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The Thief on the Cross Believed the Gospel!

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The thief on the cross knew NOTHING of a truncated, minimalist gospel!  He knew the gospel in its fullness and entirety!! And he knew it much better than we could ever imagine knowing it, for we were not there with him next to Jesus on the cross!

Just because some Calvinists have become so adept at presenting the gospel in a systematic way does NOT mean the thief wasn’t saved just because he was not able to perfectly articulate what we call the five doctrines of grace today.  He didn’t have to do any such thing.  But that also does NOT mean that he didn’t know and believe what is called “five point Calvinism” today.  He obviously did know and believe the gospel!!

Just because the Synod of Dort presented the five points of the gospel (in 1618) in a systematic way to refute the evil Remonstrants five heresies (whose teaching later became Arminianism), does NOT mean that one has to do so today in order to be saved!  UGH! 

It is tragic that we live in such apostate times that those who stand for the true gospel are falsely being seen as “perfect knowledge advocates” which makes one wonder if that’s how many professing Calvinists see Calvinism now….as just dry, dead orthodoxy that produces pride in those who actually defend the gospel.

If this is the kind of division and havoc that is wreaked by Arminians when they are pandered to, then compromise with them is much more dangerous and harmful than previously thought!!  If only compromising Calvinists could realize that Arminians are bound and determined to win them over to their false gospel.

No wonder moderate Calvinists go to the extent of calling them brother or sister, which is basically saying they affirm the same gospel, because they’ve allowed Arminians to evangelize them for years on end, rather than heeding Apostle Paul’s example (Gal. 2:5). No wonder we are now witnessing such apostasy in this wicked generation.

It is sad that this mindset is becoming an all too common excuse for counterfeit Calvinists to capitulate and popishly declare Arminians to be saved, rather than witnessing to them. Besides, if they are truly saved, then they are not truly Arminian at heart, and we should never attribute their salvation to Arminianism, for it strips the gospel of its essential content and replaces it with a completely false version. Their salvation should only be attributed to God’s true gospel of sovereign, free, saving grace! If they are truly saved, then Jesus will provide the means for their escape from those who are teaching them such deadly error.

True Christians can still have un-crucified Arminian notions. Yet part of the sanctification process is that these fleshly notions are to be increasingly mortified, not glorified and treated as mere theological mispunctuations, or as a “less consistent” version of the same gospel. To do so is extremely unloving and negligent of spiritual leaders. Yet this is the kind of leaven that is now leavening the reformed camp, which is why we are witnessing the falling away, as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy (2 Thess. 2:3).

Hopefully Rob Zins will still stand by what he has written concerning this very issue:

   “It seems obvious that faith is empty if God can be stripped of His content. His content is expressed through doctrinal propositions which He Himself has revealed.  The first ingredient toward apostasy is the assertion, “It is not the truth about Jesus that is the basis of conversion, but rather the truth of Jesus that really counts.” This terribly unnatural separation of the doctrinal truths of Christianity from Christianity itself has led to the ruination of the Gospel. Indeed, it has taken root in Evangelicalism already. We are being told that one is saved by coming to a person—not by believing something said about the person. This is typical ecumenical nonsense, and leads easily into the Roman error of coming to Jesus in the EucharistWe are converted only when we come to the right person, believing the correct message about Him. One cannot hope to separate Jesus from the message He preached. One cannot hope to have a relationship with God except on God’s terms.”

Robert M. Zins, Th.M., On the Edge of Apostasy: The Evangelical Romance with Rome, (Huntsville, AL:  White Horse Publications, 1998), p. 116.

If one were to search social media to try to find a friend that they had graduated high school with, would it not be foolish and a waste of precious time to click on a profile of someone who had graduated from a completely different high school?  For it is a known fact that the identifying elements of what a person has done is closely and intimately connected with the identification of who the person is. The same goes for the identifying elements of the biblical Jesus and His gospel. 

     What Jesus has accomplished on behalf of His people, identifies Who He is. He is a complete and actual Savior, not an incomplete, hypothetical Savior that depends on man’s libertarian “free” will to grant Him authorization to save. Therefore, if one were to believe a completely different account of Who Jesus is and what He has accomplished on behalf of His people, they would have the wrong profile, the wrong Jesus and the wrong gospel.  Arminianism does just that.     

My husband and I personally have dear friends and family that are Arminians, yet when it comes to the gospel, there is no biblical sanction for us to be unequally yoked spiritually with them, by partnering with them in ministry or by granting them a public platform or by funding them in endeavors that would further a heretical infiltration that would undermine the doctrine of Christ and render evangelism to free-willer cults completely futile. Scripture strongly warns against this (2 Jn. 1:11).

A ministry is not under God’s full blessing as long as it is leading people away from one road to Rome….onto yet another road to Rome. Many professing Christians could have a much better success rate and better discernment if only they would focus specifically on persistently and unrelentingly exposing the evil root of all Christian cults, Arminian freewill-ism, rather than leaving wide open, theological gaps that lead right back to Rome.

