Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Many Scriptures link baptism together with salvation (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16 and 1Peter 3:21 come quickly to mind). But in the atmosphere of Contemporary Christendom – in which many winds of doctrine blow – this connection is often denied. As a result, many objections are raised when we attempt to show people their need of a scriptural immersion. Perhaps there is none more frequently heard than this one: "What about the Thief on the Cross?"

Many have been taught that the penitent thief – whose example is seen at Luke 23:39-43 – is a model of "salvation by faith alone". Shifting focus to the 3000 converts of Pentecost as a more fitting model of our conversion is not an easy adjustment for them.

As this thief suffered on a cross along-side our Lord, he was promised entry into paradise. There is, of course, no mention of baptism and there was certainly no opportunity for him to be immersed. Naturally, his example is seen as an example showing salvation can be had without immersion.

Considered superficially, the thief's example seems persuasive. A deeper look reveals that this "proof" is actually not so substantial. This has to do with his circumstances, which were completely different than ours and in some ways unique.


There was a change of covenant in the time of Christ. The old covenant was given through Moses and sealed with the blood of sacrificed bulls. The new covenant was given through Christ and sealed with His blood.

Terms or conditions are a universal characteristic of covenants. Covenants have terms of entry as well as conditions defining obedience. Under the covenants of Abraham and Moses, for example, circumcision was an essential condition of entry into the covenant - Genesis 17:10-14. Every male child born into an Israelite home was entitled to be a part of the covenant. This took effect only when he was circumcised, however. Without circumcision, he was cut off from the covenant. Circumcision was therefore a condition of entry into the old covenants--those of Abraham and Moses.

Christianity has an equivalent to Old Covenant circumcision. The apostle Paul points out there ought to be an inward circumcision; one "of the heart, by the Spirit". This is an emphasis of the new covenant, which came through Christ.

Romans 2:28-29 - For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (NAS)

In another place, Paul points to a specific time and event in which the inward, spiritual circumcision takes place.

Colossians 2:11-12 - and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (NAS)

Paul shows that a circumcision of the heart is accomplished through God's power in the ordinance of baptism. His association of baptism and circumcision suggests that the old covenant ordinance prefigured the new. Circumcision was a condition of entry into the old covenant and immersion a condition of entry into the new.

All of this serves as important background information in considering the salvation of the penitent thief dying at Christ's side. Christian Baptism bears resemblance to the old covenant ordinance of circumcision in a specific way. Under the old covenant the uncircumcised were cut off from the blessings of the covenant. In similar fashion, the unimmersed can have no part in the new covenant blessings. The blessings of the New Covenant are for those who are "in Christ" and no others. Baptism is the ordinance in which God places us into Christ – Romans 6:3 & Galatians 3:27.

A great deal depends on what covenant was in effect during the dying thief's lifetime. Baptism is a new covenant ordinance. Under the old covenant--the Law of Moses--no one was ever required to be immersed. The following passage identifies the point in time when the old covenant ended.

Colossians 2:13-14, 16-17 - And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross… Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day -- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (NAS)

The written code with its regulations was nailed to the cross. The things of the law that were shadows of Christ have been removed, they have been canceled. These things died on the cross when Christ did. It was at that point in time that the old covenant ended and the new began.

If this thief was forgiven without immersion under the old covenant – and, of course, he was – what of that? We are under the new covenant, where different rules apply. Are we cut off from the covenant of God if we are uncircumcised? Certainly not! And why is this? It is because circumcision is not a part of the new covenant. Would the thief have been deprived of salvation because he was unimmersed? No, and for the same reason. He lived under the old covenant and immersion was not yet in force as a condition of entry.


We need to consider the exact circumstances under which the promise of paradise was given to this one we call, "The Thief on the Cross."

Please give careful consideration to the following chart, which outlines similarities between this dying thief and those who become Christian:

The Penitent Thief

Those who now come to Christ

  • He was a sinner, condemned to die and dying in sin.
  • We have all been sinners, condemned to die and dying in sin.
  • He originally blasphemed Christ as did the other thief - (Matthew 27:44.
  • As a rule, we are blasphemers prior to conversion.
  • He repented and came to believe, confessing his belief in Jesus - Luke 23:40.
  • We must repent and come to believe, confessing our belief in Jesus.
  • He was crucified with Christ. That is, alongside Him, at the very same time.
  • Christians are crucified with Christ - Galatians 2:20. But how? And when?
  • He was promised a joyous life after death
    - Luke 23:41.
  • We are promised a joyous life after death – Romans 6:5.

