A Weird Take on the Thief on the Cross

Somehow Instagram (a social media site for looking at pictures of reptiles, though I believe some people look at it for photos of other things) recommended a video to me of a guy who was talking about the thief on the cross. Specifically, the one that upbraided the one who was abusing Jesus, and who asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom, and Jesus said, “this night you will be with me in paradise.” The guy asked, “how does this square with your theology? He wasn’t baptised, didn’t receive communion or confirmation, didn’t give anything to the poor, Jesus didn’t take away his suffering, he didn’t speak in tongues, etc.”

It’s a fairly obvious point, though one worth making from time to time that the ordinary ways that God gives to us to live are not the only ways he gives to people, and while he works through his sacraments he is not bound by them, etc. etc. etc. This is certainly a doctrine of orthodox theology, and you can see it in things like the baptism of blood, the baptism of desire, and so forth. But this guy is making a really big deal of it like he’s the first one to think of it, and also like it’s revolutionary. Somehow he doesn’t seem to take into account that the good thief was nailed to a cross. People tend to focus on the death in excruciating agony part of dying on a cross—reasonably enough—but it’s also a feature of the cross that a person nailed to it can’t do anything. The good thief didn’t do anything for the poor, but he also couldn’t. You can’t extrapolate from that to people who can do things for the poor. It’s just possible that Jesus’ words about the importance of caring for the poor might have some applicability. In short, just because it’s possible to be saved while nailed to a cross doesn’t mean that no one should bother with anything other than what a person nailed to a cross can do.

Then he went full-heretic (never go full-heretic). He said that the only thing that the thief had to offer Jesus was his belief.

This is dead wrong.

It is true that people can’t buy salvation with their good works. It is equally true that people can’t buy salvation with their belief. People simply can’t buy salvation.

Salvation is a gift from God freely given to us. The thing is, we have to accept it. And this is where we come to the part where Jesus said, “It is not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ who enters the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father.” Good works are the content of faith. It is possible for one to have faith without works where those works are prevented, but for most of us this is academic. Most of us are not nailed to a cross. Most of us have the opportunity to live according to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection.

I find it really weird that there are people who are still trying to peddle the idea that salvation is a matter of pledging allegiance to Team God or having some sort of emotional experience of “belief”. I get why Martin Luther tried to redefine faith so as try to get rid of the need to trust God without having to get out of having the word; it made sense in the context in which he found himself. These days, there are much easier ways of not being Christian.

7 thoughts on “A Weird Take on the Thief on the Cross

  1. Mary Catelli

    One might argue that he could speak kindly to someone who was being tortured to death. Dorothy L. Sayers, in her play, had him charitably humoring someone he was sure was a lunatic — the actual faith was inspired by what Jesus said back to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Most of us have the opportunity to live according to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection

    Does “most of us” include the approximately 50% of fertilized eggs that miscarry, the billions who died before 30CE, or the billions more who are/were raised to follow different faiths? It would be ridiculous to claim that the children of devout Muslims, having rote learned the Koran, have the “opportunity to live according to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection”. It would be equally ridiculous to claim that most Jews, Hindus, or atheists have such an opportunity.

    And the history of Christianity proves that there is no agreement as to what this alleged “truth” entails anyway. There are no clear, step-by-step instructions in the Bible on how to be saved, although there is plenty of room for pages full of elaborate instructions on how to make curtains for temples, and other irrelevant nonsense.


  3. Sure, you can handwave ‘context’, ignore a serious issue and go back to complaining that atheists are stupid. Incidentally, regarding the main point of your post, just because someone doesn’t have a chance to do any Good doesn’t mean they would have done any Good if they did have a chance. So your point doesn’t add up.


    1. I didn’t wave my hands, I typed keys on a keyboard. This is the level of seriousness of your “point”. You are arguing with phantasms which exist only in your head, and somehow think you’re arguing with me.


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