GIVES that person KNOWLEDGE of GOSPEL DOCTRINE. He immediately GIVES that person the KNOWLEDGE that "salvation is of the Lord." A regenerate person, even if he has been regenerated for only five minutes, will NEVER believe that salvation is conditioned TO ANY DEGREE, IN ANY WAY on himself. He will NEVER believe that it is HIS OWN effort that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. Thus, he will NEVER believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception.

You do not believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone believing (Romans 1:16). You do not believe that those who do not believe the gospel are unregenerate (Mark 16:16). You do not believe that those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel are unregenerate (Romans 10:3). You think that the universal atonement advocates believe the true gospel. This shows that you don't even know what the gospel is. God commands you to REPENT of believing in a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner and to BELIEVE the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. I would rejoice to see God open your eyes!


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