Those are the similarities but there are also differences – important differences!

One we have already mentioned is that this penitent thief died under the Old Covenant, whereas we live under the new. But here is another:

The thief on the cross did in a very real way what we can only do in figure. The thief on the cross was crucified with Christ.

People remark that they want to be saved "just like the thief on the cross." That is an admirable sentiment but also an impossibility. The thief on the cross suffered with Christ. He offered our Lord comfort by defending His holiness when even most of the Lord's apostles had abandoned Him. He no doubt brought ridicule and derision upon himself as he took his stand with Jesus. He showed a very real love for Christ in a time when Christ needed it very badly.

If we understand the dying thief's salvation as based on some kind of minimalist faith alone, we have missed what really happened there.

We have no opportunity to do in a literal way what the thief on the cross did. We can do this in figure through baptism, however.

We know this to be true from Romans 6:3-8.

Rom 6:3-8 – Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, (NAS)

The passage above makes it plain that--in God's eyes--we die with Christ and are crucified with Him in Christian baptism. We often think of selfless Christian service as dying and being crucified with Him, as well. These thoughts are entirely appropriate but we must not lose sight of what God has appointed as a death and crucifixion with Jesus. Christendom must give more emphasis to what scripture says in this area.


The thief's example does nothing to prove that baptism is optional in seeking salvation today. We assert this in two ways.

  • The penitent thief lived and died under the law of Moses, which remained in effect until after Christ's death. Since baptism was not a part of the Old Covenant law given through Moses, the thief was not required to submit to it. He lived under one covenant and we live under another.
  • The thief provides an example of conversion that we can identify with. He repented, believed in our Lord, confessed His name before men and died with Christ. We do exactly the same but can die with Christ only in the figure of baptism.

I am by God's Grace,

Rich In Christ

Friday, November 5, 2010

Roots of Compromised Christendom 6

Judaizers! Part Six

Do the Jews have "Special Salvation Status"?

Many seem eager to believe it. And at least one New Testament passage seems to say it.

Romans the 11th chapter and 26th verse, states the following:

"…and so all Israel will be saved…"(NASB)

The passage – viewed on its own - seems to make a very straightforward statement that is easily understood – "all Israel will be saved". The difficulties arise when you begin trying to harmonize the salvation of "all Israel" with the remainder of the New Testament's teaching.

The prevailing view of this passage is that it speaks of events to occur in "the end-times". According to this view, Romans 11:26 teaches that all Israel alive at that time will be saved. But there is also a more radical view; namely that all Jews are going to be saved simply by virtue of being Jewish. Those who subscribe to this view believe and teach that the Jews will be saved even without Christ. Being Jewish is enough. The Judaizers of Paul's day would have loved it.

Actually, I know of this teaching first-hand. While a young school-aged child, being raised in a Presbyterian church, I remember asking about the Jews. I was concerned about what happened to them since they did not believe in Jesus. I was told that there was no need for concern because the Jews were "God's chosen people".

Apparently the number of those who believe this exact thing is growing. In 2002, 21 members of the "Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations" published an official statement to the effect that "Jews are in an eternal covenant with God" and enjoy a "special salvation status". Their belief is that "faithful Jews" are already saved and should not be targeted for conversion. They also seemed to believe that rejection of their view is "anti-Jewish". According to their statement, acceptance of the Jews' salvation is a "Sacred Obligation" within Christendom. You can read the article for yourself at:


The "Christian Scholars Group…", though, was actually taking a more moderate stance than the one that I learned of as a small child. They at least apply their statements to "Faithful Jews", whereas I was told that all Jews were saved. Either way the teaching assumes that there are people who can be saved apart from Christ.

But not everyone accepts this:

John the baptist – Christ's forerunner – did not believe that Jews had special salvation status.

John appeared in the wilderness as the forerunner of Christ, preaching the following:

8"Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. – Matthew 3:8-9 (NASB)

John's audience – who were exclusively Jewish – needed to be warned even in that day that being a descendant of Abraham was not, by itself, enough. He went on to speak of every tree without good fruit being cast into the fire and the wheat being separated from the chaff, which was to be burnt up with unquenchable fire. The inspired prophet and Christ's forerunner, John, obviously did not believe that all of fleshly Israel would be saved.

