Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Many Christians squirm and struggle with the story of the repentant thief being saved without “putting in his time” or “earning” it. This story alone makes salvation look too easy. My response is, where in Scripture does it say salvation is supposed to be hard? How hard did Adam and Eve work to be placed in paradise to begin with? How hard did the angels work to be created in heaven?

Sure Jesus said,

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” Matthew 7:14

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

The way of the transgressors is hard. Proverbs 13:15

Why? Because God’s love has made it hard for sinners to destroy themselves.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. Lamentations 3:22

At the beginning of my ministry I was working with a pastor who was very popular for his sound Adventist theology. He taught the importance of the law and obedience. He preached that Jesus saves us from sin not in sin. One night providence had us both at the bedside of a dying saint. An elderly woman who spent her entire life giving Bible studies, and baking pies to feed the needy. She was true to Bible doctrine. That night I watched while the pastor held this dear lady’s hand, and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” She would open her eyes long enough to smile and then quickly appear to fall asleep again. the pastor told her over and over, “Just rest in Jesus. He died for you and loves you.” What amazed me that night is what the pastor of righteous living did not say. He did not mention her avid Sabbath keeping, or Bible studies given, or how she fed the needy. I watched this lady die as the pastor encouraged her to cling to one thing, and one thing only-the cross!

Friends that  is how we are all saved, from the repentant thief to Methuselah with his 969 years of service, we are all saved by grace alone!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Nicodemus was equivalent to a General Conference official today. In John 3 Jesus never flattered Nicodemus with his position, titles or accomplishments. In John 3:14-17 He pointed him straight to the cross, as his only hope. The same hope given to the thief on the cross. So General Conference presidents are saved the same way the repentant thief on the cross was saved. This explains why Ellen White, wife of early GC president James White, asked him over and over on his death bed, “Do you love Jesus? Is Jesus precious to you?” She never mentioned his positions, titles or accomplishments. She knew those were worth garbage. She presented to her dying husband what Jesus presented to Nicodemus- the cross and the cross alone!

Sure it is important to point out that the repentant thief showed his repentance, not by saying he was sorry. He actually never said he was sorry. He did something drastically more important. He changed his attitude! He addressed Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord of his life. He made a confession that was backed up by the way he behaved in front of an unbelieving multitude.  That is exactly how we all are saved.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is exactly what the repentant thief did on the cross. And we all have the promise,

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13

It is worth pointing out that the thief was not playing games. He was not thinking to live as he pleased and then just repent at the last second. That of course is not genuine repentance. Because his repentance was sincere, he was saved the exact same way every repentant sinner is saved.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away. -There is a Fountain, William Cowper 1772.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Glimpse of the Cross Day 5; The Gospel Versus Legalism

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Legalism: We make sacrifices to obtain God’s love.

 The Gospel:  God provided a sacrifice to obtain our love.    Romans 5:10-12:

“ For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” In pagan religions the sacrifice enables the god to love the humans, while in Christianity the cross enables the humans to love their God.

 Legalism: We keep the commandments in order to get a reward.

 The Gospel: We keep the commandments because we love Jesus.  John  14:15:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

 Legalism: We want to get sin out of our lives because of the investigative judgment.

 The Gospel: We want to get sin out of our lives because sin crucifies Jesus.  Isaiah  53:4-6:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

 Legalism: We want to give our heart to Jesus today because He is coming soon.

 The Gospel: We want to give our heart to Jesus today because He loves us. 1 John 4:19:

  “We love him, because he first loved us.”

 Legalism: Good behavior is motivated by a hope of reward or fear of punishment.

 The Gospel: Good behavior is motivated by our love for Jesus regardless of consequences.  2 Corinthians 5:14: 

“For the love of Christ constraineth us.”

Legalism: God’s grace is a response to our faith.

 The Gospel: Our faith is a response to God’s grace. Ephesians 2 :8-9: 

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Legalism:   Me plus Christ.

 The Gospel:  NOT I, BUT CHRIST.   Galatians 2:20: 

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet NOT I, BUT CHRIST  liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

 Legalism: Self- centered. Obedience according to my own standards, in my own power, for my own glory.

 The Gospel: God- centered. Obedience according to God’s standards, in His power for His glory.

 “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:11

Legalism: All about pride and rewards.

 The Gospel: All about love and humility.

Galatians 5:4-6  (The Message)  “I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.”

Escape Legalism and discover the gospel at theTampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, or a gospel loving church near you.

Read how the gospel message in the three angels message destroys the legalism of Babylon.

You may find more studies and devotionals at In Light of The Cross.

Galatians; Justified by Faith Alone

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson asks the question, “Read Galatians 2:15–17. What is Paul saying to you here, and how can you apply these wordsto your own Christian experience?”

Galatians 2:15-17

New International Version (NIV)

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our
faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!

Obeying the commandments will not get me justified, but being justified by faith alone will get me to obeying the commandments.

