The Thief on the Cross 2

From Commonsense Christian Apologetics

The scriptural arguments…for and against eternal security…have already been written and fill entire books.

But for the purposes of this book…the biblical narrative stories of faith are the God-designed vehicles that actualize the context of events wherein our souls are measured.”

This is an apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible.

The events and circumstances of the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible…unlike any other form or genre of human literature…measure our souls on the basis of our faith and relationship with God.  Our souls are not measured by courage in battle, or the resilience to bounce back from numerous defeats to accomplish greatness, or by an epiphany that changes us from being a crass, self-centered person to becoming a loving person through character growth…the theme of countless books, plays, and movies.

The quality of life-script events that will measure our souls at the height of moral reasoning and decision-making regarding our relationship with God…can only come from God.

The thief on the cross could never have orchestrated the cascade of events that placed him that fateful Friday on a cross of execution alongside Jesus Christ the Son of God…with the opportunity to go along with the crowd in verbally mocking Jesus (Lk. 23:35-39)…or amazingly for the first and only time in his life…to discover the power, conviction, courage, and liberated audacity to resist the peer pressure in the moment…and to instead proclaim publicly through the Holy Spirit a faith in the God/man Jesus crucified alongside him…to his fellow thief and to any and all others standing around the crosses and listening…that would pass the test of saving faith for time eternal (Lk. 23:43).

On that fateful day…and over a few short hours…the soul of the thief on the cross was measured…and found brilliantly passing the test for salvation…according to God’s terms and standards.

The point I want to make here is monumental in its importance.

We need God-composed journey of faith life-scripts to actualize for us a context of life-events wherein our souls are measured…precisely so that we can succeed on God’s terms and by His standards…and not through the futility of good-works and self-realization according to our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

This is the record of the biblical narrative stories of faith…including this incredibly inspiring story of the thief on the cross.

Choosing amongst the buffet of the wants and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…a great education. a good job, high salary, good marriage, a big house, luxury automobile, European vacation, a stock portfolio, good health, and sending our kids to Harvard or Oxford…will not measure our souls in the way that the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief on the cross…were measured.

The thief on the cross could not have orchestrated the events that led to his salvation that day…any more than Abraham could have orchestrated his life-script of faith…any more than Paul could have orchestrated the events that led to him becoming the premier Christian evangelical missionary to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

The grand irony here…that is far beyond the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…is that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes standing around and mocking Jesus on the cross…who attempted to self-craft “perfect lives” according to their way (Mt. 6:2, 5; 9:12-13; 10:33; 11:16-19; 15:7-9)…end up unknowingly killing Jesus their Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 2:8).

The grand irony is that the one person who obtained on that day on Calvary Hill the assurance of the eternal security of salvation…for the short but priceless few hours from sometime around mid-morning to when he died at dusk that late afternoon…was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus.

There are two massive takeaways from this dramatic scene taking place in Jerusalem in the first-century.

Imagine in our mind’s eye the religious elites standing around the three crosses…mocking Jesus…the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution nearby…the women disciples of Jesus including His mother at the base of His cross weeping over what has occurred…and the two thieves crucified on each side of Jesus.

The first massive takeaway from this scene is the huge gulf between the two opposing outcomes of going our own way in self-sovereignty…in contrast to God-sovereignty.

Jesus is the perfect, blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  To qualify to be the atonement for sin…Jesus must be perfect.  A flawed sacrifice…in terms of moral performance in life…would be unacceptable.  Wealth, popularity, and political influence are not qualifiers in this Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.

The problem of human sin is the target honed-in on by the blemish-free moral life of Jesus Christ…perfectly lived according to a life-script composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.

The perfect life and the perfect life-script of Jesus…lead to the cross on Calvary Hill.  But trying to be perfect…our way…as demonstrated by the religious elites mocking Jesus…leads to placing Jesus on the cross.  These two outcomes could not be more diametrically opposite.

The second massive takeaway from this scene on Calvary Hill two thousand years ago…is that the thief on the cross…immovably stuck there and not going anywhere or able to do anything…secular or religious in the slightest way…surprisingly and unexpectedly experiences that fateful day in his life the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” assurance of the eternal security of salvation for the otherwise physically agonizing hours he spends being executed by Roman crucifixion…through the sure words of promise spoken to him by Jesus the Son of God being crucified alongside him.