John's message was intended to correct a prevalent misconception about what it meant to be a Jew. The Jews of that day believed that being descended from Abraham was – by itself – enough to assure good standing in the love of God. They believed this prior to the coming of Christ and continued to believe it once the gospel was fully given. This unfortunate attitude became the foundation of the Judaizers' entire mindset but John the baptist showed this foundational mindset to be wrong.

Jesus Christ – God's divine Son – did not believe the Jews had special salvation status.

In John the 8th chapter and 24th verse, Jesus gave the following warning to the Pharisees who were contending against them:

"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (NASB)

In John 8:33 those same Jewish religious leaders claimed to be "children of Abraham". Contrary to what they believed, this was not enough to justify them with God. But it wasn't even true; not in the way that really mattered. In John 8:44a, Jesus identified their true father:

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father..." (NASB)

There is no fact more certain than this: those who live as the children of the devil here will live with him hereafter. Jesus did not believe that all of the Jews would be saved and we shouldn't either.

Even Paul, who wrote that "all Israel will be saved", rejected the notion that the Jews had special salvation status.

In Romans chapter 2, Paul is speaking of the absolute justice of God. Look at what he says of the judgment in verses 5 through 11:

5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. (NASB [emphasis mine - RW])

Please notice that Paul warns in no uncertain terms that all of those who are selfishly ambitious and who do not obey the truth should expect wrath and indignation from God at the judgment. This applies to Jews as well as gentiles, for there is no partiality with God.

There are additional passages, even within the book of Romans, showing that Paul considered unbelieving Jews lost:

  • Romans 9 opens with a lament for his unbelieving Jewish brethren, stating that he could even wish to be accursed for their sake.
  • In Romans 9:27 Paul quotes from Isaiah 10:22, who states, "though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved."
  • In Romans 10:1 he announces that his prayer is for their salvation.
  • In Romans 11:14 Paul hopes that somehow, some of his countrymen might be saved.
  • In Romans 11:17-22 speaks of branches in an olive tree. The natural branches (Jews) were broken off because of unbelief. But wild branches (gentiles) were grafted in. The natural branches were not spared – verse 21. They were dealt with severely – Verse 22.

Romans 11:26 is not talking about fleshly Israel.

Descent from Israel according to flesh alone is not enough:

Consider carefully the following passages:

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 (NASB).

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants… - Romans 9:6-7a (NASB)

In the first of these passages, Paul shows us that there is more to being a real Jew than fleshly descent. And in the second, he shows (much like John in Matthew chapter 3) that not every descendant of Abraham is a part of the true Israel. And Paul is not the only New Testament writer to teach this truth. The apostle John – in the book of Revelation – records messages of rebuke from our Lord concerning those who claimed to be Jews but were not. These messages were given to Christians in the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia:

"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." - Rev 2:9 (NASB)

"Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you." - Rev 3:9 (NASB)

Who were these people who claimed to be Jews but were in fact a "synagogue of Satan"? They were either unbelieving Jews or Judaizers both of which continually troubled the early church. Either way, they were men of Jewish descent in terms of the flesh. But they trusted in the flesh and refused to embrace Christ and His gospel.

There is also a true Israel – an "Israel of God' – and it is this Israel of which Paul speaks at Romans 11:26.

Turning to Paul's epistle to the Galatians, we read the following:

15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Galatians 6:15-16 (NASB)

Verse 15 reminds us of some other writings from Paul, including at least one we have just looked at. The mention of physical circumcision being worthless certainly links with Paul's thoughts of Romans 2:28-29. And Paul's "new creation" remark reminds us of Jesus' teaching on the need to be "born again", not to mention 2Corinthians 5:17.

We can very reasonably assume, then, that the "Israel of God" spoken of in Galatians 5:16 is made up of those who have had a "new birth / new creation" and whose circumcision is not in the flesh but "of the heart by the Spirit". In other words, the "Israel of God" is made up of Christians. This conclusion – in fact – is affirmed earlier in the book of Galatians, at Chapter 3, Verses 26-29.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Who is the Israel of God? The Israel of God is the Lord's church, made up of those who are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, who have been baptized into Christ, clothing themselves with Christ. In becoming Christian, every class distinction is dissolved, including the distinction between Jew and gentile (Vs. 28). Those who belong to Christ are Abraham's true descendants, heirs of the promise that was given to him.

These people, and these people alone are the "Israel of God". And "all Israel shall be saved". Fleshly Israel is in no sense cut off from the grace of God but Jews must receive God's grace in exactly the same way as the people of any other race.