The Way of the Thief
The thief on the cross manifestly understood the path to salvation better than the highly educated pharisees. --Ben Vangarde
Those who have spent any time at all in the church have probably heard this claim many times—that “brother whats-his-name” made a decision for Christ and turned his life around. The implication is that “turning one's life around” is the evidence of salvation. This is a common theme with popular evangelism ministries, that “true believers” are not characterized by the sins of the flesh, and once they make a “decision for Christ,” they will stop committing those sins (well, at least the sins with which the preacher himself doesn't struggle! How often have you heard an overweight preacher condemning the drunkard or the homosexual?). This “evangelical thought” is simply not taught in scripture!
If such a “doctrine” were true, then the apostle Paul himself would never be called to the platform to pray before an offering. You see, Paul was painfully aware of the law of the flesh that was within him, and the lifelong internal battle that begins with the Holy Spirit's presence.
He says in Romans 7:21-25, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of Yah according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank Yah—through Yahoshua the Messiah! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of Yah, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Warring against the law of the flesh should be a lifelong occupation of the believer; however, that the sins of the flesh must be battled throughout one's life is not the sign of someone who is not a “true believer.” Just as those whose words exude an air of superiority over others, while the occasional chink in their armor is ignored, or even justified, is no indication that he is super-spiritual, or even born again, for that matter.
If “changing one's life” were the benchmark for salvation, we would simply look to the folks who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings across the country—but, depending on the group, one might be hard-pressed to find anyone there who, by the standard of scripture alone, is saved—even though they “changed their lives.” You could do the same thing by visiting anger management groups. The point is, lost people can change their lives and still remain lost. That is not the evidence of salvation.
The evidence that one is truly redeemed is that he possesses the Holy Spirit, for Romans 8:9 tells us “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” It doesn't say, “if anyone used to smoke, drink, gamble, and lie, but doesn't do those things anymore, he is saved.” The Spirit is the confirmation, not one's behavior.
Christ received His confirmation directly from His Father when He was baptized, and the Spirit came down and entered Him. Yah said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father confirmed that Christ was His Son. And, that's what the Holy Spirit does with each of Yah's children: The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of YHWH. (Romans 8:16) That declaration is an eternal judicial decree of Yah that cannot be overruled by man, and neither can it be earned through any works of righteousness. If one claims a “changed life” as confirmation of his salvation, then he is necessarily justifying himself through his works. Whenever man tries to justify himself before the Almighty, he will bring condemnation upon himself. Justification comes only by Yah through the sacrifice of His Son, and the Holy Spirit is the testimony of that decree.
Which brings us to the thief on the cross. Did the thief on the cross stop thieving to provide sufficient evidence that he was saved? Nope. The thief on the cross demonstrates exactly what that judicial decree looks like. He believed in the name of the Son of Yah. But, what does that mean? The Messiah's real name is Yahoshua, which means “Yah's salvation.” That name describes who He is (of Yah), and what He is (salvation).
The first thief said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” This conditional statement clearly shows the lack of belief in that thief's heart. “If You are the Christ . . .” The other thief responded, “Do you not even fear Yah, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said to Yahoshua, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
The thief acknowledged who Christ was (“Lord”), and that it was Christ who is able to grant eternal life (“remember me when You come into Your kingdom”). It is also noteworthy to understand that, through that belief in Yahoshua's name (a belief that is precipitated by the Holy Spirit), he also recognized exactly WHY he was in need of eternal salvation (“for we receive the due reward of our deeds”). When one truly believes in the name of Yahoshua (the very meaning of the name), such belief exposes exactly why He is needed. Believing in His name is the confirmation that, without Him, one is lost. Until one comes to the knowledge that he is desperately, and eternally, lost, and that he doesn't possess a bit of power to change that helpless state, He does not truly believe in the name of the Son of Yah.
Even the notion that “all I have to do is state that I believe in His name, and I'll be saved” doesn't begin to reach the depths of the belief that is prompted by the Holy Spirit's showing someone the true nature of his lost state—and, that's the only communication a lost person will receive from the Holy Spirit; for apart from that belief, nothing else in heaven and earth applies to the lost. No commandments, no exhortations, no sins of the flesh . . . nothing, for John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of Yah.” If a person is “condemned already” for his unbelief, then nothing he can do can make him “more condemned.”
So, it isn't a changed life (and this is not suggesting that one's life cannot be changed through the power of the Holy Spirit), nor is it obeying certain commandments, as some like to preach in their shotgun approach of “witnessing," but the belief that is the proper response to the Holy Spirit that produces salvation. And, Yah promises that those who have that belief shall be saved. That doesn't always mean that the confirmation from the Holy Spirit will come immediately—but that level of belief will produce faith, and such faith will always be rewarded.
Does that mean that one who possesses the Holy Spirit MUST demonstrate a changed life to prove he is saved? No, because justification is not of man, it is of Yah. A man cannot do anything to earn it, keep it, or lose it. What a believer can do is to enter daily into that battle with the flesh, crucify its sins (Galatians 5:19-21), and in so doing, inherit the kingdom of Yah (the New Jerusalem, or temple, located within the kingdom of heaven). But, since there is liberty in the Spirit, and all things are lawful for the believer, the level of battle that is fought is totally up to him.
Of course, because of the principle of sowing and reaping, there will always be consequences for one's choices. Those consequences have nothing to do with one's justification, but choosing not to be sanctified is a choice to diminish one's heavenly reward—even to the point of having no access to the temple to experience the glory of Yah firsthand.
As we read in Revelation 22:14-15, “Blessed are those who do His commandments [obey the instructions of the Holy Spirit], that they may have the right to the tree of life [within the sanctuary in the temple, which is the presence of Yah], and may enter through the gates into the city [New Jerusalem]. But outside [the New Jerusalem, but still within the kingdom of heaven] are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
This passage in Revelation 22 is after the devil, his demons, and the unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire, which occurs in Revelation 21. Those who are described as outside the sanctuary are those who chose not to crucify their flesh. By what is preached in most “churches,” these people would be wrongly labeled unbelievers, for it is their behaviors and lifestyles by which the church proclaims them to be born again, and not the true evidence that scripture requires—the confirmation of the Holy Spirit.
Do not read into this article any advocating of sinful lifestyles, as all believers are told that our heavenly Father desires us to crucify our flesh—to strive daily to yield our lives to the Holy Spirit by denying the lusts of the flesh. That is what we are told to do. This article just points out that it is not what believers do, and, while believers will still inherit the kingdom of heaven, such sinful lifestyles will greatly influence their level of reward.
But now in Yahoshua the Messiah you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to Yah through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. Ephesians 2:13-16