If we incorrectly believe that we can lose our salvation…this opens the door ever so slightly for self-achieved good-works and self-realization to creep in as the sustaining justification for maintaining our salvation.

The story of the thief on the cross…composed and orchestrated by God Himself…totally outside the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…tells us our salvation…that is based upon faith in Jesus Christ…as demonstrated by the thief on the cross as contrasted to the religious elites…not on crosses themselves but standing at a distance on the ground of self-sovereignty and self-justification (Mk. 8:34-38)…in this divinely illustrated case of the thief on the cross…is eternally secure.

The Thief on the Cross 1

From Commonsense Christian Apologetics

The story of the thief on the cross recorded in Luke 23:39-43 is the minimum baseline example given to us in the New Testament gospels…that defines faith plus our good-works for salvation…that will pass the test of fire (Jn. 6:28-29; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:7).

This baseline example is illustrated through an actual event in history…spread-out over the short interval of a few hours…rather than a doctrinal concept given to us in explanatory words alone.

This baseline standard for measuring salvation is given to us by no less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself…the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin…at the precise moments of that sacrifice…and from the very instrument…the cross on Calvary Hill…that procured our salvation.

This condemned thief is not coming down off the cross to start a positive, God-composed journey of faith life-script for the remaining years of his life.  His wrists and feet are immovably pinned by long metal spikes to the wooden cross-beams of Roman crucifixion.  He will die there in a few more hours.  There is no time left to do anything good or bad from that moment forward…in any major way.

The thief on the cross at that moment in time…has nothing by way of reformed, future good-works to offer to God on behalf of his salvation…to qualify himself before God.  There is no second chance for him to come down off the cross with the promise to live a better life going forward.

Yet when Jesus says to the thief on the cross…crucified alongside Him and sharing His fate that eventful Friday in history: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”…this thief can then confidently take this promise “to the bank.”  He can “bet the farm on it.”

This is not just the word of a great prophet…declaring a future event.  This promise comes from Jesus Christ the divine Son of God…the very Word of God in the flesh.

The thief on the cross can rest in the inner peace and assurance of eternal salvation for the remaining few hours he has on this earth.

I believe this real-life example…spelled-out for us through an action event recorded in the Bible…resolves the controversial theological issue of the eternal security of our salvation while we are still in this life and engaged in our journey of faith…by combining in this specific example both ends of a short time-interval defined as biblical faith in Hebrews 11:1…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…in this salvation story of the last final hours of the thief on the cross.

A fundamental problem here with the general biblical interpretation…believed by some people today…that we can lose our salvation…is that as Jesus at that moment in time is telling the thief that later that same day he will be with Jesus in His kingdom…Jesus…as the divine Son of God either possesses Himself…or is perfectly exercising through God the Father…timeless foresight.

In my opinion…the part that confuses the issue of eternal security is the seemingly incoherent blend of a God who exists in a timeless environment…and human beings that live in the four dimensions of time and space.

These two things do not appear on the surface…at first glance…to easily mix.  But both these realities…God’s timeless existence and our lives spread-out within the forward march of the God-created dimension of time…are absolutely essential for developing confidence in the wisdom and leadership of God…and our placing trust in a God-composed journey of faith for our lives…that have this Hebrews 11:1 risk-element of time.

Our future actualized promise of salvation…the “evidence of things not seen” regarding eternal life…does not occur yet in this lifetime.  This culminating event occurs at our resurrection…at the last trumpet sound…at the great Judgment Day and our entrance into heaven.

This is what introduces an element of confusion…which in actuality is another strong apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible.

This interval of time…the gap in practical, lived experience between where we are now and where we need to get to…this unique feature of biblical faith as defined by Hebrews 11:1…is an inseparable part of the storyline of every positive person in their biblical-quality journey of faith life-scripts…whether we are Moses, David, or the thief on the cross.

Whether our destiny-of-faith moment in history spans years, months, or a few short hours on the cross alongside Jesus the Passover Lamb of God of Isaiah 53…like this thief…the surety of our salvation is not dependent upon any specific duration of time…or more importantly is not dependent upon our performance over that period of time…because with a timeless God having divine foreknowledge…there is no span of time that determines our salvation…years, months, or hours.

The simplistic yet powerful lesson of the thief on the cross…is that he cannot “mess-up” his salvation during his remaining few hours…this short interval of Hebrews 11:1 time remaining for him…and the brief entirety of his faith-journey…on his cross of execution alongside Jesus…as the sky overhead darkens and the earth rumbles that Friday afternoon.