“We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone, because He is our
Substitute and Surety. We have transgressed the law of God, and by the deeds of
the law shall no flesh be justified. The best efforts that man in his own
strength can make are valueless to meet the holy and just law that he has
transgressed; but through faith in Christ he may claim the righteousness of the
Son of God as all-sufficient. Christ satisfied the demands of the law in His
human nature. He bore the curse of the law for the sinner, made an atonement
for him, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have
everlasting life.” Genuine faith appropriates the righteousness of Christ,
and the sinner is made an overcomer with Christ; for he is made a partaker of
the divine nature, and thus divinity and humanity are combined.”  {Faith and Works 93-94} 

Justification by faith does not mean that Jesus pretends I am an overcomer. Faith makes my justification a reality. The victories are real. By the grace of God I am now partaking and experiencing the divine nature as Jesus lives in my heart. I am, as it says in Ephesians 3:19, “filled with all the fulness of God.”

James; Practical Theology

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion [is] vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.  James 1:26-27

James teaches us practical everyday religion. It reminds me of what an inspired commentator said about Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

“In the story of the good Samaritan, Christ illustrates the nature of true religion. He shows that it consists not in systems, creeds, or rites, but in the performance of loving deeds, in bringing the greatest good to others, in genuine goodness.”  {Desire of Ages 497}

I remember years ago, a lady who loved to study her Bible.A tornado hit our community and the church asked her to help with our community service center in aiding those who needed help. Turned out she was too busy studying her Bible to help. Later we needed her help with VBS but once again she was too busy studying her Bible. Nothing wrong with Bible study, but there comes a time to put into practice all those wonderful things we have learned.

James tells us in chapter 1, verse 22, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” When we are not genuinely putting the Word of God into practice we fool no one but ourselves. Everyone can see right through a phony Christian.

James gives us a practical lesson on faith and works.

“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” James 2:20-22.

James teaches us that Faith works. In Genesis 15:6 it says that Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to Him as righteousness. Later, in Genesis 22, we see that belief and faith at work when Abraham went to offer Isaac on the altar just as God had commanded. When we believe in God’s love and that He has our best interest in mind, we act upon His commands. If I believe God loves me I won’t be afraid to obey Him. Eve disobeyed God when the serpent convinced her that God did not love her and have her best interest in mind. When we have faith in God’s love we then act like we have faith.

“Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12.

This verse in Revelation sums up what James is saying. Those who have faith keep the commandments. There is no true faith without commandment keeping. When we trust we obey.

Luke 15; Three Illustrations of Grace

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In Luke 15 Jesus gives us three parables to illustrate the Father’s love and forbearance. The first parable about the lost sheep shows us how God searches for the lost sheep. You never find a lost sheep looking for the shepherd, but rather the Shepherd looking for the sheep. I love the part about how He searches until He finds it. He does not give up. His Word does not return unto Him void.

In the second parable, of the lost coin, we find how God searches for something that is lost in the church or in the house. No doubt we can be lost in the church as well as without. We need to be with the Shepherd at all times to keep from being lost. When we keep our eyes on other people or even ourselves, we then take our eyes off the Shepherd and become lost. In Psalms 23, David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Shepherd is another word for pastor. David is declaring God as His pastor and no man. We should not worship pastors or elders or Bible workers. We need to worship and keep our eyes on Jesus so we do not get lost in the church. Thank God He can find us in the church. Let’s not be like ancient Israel and demand a man reign over us. Let’s let God reign over us.

The last parable  illustrates both a man lost outside the church and a man lost inside the church. Let’s take a good look at this one.

15:11     And he said, A certain man had two sons: 

 15:12    And the younger of them said to [his] father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth [to me]. And he divided unto them [his] living. 

 15:13    And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 

That is so like us! To tell God to give us His blessings but we are going to go live life our own way without Him, but we still want all His gifts. Doesn’t work that way! How many people today tell God I am going to live my own way but I still want you to keep blessing me? Do we even do this corporately sometimes?

 15:14    And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 

 15:15    And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 

 15:16    And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 

 15:17    And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 

 15:18    I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 

 15:19    And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 

 15:20    And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 

I love this part! While He was still a great way off, His Father ran to Him. In the dark ages, Pope Gregory made a German emperor stand out in the freezing cold with no shoes, for three days before he would hear and forgive him. What a misrepresentation of our heavenly Father who runs to us while we are still a great ways off! Notice, this is the only time we see God run in the Bible. How quick our heavenly Father is to forgive! (Check out this beautiful song about the only time God ran in the Bible.)

 15:21    And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 

 15:22    But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet: 

Fact is he was not worthy to be called his son before he left. What child earns the right to be a son or daughter? Doesn’t it just go with the territory? It is not because of our works that we are the children of God but because of His love.

15:23     And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill [it]; and let us eat, and be merry: 

 15:24    For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 

 15:25    Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. 

 15:26    And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 

 15:27    And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 

 15:28    And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. 

Here we have a son who is angry because God is merciful! His refusal to accept the gracefulness of His father leads him to leave the house, or shall I say church?

 15:29    And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 

 15:30    But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 

That must have hurt the Father’s feelings. All this time the Father thought the son had been working in His house because He was his son and loved him. Turns out he was only working so he could be rewarded. Now that does not sound like us at all does it?

 15:31    And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 

All that Father had was already his, not because he had been working all these years, but because the Father loved him and called him His son. The son who never left did not earn the goodness of the Father anymore than the son who left. It’s not about works. It is about love.

 15:32    It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. 

Jesus does not tell us how the story ends. Maybe because we decide for ourselves how it ends.