 Rob Zins hit the nail on the head, concerning these theological gaps, when he stated:

     “The Arminian jettisons the Catholic system while retaining the same two pillars, i.e., freedom of the will and universal atonement of Catholic theology! Thus, in critically critiquing the Catholic religion, we are left with short-handled hoes and dull shovels if we try to correct the Catholic error with something that is at base Catholic! The Catholic apologist is well aware of this and that is precisely why he picks on the evangelical Arminian. He knows the Arminian at heart believes in autosoterism.”

Robert M. Zins, Th.M., Romanism: The Relentless Roman Catholic Assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Fourth Edition, (Charlotte, NC:  A Christian Witness to Roman Catholicism, 2010), pp. 78, 79.

     Cautiously refraining from affirming someone as a brother or sister in Christ while they are still in serious, unrepentant error is very biblical, and it is not the same as anathematizing them (1 Tim. 5:22). Though they may not yet be right with God, that does not mean that God will not be pleased to remove the enmity of their heart and renew them in due time. This is why we must lead them to repentance, for to do otherwise would short-circuit the very means that God uses to draw His people all the way to Himself.

    Charles Spurgeon once said that what has been nicknamed “Calvinism” is actually THE GOSPEL.  And the thief on the cross obviously came face to face with it!!!    

Consider the Calvinist Acronym T-U-L-I-P:

T-The penitent thief on the cross realized he was totally depraved and hopeless apart from the mercy of God. And there is NO indication that he didn’t.  In fact, it was manifestly obvious to all that he did!! He had lost all confidence in his own goodness and his own abilities, so he never said anything like, “I’ve been baptized and done many good works, so I expect to be saved now” or… “I come to Jesus now by my own freewill”—NO, NO, and NO!

U-He witnessed unconditional election right before his very eyes. He saw that the other criminal on the cross was NOT receiving a special application of God’s saving mercy and grace, but was becoming even more hardened in his sins.  He also witnessed that most were extremely hostile to Jesus and that very few loved Him.

Imagine the penitent thief being in rapturous amazement that Christ would say to him (a vile wretch), “Today YOU will be with me in paradise”—and the fact that Jesus NEVER said the same to the other criminal!

The thief experienced unconditional election right then and there when he seen that not all were given that unspeakable privilege.  He was royally pardoned and the other was not!!  He KNEW that he deserved the same punishment as the other criminal, if not worse, but was unconditionally loved anyway!! Surely he was awe-striken!!

L-He witnessed that Jesus being lifted up on the cross was NOT drawing ALL men to Himself, without exclusion, but was driving most away. For Jesus’ crucifixion has always been a stumbling block and foolishness to most (1 Cor. 1:23). Yet, this thief (a vile wretch) WAS being drawn to Jesus.  Because God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), for He draws ALL KINDS of men to Himself, without distinction. So the thief not only witnessed limited atonement, he experienced the effects of it!! While the other criminal did not.

I-He experienced irresistible grace right then and there on that cross!!! He couldn’t help but to be drawn to the only light of hope given to him; the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ was shining into his heart, irresistibly and effectually!! No wonder he didn’t resist it!!  But the other criminal did NOT experience saving grace or else he would have come to Christ.

P-Jesus’ promise to preserve the thief for the kingdom of God caused him to persevere faithfully to Christ to the very end, because that’s the effect it’s meant to have on God’s people!!! The thief’s God-given faith in Jesus and His promise caused him to persevere!!! Because God provides the ends, as well as the means, to bring His people safely home to Himself.

The Savior can never be treasured by those who are bent on endlessly defending their own self-righteousness, rather than submitting to His.

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).

But this thief on the cross had come to the end of himself, therefore, he treasured the worth of the Savior and His ability to save all who come to Him, or else he would NOT have come to Him, pleading for Jesus to remember him.  And he would NOT have believed Jesus’ promise to preserve him if he had thought his own “freewill” had ANYTHING to do with his salvation!!!! Because if “freewill” could bring one to Jesus, it could just as easily reject Him.

If anyone showed evidence of “free-willism”… it was definitely the other criminal!!

This is precisely why we all need to be reminded of THE GOSPEL! For it is a declaration of God’s saving power to remove the enmity of one’s carnal mind and over-ride the sinful, fallen will of man by bringing the heart, mind and will into harmony with His will. And this is exactly what had happened to the thief on the cross, for he had initially been joining the angry mob in reviling Jesus (Mk. 15:32), but God’s free and sovereign grace changed him.

This is why it is so important to get people’s minds off of themselves and their own perceived righteousness, and onto Christ and His perfect righteousness, which is the only righteousness that God will accept, and it can only be imputed to us through saving faith in Jesus and His ability to save the vilest of sinners.

Copyright ©2020 by Lee Anne Ferguson.

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