Why…because the promise of the assurance of eternal salvation comes from the mouth of the divine Son of God…Jesus Christ of Nazareth…from the cross…in the very act of being the Passover sacrifice for sin.  Jesus that moment on the cross…either has Himself or is exercising from God the Father…divine timeless foresight.

This pivotal moment in time and the dramatic circumstances of this historic event…could not be more definitive and decisive on the topic of eternal security.

That Jesus Christ our eternal Savior and King…and this remarkable human thief on the cross having no merit or achievements to argue on his behalf for salvation…should come together in this moment in history…is not an accident (Isa. 53:12).

The promise of entering shortly into paradise…coming from the timeless foresight of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world…while He is suffering and dying on the cross…to the thief also suffering and dying alongside Him…is an iron-clad, irrevocable, unalterable event that cannot change within the span of a few short hours…for both Jesus and the thief on their respective crosses.

The word of God is sure…not only because it is based on the high-quality of His character…but also because it is timeless.

This is a product of the timeless nature of God (Isa. 46:9-10)…and the functional nature of the limitations of time and space that God created for us…so that we might experience and discover the knowledge of good and evil…not in split-second, instantaneous flashes of time…but spread-out over longer intervals of time…sometimes only hours as in the case of the thief on the cross…as expressed in Hebrews 11:1 and as so beautifully told in Luke 23:39-43.

He that Doeth the Will of God Abideth Forever 2

Intelligent design is the only rational explanation for the existence of highly complex and originally imaginative point-B goals that create the context for faith to actualize…such as the promised birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Moses parting the Red Sea, Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho, Ruth entering the divine lineage of King David, Esther and Mordechai outmaneuvering Haman to save the Jews in exile, the three young Hebrews withstanding the flames in the fiery furnace, Daniel surviving the night in a den of lions, Peter becoming a powerful leader of the early church, and Paul becoming the premier missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

The two-worldview dichotomy is brilliantly ingenious because it separates self-sovereignty from God-sovereignty at the one point that is demonstrable in both theory and in action…point-B goals and outcomes that not only fall outside of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking as described above in 1 John 2:15-17…but also outside of the contemplation of human literary invention.

The point-B goal that is at the peak of the argument for the divine origin of the Bible…totally above and outside of the lust of the flesh and eyes, and the pride of life…and in the realm of doing the will of God perfectly that abideth forever…is the life-script for Jesus the Son of God to become the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.

John 15:13 records Jesus saying: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.  This is in direct contrast to the “me, myself, and I” agenda of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, Jesus utters the words that are at the core of God-composed journey of faith life-scripts throughout the Bible starting with Abraham’s walk of faith to Canaan: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk. 22:42).

This amazingly tells us that God has the brilliantly imaginative capacity to write a life-script for Himself that challenges Himself in the precise area that we need the most help…in the transition from self-sovereign self-rulership…to God-sovereignty walking through an adventure of faith following Jesus Christ according to this worldly unconventional concept of Luke 22:42.

Jesus Christ being stretched to the limits of His divine capacity (if that is possible) in taking upon Himself the massive volume of mankind’s sin on the cross of Calvary…to the point of asking the Father to remove this cup and come up with an alternate plan…yet surrendering Himself to the original larger plan devised before the foundation of the world…without skipping a beat in perfect faith…is so far above humanistic contemplation and imaginative invention…that a naturalistic explanation using material particles and energy can only be described as nonsensical (Jn. 3:31).

This is one of the fundamental apologetic arguments for the divine origin of the Bible and its message…because it goes to the very heart of the biblical narrative stories of faith.  The element of the cross of Christ integrally embedded within every biblical narrative story of faith…to a greater or lesser degree…is the distinctively validating proof of “God with us” of the Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6…and God inside us of Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 14:23, and Revelation 3:20.

This element of the cross of Christ…which divides human experience into two distinct worldviews on opposite sides of the spectrum of sovereign control, purpose, and direction in our lives…from an apologetics standpoint is unexplainable coming solely from within the paradigm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life of 1 John 2:16.

The “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” of 1 John 2:17…describes a worldview reality depicted in the biblical narrative stories of faith…which is too original…too imaginatively innovative…too complex, specified, and sophisticated in its information content…to be anything other than divinely inspired out of the mind and heart of God.

He that Doeth the Will of God Abideth Forever 1

1 John 2:15-17 reads:

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

“He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”  This world passes away.  The allures of the lust of the flesh and the eyes…of the pride of life…are temporary.  They do not exist in heaven.  They are not of the Father.  And the kingdom of God is forever.

The reality of God is the one that lasts forever.  The reality of this world is the one that passes away.

One compelling piece of evidence that argues for the divine origin of the Bible is the complete break…the inexplicable departure from worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…that is an integral component of every biblical narrative story of faith.  The distinctive novelty of this feature in the Bible is what is expressed in these three classic verses penned so beautifully by the apostle John at the dawn of the Christian era in the first century.

As Abraham walks from the city of Haran to the Promised Land of Canaan…inaugurating a uniquely biblical walk of faith…with each step he takes God is displacing the normative life Abraham would have lived with a new and innovative life-script that Abraham could never have dreamed up in his wildest imagination.

In this opening introduction of walks of faith into the experiences of mankind…God is displacing the worldly conventional lust of the flesh and eyes, and the pride of life…which are temporal and pass away…with doing the will of God according to a life-script divinely composed for our benefit…at the higher level of the thoughts and ways of God that abide forever (Isa. 55:8-9; Lk. 16:15; Eph. 3:16-19).

What is uniquely distinctive about the biblical narrative stories of faith is that the goals…the journeys from point-A to point-B…are at their initial inception beyond the reach of human beings to imagine, invent, or resolve.

God-composed journey of faith life-scripts are nothing like self-energized journeys of discovery within the limited paradigm of self-realization.  The brilliantly imaginative introduction of point-B’s into the biblical narrative stories of faith that are unreachable and unsolvable by humanistic means…separates human experience into two diametrically opposed worldviews…the first being the lust of the flesh and eyes and the pride of life…and the second worldview doing the will of God which abideth forever.

This is an ingenious dichotomy of optional worldviews that could only be engineered by God.  It is a reality that defies any plausible explanation using the philosophies of materialism and naturalism based on the physical properties of matter and energy alone.

The Gap of Time and Promises 2

The point here is not to suggest that human fictional writing cannot be as ingeniously inventive as the biblical narrative stories of faith…although the Joseph novella in Genesis (c. 1450 B.C.) predates Shakespeare (1600 A.D.) by roughly 3,000 years.  The contention here is that the designated point-B’s in the biblical life-scripts are so supernaturally outside of human manipulation and contrivance to resolve…so far outside of the conventional norms of self-sovereignty, self-reliance, pre-planning, and foresight…that the introduction of a faith-journey where the living God displaces us on the decision-making thrones of our lives…is beyond the contemplation of human literary invention.

The idea of the cross of Jesus Christ (Lk. 22:42; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:1-3) that would and could displace our own plans with God’s higher ways and plans…after the pattern of Abraham leaving Haran and heading off toward Canaan into a new and novel journey-of-faith through the calling of God…will not be found in any literature or thinking in any of the great human fiction writers…or in any other religions, philosophies, or worldviews outside of the Bible.

There is no plausible explanation for the capacity of mere material particles and energy to come up with the complexity and sophistication underlying the amazing dichotomy of these two opposing directions to choose from…a journey of self or a journey of faith…at the very core of our lives.

The existence of unconventional journeys of faith…with the cross of Christ integrated into every biblical narrative storyline…argues at a fundamental level for the divine origin of the Bible and its message of liberation and salvation now and for all eternity (Jn. 8:36).

The Gap of Time and Promises 1

Hebrews 11:1 reads: ”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

This describes a gap…a space…an interval in time or in the course of events…of things hoped and things not seen yet…between point-A and point-B…between where we are and where we need to get to…that offers a context for a demonstration of biblical faith to actualize that is not found anywhere else in all of human thought or experience.

Certainly within the vast region of secular pursuits there is an equivalent gap between where people are and where they would like to get to.  This reality is what motivates people to pursue a college degree, advance in their careers, save up money for a European vacation or their future retirement, explore the natural world through scientific investigation, and search for the cure for cancer.

It is also the gap that enables us to recognize our fallen nature…and our need for a Savior.

But in the biblical narrative stories of faith the point-B goal or outcome is outside the reach of the human capacity to resolve, contrive, or facilitate.  The gap…the space…the interval…within the biblical faith of Hebrews 11:1 is some time-length of patient waiting or some series of unique events leading to the fulfillment of a promise of God…which is unattainable by human means…which is totally outside of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking to procure…by deliberate and premeditated design.

In the biblical narrative stories of faith…getting from point-A to point-B by human means is removed as an option by divine beneficial intention.

The novel and innovative imagination that would create the worldview reality of an adventure of faith in pursuit of innumerable, varied point-B’s that are outside of our innate, natural abilities to procure on our own…is a divine insertion into our world of complex, specified, divinely crafted information that parallels the action of creation in the words: “And God said”…recorded in Genesis chapter 1.

The fact that a journey of faith…containing the cross of Christ that displaces our way with God’s way…is not found anywhere in world religions, philosophy, or literature…except in the Bible…tells us that worldly conventional normalcy and thinking is incapable or unwilling to put into play…in actually is blind (Mt. 15:14) concerning the recognition of a journey of faith following God.

The counterfeit that worldly conventional normalcy and thinking offers in place of a journey of faith is a journey of self…in pursuit of material wealth and worldly acclaim that by themselves…apart from biblical faith…leads to destruction (Mk. 8:36-37; Mt. 7:13).

Infertile couples like Abraham and Sarah cannot produce their son of promise Isaac…on their own.  This is a gap from point-A to point-B…from the promise of God to its fulfillment…which is not reachable through human resolution.

The idea that Pharaoh in Egypt would have a disturbing dream minus the necessary interpretation…which is then divinely given to Joseph…propelling him into the leadership position of a foreigner becoming governor during a great famine…is a seemingly impossible point-B to reach…much less imagine…even with his earlier two inspired dreams as a teenager back in Canaan foretelling a future remarkable destiny ahead.

The means by which Moses, his wooden staff, and his brother Aaron deliver the Israelites from Egypt through the miraculous ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea…now at least hypothetically and philosophically acceptable in our modern culture after the discovery of the near instantaneous creation of the universe out of nothing in the Big Bang…articulates a point-B for Moses that was not anywhere within his contemplation before he killed the Egyptian and had to flee into exile for forty years in Midian.

Even the perfect life and ministry of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world…has a point-A to point-B gap to cross in terms of time and mission.

In Luke 22:42 Jesus utters words that are so far out of the realm of human invention they stand alone at the highest level of goodness and light as is imaginable for all eternity…past, present, and future.  “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”…tells us that God is so creatively brilliant that He can even craft a life-script for Himself that challenges His own perfectly divine nature…in the precise and exact area where we need the most help…in the shift from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty….from a life of self-rulership to a life of following the living God.

It is the Same God which Worketh All in All 2

But before we compare ourselves unfavorably with the giants of faith in the Bible…let’s listen to what else is said by and about Paul on the subject of our callings.

In Acts chapter 22 Paul defends himself before the rioting mob of people in Jerusalem, by recounting what Ananias said to Paul in Damascus: “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.  For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15).

Would most of us choose for ourselves the challenging life-script for Paul as recorded in the book of Acts…oftentimes teetering on the edge of the precipice of life-and-death…to walk in the singularly unique program that would successfully evangelize the first-century Greco-Roman world…and inform the divinely inspired and sanctioned composition of Paul’s New Testament letters to the early churches?

Would most of us choose the program of Abraham to patiently wait for the birth of Isaac…and then to triumphantly push through the challenging test of faith on Mount Moriah…to become the “father of faith?”

Would we choose to walk in the steps of Joseph in Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s prison…in order to be trained to become the governor of Egypt and to set in motion the extraordinary events that would create the future nation of Israel?

Would we be willing to pay a similar price…the cost of jettisoning our worldly claims to conventional normalcy and thinking…by stepping into our God-composed adventure of faith tailored specifically and narrowly to match our created talents and abilities…come what may?

This is exactly what Jesus Christ is asking of Spirit-born Christians today…not within the worldly conventional realm of self-sovereignty…but in the second worldview realm of novel, adventurous, God-scripted journeys of faith.  Picking up our cross for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (Mk. 8:34-35)…is a divine creation of God above and far outside of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…which by its very existence as an alternate viable worldview…argues for the divine origin of the Bible.

And this is what adds the distinctive Christian apologetic argument to the worldview debate over the purpose, meaning, and reality of life…that the second worldview of a journey of faith containing the cross of Christ (Lk. 22:42)…could not have come out of the default, humanistic worldview of self-sovereignty…and therefore has its origin from God.